Wednesday 21 August 2013

Gogol in China

In the small hours of the morning I caught a fascinating World Service report from China on how numbers of fake officials are wandering the country, enjoying the high life, taking bribes for promised favours, and being feted and fawned on wherever they go. They can get away with it because a high level of secrecy is part of the mystique that surrounds public officials in China, and no one dares challenge the fakes in case they turn out to be the real thing; the repercussions would be dire. This guy got found out because he somewhat overreached himself, setting up an entirely bogus 'China Dynamic Investigation Committee' with 34 offices nationwide. Smaller-scale operators are probably getting away with it all over China.
This will ring a bell with anyone who's read or seen Gogol's The Government Inspector (or Government Spectre, as Nabokov calls it in his book on Gogol). In the play, the bogus official is not a conscious impostor but a stranger who is mistaken for a government inspector and is treated accordingly, taking full advantage of the situation. That, too, has probably happened in China. I wonder if  The Government Inspector has ever been staged there. It seems unlikely...


  1. Ha! Many years ago I hired a taxi driver for a full day in Beijing. As we pulled into a parking lot the entrance was blocked by a little old woman at whom my driver began to scream and swear. "Why is he swearing at that nice little old grandma?" I asked myself. He explained at lunch that she was collecting money entirely without warrant and that he encountered several such extortionists in a day. He also expressed pity for the many visitors who, lacking his street-smarts, meekly paid up.

  2. Thanks Michael - I read somewhere that around a third of China's GDP is corruptly diverted abroad. A conservative estimate probably - imagine what their growth rate would be if they had a 'straight' economy!