SUN WUKONG Sex and China's credibility gap
By Wu Zhong, China Editor
HONG KONG - "The majority of Chinese people believe that prostitutes are more
trustworthy than Communist Party and government officials."
If this were a viewpoint made by a report or commentary in overseas media, it
would definitely have been furiously refuted by Beijing as "venomous slander"
of the Chinese government with some "ulterior motives".
But this is not a sensational bluff by some tabloid newspaper. It is the result
of a recent survey on the respective credibility of various social groups by
the Research Center of the Xiaokang monthly, a sister publication of the
bi-monthly Qi Shi (Seeking Truth) - the mouthpiece of the central committee of
the Chinese Communist
Party (CCP). As such it must be taken seriously.
The nationwide online survey was conducted in June-July this year with the help
of Sina.com and some other research institutions. The number of respondents
totaled 3,376. Xiaokang started this annual survey in 2006. This year's results
show that, of the 49 social groups, the five most trustworthy are (in
descending): farmers, religious workers, sex workers, soldiers and students.
Farmers and soldiers have always been among the five most trustworthy groups in
the Xiaokang polls. "This is nothing strange. Chinese peasants are less
sophisticated and behave more honestly than urban residents. Hence farmers are
often bullied or cheated. Soldiers have impressed the public with their
performance in disaster relief works, particularly with the Sichuan earthquake
last year," said a sociology researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social
But this is the first time religious practitioners and prostitutes have been
included among the most trustworthy social groups. Religious workers aside, sex
workers being listed among the most trustworthy is quite shocking. In Chinese
culture, a prostitute is viewed as being "shameless" and without affections.
This result has taken many aback. The official China Daily said in an
editorial: "At a time when shamelessness is pervasive, we are often at loss as
to who can be trusted ... A list like this is at the same time surprising and
embarrassing. The sex business is illegal and thus underground in this country.
The sex workers' unexpected prominence on this list of honor ... is indeed
However, as long as "doing business" is concerned, prostitutes may indeed be
more trustworthy than those in other trades, said a Shenzhen small businessman
surnamed Zhou. "You see rampant production of faked goods, frauds and cheats in
commercial activities. But when you strike a deal with a prostitute, she'll
never breach the 'contract'."
According to the poll, the five least credible groups are (also in descending)
real estate developers, secretaries, brokers, performance stars and directors.
People don't trust developers because they reap staggering profits while keep
saying the "housing price is reasonable". Secretaries, mostly young females,
are often mistresses of their bosses. Performance stars and directors are laden
with sex scandals.
While the Xiaokang report does not publicize the ratings of other groups in
between, judging by the wording government officials are probably just a little
more trusted than the last five groups.
The survey report says public confidence in the government dropped considerably
in 2009. Nearly half of the respondents said that individuals, business firms
and the government are all losing their credibility. But comparatively, they
are more worried about the drain of the government's credibility.
As an example, more than 91% of respondents said they no longer believe
government statistics on social and economic development, saying such data is
"all or mostly fabricated". By comparison, in the 2007 survey, only 79% of the
respondents said they don't trust government statistics. The sharp decline
manifests a "significant drain" of government credibility, Xiaokang said.
As if to serve as evidence to this, the National Bureau of Statistics said on
July 27 that the actual per capita income of urban Chinese increased 11.2% in
the first half of this year, far outgrowing the 7.1% gross domestic product
growth, in spite of the economic downturn. The release of such
"too-good-to-be-true" income figures greatly upset the general public as few
actually made more money during that period. (China
produces a wages miracle, Asia times Online, August 5, 2009).
"Multiple factors may be responsible for this. The Xiaokang Magazine Research
Center named four - protectionism, unstable policies, dumb decisions and lack
of transparency. All of which has to do with the low-level bureaucracy's lack
of respect for public concerns," China Daily says.
In fact, government or officials' credibility has always remained low in past
Xiaokang surveys. This is no surprise at all, given rampant corruption, abuse
of power by officials and the lack of transparency in government operations.
"Corrupt officials, before exposed, always pose as persons of high morality,
giving sermons on how to build a clean government and to serve the people. But
their true colors are shown after being caught. With more and more officials
found corrupt and even some members of the politburo - the country's power core
-could become corrupt. How can you hope people will trust them in general? That
'mass incidents' now frequently happen across the country is a manifestation of
people's great distrust of officials," said the CASS sociologist.
The government's release of false or misleading information has also augmented
public distrust. Not to mention the deliberately deceptive messages released by
the government to cover up major incidents.
A recent and seemingly harmful episode is illustrates this. August 8 marked the
first anniversary of the opening of Beijing Summer Olympic Games. In the run-up
to that day, major newspapers in Beijing reported that, as part of a
celebration, the municipal government of the Chinese capital decided to open
major Olympic venues including the famous "Bird's Nest" and "Water Cube" to
visitors free of charge for three days from August 8.
Before dawn people began to queue at entrances to these sites. But security
guards barred them from entering. Skirmishes occurred. Would-be visitors waved
newspapers carrying the report about free visits, but the guards said they had
not received any notice. Reporters then checked with the information office of
the Beijing municipal government and were told that the notice was released
"mistakenly". On hearing this, some people who had been waiting for hours
angrily shouted before TV cameras, "Who can trust this government? Who can
trust these newspapers?"
Officials being less trustworthy than sex workers must not be taken just as
some bitter joke or a piece of black humor. The message in fact rings a red
alarm for the CCP.
"The CCP seized power 60 years ago largely because it won popular support.
After 60 years of ruling the country, now people are expressing their
dissatisfaction or even anger in various ways [such as in opinion polls or
taking to the streets] over its governance. The party must address this problem
seriously and quickly," said the sociologist.
In October, the CCP will mark the 60th anniversary of its rule of China. It may
not be coincidental that Xiokang publicized its survey right before National
Day. It serves as a reminder to the party that whether it can continue its rule
as it wishes entirely depends on whether it could win back popular support
In the survey, 95% of the respondents said: "Only a government that is sincere
and responsible in serving people can ensure the country's stability and
development." Echoing this, the China Daily editorial said: "Even for
stability's sake, efforts must be made to restore the governments' credit
record. The first step, however, is to put an end to public servants being
alienated from public interest."