How to Bribe a Chinese Official

A leaked list of politicians -- and what to offer them -- shows how entrenched the practice remains in China.


Bribes, often handed over in stylized red envelopes called hongbao, are endemic in China. (msmccomb/Flickr)

How do you get a "license to pollute" in China? Start by giving a 2,000 RMB (approximately US$330) gift card to the local environmental protection agency's director.

That is, according to a list that was circulated on China's social media that allegedly shows 47 government officials as recipients of gifts from a real estate developer in Yinchuan, the provincial capital of Ningxia province. While the authenticity of the list cannot be verified, journalists in China have confirmed that the officials named on the list do indeed exist.

The list is organized by the agency of the recipients, encompassing everything from city governments, tax bureaus, land bureaus, police stations and "sports bureaus." The amounts range from 1,000 RMB to 3,000 RMB, mostly in the form of gift cards. This user-friendly list also states the purpose of some of the gifts. For example, a 1,000 RMB gift card to Director Jin of the religious affairs bureau is for the sake of obtaining a "halal food license."

The list has caused a splash online, where it was retweeted more than 1,800 times. Most people were shocked not by the apparent existence of such outright bribery, but by the meager amounts of the gifts. Many asked if a few zeros were missing. @ 彭世佳 tweeted, "Such cheapstakes. Only 2,000 RMBto the secretary of the mayor? What can they get anything done?"

However, one person with apparent knowledge of how the wheels are greased in China, tweeted, "The numbers are about right. The amounts we usually give are even lower, and basically they get the job done. The Internet rumors are overblown. It's very rare to give a few million, unless there is something really important to be done."

@小Y274635103 tweeted, "This is totally normal. All companies do this at the end of the year, especially giving to the registration bureaus, tax collectors and health inspectors. Even if you bribe them, there is no guarantee that they won't screw with you. But if you don't, they will definitely screw with you."


This post also appears at Tea Leaf Nation, an Atlantic partner site.