From History to the Real World
Mengyuan Tang ’16
Research: East Asian Studies Independent Project
Internship: US PIRG
I am a recent graduate, majoring in East Asian Studies and Politics. While I was in college, I was eager to find the underlying causes of corruption. I searched courses offered on campus, but none of them met my expectations. I knew that I had to create one on my own, and thus, I conducted a yearlong independent study on the root of corruption in the Qing dynasty during my junior year.
For this project, I requested every primary source that I found relevant and interesting from different libraries of universities in the U.S. My life was filled with numerous corrupted officials at that time as I delved into records of their trials. From every word in the interrogations and confessions of the corrupted officials, I could perceive their fear, their powerlessness, and their desperation at the end of their lives.
As I continued my research, I gradually shifted my focus from individual experiences to government structures and the judicial system in the mid-Qing period to search for fundamental reasons. Finally, I was convinced that the poor design of fiscal allocation, the inefficient supervision structure, the inconsistent judicial system, and the ambiguous definition of corruption in the Qing code were key to explaining the ceaseless corruption on such a great scale, as the deviant institutions invariably corrupted incoming young officials.
While I was carrying on my historical research in the Qing period, the anti- corruption campaign in the present People’s Republic of China was in full swing. This time, I proposed a course in politics to my advisor, hoping to conduct a final independent study before graduation from a political point of view. I investigated corruption in the present PRC and evaluated the efficiency of the Party’s anti- corruption campaign.
Unfortunately, I found the poor institutional and judicial design of the Qing government reappeared in the present day. Searching the news related to everyday corruption, I was overwhelmed by the stories of so many fallen officials, one by one, group by group. I felt grieved that many of them were once upright and aspiring, like the ones I met in the Qing trial records.
From the bottom of my heart, I hope young people who aspire to public service are able to hold to their ideals and principles, without being corrupted by the system. I knew it would take tremendous political challenges to eliminate the fundamental causes of institutional corruption. However, without a sound and independent legal system as the basis, all efforts toward anti-corruption would largely become futile.
After graduation, I started my internship at U.S PIRG, working on passing meaningful campaign finance reform for Washington DC’s local elections, and getting big money out of politics. At U.S PIRG, I learned to divide those seemingly unconquerable problems into small parts and find practical strategies to solve them one after another. I was very encouraged by my colleagues who were so determined and confident in changing the problematic political system and making their own history.
In hopes of leading changes in Chinese legal system, I will continue to pursue my passion in law school to fight against corruption, especially in international law. I hope to learn how the current international legal framework seeks to hold governments accountable for their corruption and to gain a comparative view on legal systems of other countries and their experiences on anti- corruption.
I am committed to using my career to fighting against corruption, not only in China but also around the globe, with like-minded and committed colleagues.