China Leadership Monitor

To Get Rich Is Unprofessional: Chinese Military Corruption in the Jiang Era

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Corruption among Chinese officers and enlisted personnel continues to be a point of tension between civilian and military elites in China. While the level of corruption reached its apex during the late 1980s and early 1990s, affectionately known as the "go-go" years of PLA, Inc., the repercussions of the center's decision in 1998 to divest the People's Liberation Army (PLA) of its commercial operations are still being felt in the system. For the first time, investigators and prosecutors from outside the military apparatus were given the authority to probe and pursue PLA malfeasance, and many in the military felt that the civilians pursued their assignment with far too much vigor and tenacity. This animosity was further exacerbated by reports of PLA complicity in the massive Yuanhua scandal in Xiamen and by the public prosecution of former General Staff Department intelligence chief General Ji Shengde on multiple counts of corruption. This paper analyzes PLA corruption since Tiananmen, with special emphasis on the civil-military aspects of the issue. The first section outlines the course and character of PLA corruption since 1990, as well as efforts by the military and civilian leadership to stamp it out. Particular attention is paid to the divestiture process in 1998, as well as the Yuanhua and Ji Shengde investigations. The article then concludes with an evaluation of the implications of these trends for Chinese civil-military relations and offers predictions for the future.