I’ve always been interested in the way mass incident phenomena in China paralells the institution of the ‘mob’ in 18th century England. Here’s another engaging point of comparison: corruption in modern China and gilded age America
So how does the China compare with the U.S.? He looks at both countries when they were at similar levels of development as measured by per-capita income (in 2005 dollars; adjusted for inflation and differences in prices between the two nations).
When both countries were at a $2,800 per-capita income level — 1996 in China, early 1870s in the U.S. – newspaper-reported corruption was 7 to 9 times worse in the U.S. By the time, the two countries reached $7,500 per-capita income – 2009 in China; 1928 in the U.S.—the reported corruption was roughly similar in both countries. The significance, Mr. Ramirez, concludes, is that “while corruption in China is an issue that merits attention, it is not at alarmingly high levels, compared to the U.S. historical experience.”
There are pretty clear problems with the methodology of the study, as pointed out here. But at the same time there are also very clear points of comparison between, say, the recent exposes about how the families of China’s top leaders turned power into money and the ‘Grantism’ of the early 1870’s US, not to mention revelations about China’s high speed rail network and the Credit Mobilier scandal. And so on.
At a guess, I’d say capillary corruption is far worse in China than in gilded age America. The point of comparison here would be Italy, more or less at any time. On the other hand, you’ve never had a situation in China where the entire economy can be crashed by one tycoon’s manipulations, as in Jay Cook’s attempt to corner the US gold market in 1873.
At any rate a comparative study of the two eras would be a terrific and informative read. As a starting point, compare the Caixin article above with Charles Francs Adams’ wonderful Chapters of Erie.