Gifts take wraps off China graft challenge

Business people say such corruption extends down to country townships and city districts

The pre-holiday procession of Chinese entrepreneurs bearing gifts for the officials who hold sway over their businesses highlights the ubiquity of corruption in China and the difficulty the government will have in stamping it out.

For the past few weeks, business people across the country have been preoccupied not with their companies' operations, but with delivering thinly veiled bribes to the officials who grant them permits, sign off on the quality of their products or validate their tax bills.

The gift-giving ahead of the traditional mid-autumn festival and National Day holiday, for which the country will virtually shut down for the week beginning on Monday, has created traffic jams and parking chaos outside many government agencies' offices, according to residents of several cities.

Bearing gift cards, premium liquor, luxury products and even airline tickets, entrepreneurs visit the officials they need to maintain good relations with or expect to receive favours from, perpetuating a culture of corruption about which foreign businesses frequently complain.

"It's the small potatoes that have the biggest appetites," said Li, a woman who runs a retail business in Jinan, capital of the eastern province of Shandong. She declined to give her full name.

Since early September, Li has been busy delivering gift cards, in particular to the district-level officials who sign off on the permits she needs to stay in business.

For this year's festival, she has had to hand out cards worth at least 5,000 yuan to each official she needs to keep happy. Before the Lunar New Year in the spring of each year, district officials expect double that, she said. Some also demand regular smaller gifts throughout the year.

"They all keep a record book of the reputations of gift-giving by people. If you're not generous enough or didn't perform well during a specific holiday, then word will spread fast," said Li.

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