Up for a little corruption tonight?

Scott Tong Oct 15, 2007

Up for a little corruption tonight?

Scott Tong Oct 15, 2007


Doug Krizner: The elite of China’s Communist Party kick off the National Congress this morning in Beijing. Every five years, delegates gather to select new leaders and set the agenda for the next half decade. This year’s top priority: maintaining strong economic growth. And the biggest threat to that goal: corruption. Here’s Marketplace’s Scott Tong from Shanghai.

Scott Tong: “So, who’s up for a little corruption tonight?” China’s young and trendy say this all the time. And they don’t mean literally cheating or bribing. It’s just an “in” way to say, “Dude, let’s go chow.”

Twenty-something Rachel Zeng explains the word “Fubai” means “to engage in corruption.”

Rachel Zeng: My friends will send me a short message saying, “Shall we go fubai tonite?” And I will say yes. Both of us know that means we will have dinner together.

In the past, fancy restaurants like this one were only for politicians doing deals.

Now, China’s new middle-class can afford it, too — and poke fun at politicians while they’re at it, says patron Chen Hao.

Chen Hao (interpreter): Foreigners think we still have to be careful what we say, that there’s no freedom of speech. But today, you can talk, you can criticize, and nothing happens. Unless you do something extreme, say, burn yourself in Tiananmen Square.

Not everyone is laughing. Cultural critic Zhu Dake says language reflects society. And he thinks the sarcasm holds a kernel of truth — that cheating is for everyone now.

Zhu Dake (interpreter): Corruption doesn’t just involve politics. It’s in everyone’s daily life. For instance, manufacturing fake and poisonous food products to make a profit. Everyone’s doing this stuff. There’s no sense of the greater good.

But for most young adults, poking fun at corruption is just a habit, not a political statement.

To 20-something Ken Yuan, it’s just a fashionable use of the lingo:

Ken Yuan: People I talk to know what it means. And I don’t think there’s much more to it.

So relax, he says. Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody fubai tonight.

In Shanghai, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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