Saturday, 21 May 2011

What's a Gift and What's a Bribe?

When I originally intended to move from my home-stay family to live in accommodation at university halls of residence, I was quite convinced that I wanted to stay in a room of my own.Knowing that single rooms were in high demand and hoping to curry favour with the accommodations office, I gifted a box of Rose chocolates to sweeten the dialogue. The ruse worked, and I have hardly thought any more of it since.

Until my friend recently decided that he too would like to live in the Halls of Residence. On account of being in the middle of term time, and realising that single rooms would now be as rare as hens teeth, he took my idea and upped the ante a little, gifting a bottle of Japanese Saké. And it worked...

Furthermore, a Chinese friend recently showed me the gift which she was planning on giving to one university department with the intention of receiving favourable treatment in changing her major. As if the perfume were not enough, inside was a gift card for 2000RMB (£200)

In itself this gift card is of particular interest. There is no name attached to it, so it is clearly not for personal use like a credit/debit card. But it is also not the same as a store gift card (i.e. for sole use in HMV, Topshop, Waitrose...) Rather it is issued by a bank, to be used in the same way as a credit card, to be given as a gift, and which can only be topped up in large denominations. If ever there was a card more conducive to being given as a bribe (in lieu of cash, of course, which is too overt is its sinister implications) then this was it.

There is an interesting point to be made about what the difference is between a gift and a bribe. Is it dependent on some kind of fiscal trait? Or is it a moralistic difference based on intent? Perhaps it may be considered that a gift is given out of innocent kindness, whereas a bribe has the expectation of something in return. But this is no doubt an overly simplistic simplification, and it has also been said that nothing is a purely selfless act, and gift-giving provides feelings of self-contentment and one-upmanship. What if there is no devious intention at the outset, but the giving of gifts merely provides foundation for latter requests?

On this note, one thing I have heard suggested is that corruption is engrained within Chinese culture, as this "Perceived Corruption Index 2010" map illustrates. Perhaps time spent here has biased my stance and made me apologetic of Chinese faults, but it is important to remember that there are few world economies with such growth as China, as well as associated high inflation. Wages in public and government institutions often considerably trail the increase in the cost of living; and the gift/bribe culture is a simple way of compensating for such discrepancy.

No comments:

Post a Comment