In China, what’s a little corruption at the top?

A Chinese newspaper suggests corruption should be tolerated

John Dyer By John Dyer

Bo Xilai at a government ceremony in Beijing in March, when he was still Communist Party boss of China’s southwestern city of Chongqing. A day later, a corruption scandal resulted in his dismissal. (Reuters/Jason Lee)

Since it’s Saturday, it’s time for a review of some of the peculiar stories we’ve come across in our vigilant monitoring of world headlines here at Latitude News.

Let’s start in China, where sheer demographics and gangbusters economic growth means there’s no lack of eyebrow-raising tales.

On Tuesday May 29, the nationalist Chinese tabloid Global Times ran an editorial suggesting that corruption was acceptable, indeed inevitable. The editorial ran in Chinese, and the Google translation doesn’t capture the wording in English that conveys what triggered the scandal, so here we’ll quote the China Media Project for the gist of the piece:

The editorial essentially argued that while corruption is a key issue and should be fought aggressively, the Chinese public should manage their expectations, understanding that thoroughly eliminating corruption is impossible.

The South China Morning Post’s summary was more critical:

The editorial called “naive” those who believed democracy was a solution to graft, saying “there are many democratic countries in Asia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines and India where the problem of corruption is more severe than in China.”

Criticism rained down on the Global Times, even though the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, reportedly operates the paper. Even the China Youth Daily — the mouthpiece of the Communist Youth League — blasted the Times’ acceptance of graft, nepotism and other  corruption, saying readers were left “goggle-eyed and agape” at its audacity, the Post reported.

The editorial came as new leaders are preparing to take the helm of China, a process that occurs once every ten years, and as the country’s elites are still reeling from the downfall of Bo Xilai, an ex-Politburo member booted from his job amid allegations of corruption and his involvement in the murder of a British citizen.

In a note to readers on his Weibo account, Global Times editor Hu Xijin blamed the brouhaha on, an instant messaging program that re-posted the editorial with a headline that he claimed misrepresented the piece: “China Must Permit Some Corruption, the Public Should Understand.”

Hu Xijin didn’t argue that had altered the substance of the editorial.

Mysterious dolphin deaths

Some stories are striking because they make us think about how, in far off corners of the globe, major events are happening that would move us to tears if we witnessed them first-hand.

In Peru, around 877 dolphins died off the northern coast of the country, the Buenos Aires Herald reported on Wednesday, May 23. The country’s Ocean Institute said the mammals didn’t die from starvation, hunting, pollution or other manmade causes. The paper reports that scientists believe an algae bloom caused by unusually warm water might have been the cause of the deaths, but they aren’t sure.

An aside in the story struck us as particularly tragic:

Dolphins were not the only animal to have died in Peru’s rich coastal waters in recent weeks. This month, warmer surface waters sent anchovies lower down into cooler waters where pelicans could not dive deep enough to reach them. Some 5,000 birds starved to death as a result. The government says there is no link between the pelican and dolphin deaths.

Nature taking its course? Perhaps. Still, it’s no understatement to say it’s a pity.

Clever Indian immigrants

Latitude News recently wrote about how the children of Indian immigrants keep winning the National Spelling Bee. (On Thursday, May 31 Snigdha Nandipati became the fifth Indian-American in a row to win the coveted title.)

Indian immigrants in other countries do well, too.

In Germany, 16-year-old Shouryya Ray solved two mathematical problems posed by Sir Isaac Newton 350 years ago. Previously, the Times of India reports, only powerful computers could crack the problems. The puzzles involve calculations involved in tracking the arc of a ball and how that ball will bounce when it hits, say, a wall.

Like many geniuses, the kid began by questioning his elders, the Times said:

Ray only came across the problems during a school trip to Dresden University where professors claimed they were uncrackable.

“I just asked myself, ‘Why not?’,” explained Shouryya. “I think it was just schoolboy naivety. I didn’t believe there couldn’t be a solution,” he added.

The kid’s modest, too, the paper reported:

Modest Shouryya began solving complicated equations as a six-year-old but says he’s no genius.

“There are other things at school I wish I was better at –football for one,” he said.

A few scientists agree with Ray that his achievement is perhaps overblown. Still, he’s likely to be welcome at a university in Germany or anywhere else. Of course, if he comes to the U.S., he’d be in danger of getting tossed out after he finished his studies.