Chinese Officials "Go Naked" Before Fleeing

The Chinese government has long been filled with crooked cadres who take the money and run. But as the nation's economy slows down, grassroots resentment toward official corruption is brewing. In particular, Chinese Netizens are buzzing about "naked officials": apparatchiks who connive to earn permanent resident status overseas by gradually stashing relatives and assets abroad. Once the noose begins to tighten back home, the unencumbered (or "naked") bureaucrats flee the country.

Watchdogs believe that some corrupt cadres are already salivating over Beijing's $580 billion stimulus package. More graft will only exacerbate the recent uptick in antigovernment unrest: last month, thousands of Gansu rioters burned government offices and Chongqing taxi drivers torched police cars. Most alarming for Beijing was the startling surge of popular sympathy for convicted killer Yang Jia, who was executed last week for stabbing to death six police officers; Yang did it, he said, because he'd been tortured by police who accused him of stealing a bicycle.

One of China's most notorious "naked officials" is Yang Xianghong, a midlevel cadre from Zhejiang province who left for a 12-day European trip on Sept. 19 and never came home. Citing a bad back, Yang told colleagues he needed surgery in France—where his daughter lives—and refused to meet with party watchdogs who flew to see him. Yang was booted from the party on Nov. 14 and charged by provincial authorities with "seriously damag[ing] the party's image and the country's reputation."

Solid statistics on "naked officials" are difficult to gather because most cover their tracks well. But in early 2004 the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper in Hong Kong reported that more than 8,000 crooked officials had become fugitives abroad in the first half of 2003 alone; another 6,500 were listed as "missing" and 1,200 reportedly committed suicide. The phenomenon has even become a factor in Beijing's extradition discussions: a number of countries refuse to extradite Chinese fugitives because they know that a death sentence could be the result.