Organized Crime Home
Organized Crime Home

China's Chill Winds by Mark Craig
The Courier Mail Tuesday November 4, 1997

Hard-core criminals are waiting as China opens its doors to international business, says Mark Craig

Tens of millions of workers are set to lose their jobs in the wake of the privatisation of inefficient State owned companies. President Jiang Zemin made the announcement at the 15th Communist Party Congress in Beijing on 12 September, 1997. Effectively this could mean possibly 70% of the 370,000 State firms which lose money would no longer have access to cheap credit lines which to-date have been their mainstay courtesy of State controlled banks.

In a direct flow-on of the pragmatic economic plans set down by the late Deng Xiaoping and the policy he called "socialism with Chinese characteristics", President Jiang Zemin has continued with Deng's reforms as he lacrimosely proclaimed he would at the time of Deng's death. As China struggles to restructure industry, improve quality, eliminate inefficiency and halt the outflow of non-redeemable loans from State controlled banks to floundering State enterprises, it has also bravely accepted the inevitable hardship that will surely endure, at least in the short term.

The moves to sell off State owned companies will add possibly up to 100 million to the current 200 million unemployed. These ranks will also be bolstered by an additional 500,000 soldiers set to lose their jobs as the military is downsized over the next three years. Add to this the estimated 150 million "floating population", who have migrated from rural areas to urban centres such as Beijing, where they number 26.3% of the population. This percentage accounts for 3,190.000 people according to Zhang Liangji, the Assistant Mayor of Beijing and the Director of Beijing's Public Security Bureau, and more than 50% of all crimes committed in Beijing in 1994, 1995 and 1996 were attributed to such migrants.

The government is well aware of the consequences of economic reform as it moves to a socialist market economy and really does not have the answers to address the growing problems associated with the accompanying fallouts, such as escalating crime, poverty, displacement and growing dissatisfaction with the authorities, who are increasingly coming under the spotlight for corrupt activities. Officials such as Chen Xitong, who as Beijing's Mayor, was believed to have corruptly amassed an estimated 2.8 billion dollars, is now awaiting trial. He was dismissed from his post two years ago but not officially investigated until the week of the 15th Communist Party Congress.

These push factors and the omnipresent articulation of materialism and consumerism is providing an unhealthy pull factor for people desperate to keep up; and unfortunately many are turning to crime.

It does not take too much imagination to calculate the affects on a society woefully deficient in contemporary criminal justice administration and sophisticated policing practices to appreciate what 450 million increasingly mobile and possibly destitute people, will have on criminal activity.

Crimes committed by drug addicts and organised crime in general are but two of many major concerns to the authorities. Lui Zhimin, of the Anti-Drugs Office, Ministry of Public Security, Beijing, reported that opium and heroin addicts totalled 148, 000 in 1991 and rose to 520,000 in 1995. Concurrently seizures of heroin was in the tens to hundreds of kilograms in the late 1980's and increased to 4,459 kilograms in 1993 and 4,347 kilograms in 1996. As organised crime has grown the Ministry of Public Security has established a special anti-organised crime agency in some provincial and municipal police departments. Infiltration by organised crime organisations external to the mainland, notably from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau are on the rise. And, along with increased organised crime activity Secret Societies have, according to Zou Chuangi, Director of the General Office, Ministry of Public Security, appeared in China. In reality, such Secret Societies were always present, having never been completely eradicated by the Communist government, although their numbers were greatly reduced. According to Professor Kang Shuhua, President of the Society of Criminology of China, the spread of Secret Societies is closely linked to corruption. In one example, five crime groups with features of Secret Societies were detected involving fifty officials at different levels in Harbin. As many as seventy public security officers were associated with these groups.

Gang activity, many with the characteristics of the underworld is making a big comeback in China. Wang Daiwei, Deputy Chief of the Department of Criminology, Chinese People's Security University, Beijing, estimated that crimes committed by gangs made up 26% of all crimes in China in 1995, and in the Southeast coastal areas accounted for between 70-80%. Gang members arrested throughout China rose from 368,000 in 1990 to 540,000 in 1995.

Professor Zhao Ke, Deputy Director of the Institute of Public Security, Beijing, predicts that with the growth of the socialist market economy the general trend for organised crime is to grow accordingly. Socio-economic factors, adverse factors in traditional Chinese culture as well as stimulants exerted by international organised crime, will contribute to an promote an increase in criminal offences and organised crime activity. The results of a study of fifty-five organised crime groups involved in thefts, robbery, racketeering, smuggling, drug trafficking, and murder, are indicative of this trend. Fourteen such groups were responsible for the murders of fifty-four people, including one group who accounted for thirty-five such murders. Fourteen of these groups were found to possess 143 firearms and twenty-five groups were found to be highly mobile. Mobile crime in general accounts for 78.5% of all crime groups.

The House-Hold Registration System, once an effective control mechanism, no longer exists, and although firearms are strictly controlled in China, arms smuggling is well organised and prolific. These two factors have contributed to the itinerant and dangerous nature of organised crime.

It would seem therefore that as China strives to modernise, embrace and engage pragmatic economic policies that socio-economic factors will increasingly dictate the realities of life in China. Unfortunately, as with Russia, and many other States who have undergone transitions from a central planned economy to a market economy, crime will come to play an ever increasing part in not only economic development but economic sustainability. By and large China must take great care that it does not find itself in the position of Russia today where in just a few short years 40% of the economy is now controlled, according to Professor Roy Godson of Georgetown University, by the political-criminal nexus.

Mark Craig is a Brisbane based researcher of Chinese organised crime and a current Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar.

Site contact: