officials must be alert for WeChat bribes, however small they may be,
"Red envelope" gifts via mobile devices, popular in China during
festivals, have brought a new challenge in the fight against corruption.
Cheng Wenhao, director of the Anti-Corruption and Governance Research
Center at Tsinghua University, said that passing money on the instant
messaging tool WeChat "may be a disguised gift to someone close to
officials who can help solve a problem for them".
The gift, often called hongbao or "lucky money", is a person-to-person
transaction and seen as fun, "but it may become a breeding ground of
corruption if we don’t pay attention", Cheng said.
Before Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day, discipline inspectors in
Fujian and Liaoning provinces issued a notice to government officials
clarifying the ban on receiving "lucky money", according to jcrb.com, a
website managed by China’s top procuratorate.
Stricter inspections targeting bribery in cyberspace was also
developed in Gansu province, in a move to implement the "eight-point
rules" that were put forward by the central leadership to restrict
bureaucracy, reduce red tape and formalities and ban the lavish use of
public funds, the website said.
Cheng added: "Although the amount of a transaction on WeChat is not
big, 200 yuan ($31) each at most, it is not a small number when it is
Under the current Criminal Law, anyone offering more than 10,000 yuan
($1,550) in bribes faces at least a five-year prison sentence.
The invisibility of WeChat "lucky money" makes it difficult for
disciplinary inspectors to trace, Cheng said.
He suggested that inspectors should inspect every industry and keep
their knowledge in technological fields up-to-date.
Fan Hongmin, deputy president of the School of Public Management at
Zhengzhou University in Henan province, praised the disciplinary
inspection authorities’ practice of forbidding government officials from
receiving WeChat lucky money and electronic gifts.
"The practice reflects that our anti-corruption work is catching up
with the times and has no dark corners," Fan said.
A spokesman for WeChat provider Tencent, who declined to be named,
said that offering such bribes is absurd because the transactions can be
He added that so far he has not heard of any instance of bribery on
Cheng, however, said that it is difficult to trace transactions
because there are so many "red envelopes" every day, so it is necessary
for government officers to be alert.
He said it is obligatory for discipline inspectors to order officials
to link their WeChat accounts with their real-name bank cards, which
should make future investigations easier.