Comment Pieces

Dissecting the failure of I Paid A Bribe clones in China

Posted on January 10, 2014

Despite the autocratic web censorship laws in China, the country has witnessed the rise and fall of various anti-corruption websites that attempted to work on the same principle as I Paid A Bribe. Quite obviously credit to their failure can only be attributed to despotic laws. I Paid a Bribe clones in China failed in this communist country because it focussed more on exposing and arresting corrupt individuals. On the other hand, I Paid a Bribe India choses to pay attention to the systemic changes the current political structure demands, unlike their Chinese counterpart.

Assistant Professor , Political Science at the University of Michigan Yuen Yuen Ang tries to understand the dynamics of the websites in both countries and the consequent failure of the one in China.

In her paper “Authoritarian Restraints on Online Activism Revisited: Why “I-Paid-A-Bribe” Worked in India but Failed in China”, Ang explores the variance in the approach in the respective websites of both the countries.

“By tracing the spread and demise of IPAB in China and comparing it to the dynamics in India, I draw two counter-observations. First, Chinese state authorities did not clamp down on IPAB immediately or resolutely. Instead, their responses vacillated between approval and suppression. Furthermore, consistent with the model of “fragmented authoritarianism,” state responses appeared divided across ministries and levels of government. Second, even before these IPAB sites were officially closed down, these Chinese portals were plagued by internal problems of organization, including mismanagement, opportunism, and narrow goals of anti-corruption, which were comparatively absent in India.”, Ang observes. 

It comes down to, Ang argues, a lack of experience performing civic engagement:

"The organizational problems seen in China’s IPAB clones do not suggest that Chinese netizens are intrinsically deficient. Rather, I argue, they may be traced to prolonged restrictions placed against autonomous NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and free association under non-democratic rule. China lacks autonomous and professional NGOs that can channel online activism into constructive policy engagement and public education. The equivalent of India’s Janaagraha Centre, an NGO dedicated to monitoring government, is not permitted in China. In the absence of professional and autonomous organizers, the underlying lack of experience with and knowledge about constructive norms of civic engagement among netizens is left unfiltered and exposed. For these reasons, we see instances of venting, personal vengeance, and profiteering through IPAB clones in China. Furthermore, an analysis of web content reveals a striking lack of appreciation among Chinese netizens of the original mission of IPAB in combating petty corruption as a systemic problem. Instead, the focus of China’s IPAB clones was on exposing and arresting corrupt individuals, echoing the state’s own rhetoric of corruption as a problem of bad agents, rather than of structural political and economic factors."

Courtesy: Jessica McKenzie /

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