Do you know the Chinese proverb "Shang you zheng ce, xia you dui ce"? I learned this saying from my Chinese language tutor in Beijing in 2000. The proverb literally means that while superiors make policies, their subordinates always find countermeasures to castrate those policies.

In late 1968, for example, Chinese leader Mao Zedong ordered 16 million educated urban youths to be sent to barren mountainous areas and poor farming villages to learn from workers and farmers. However, some of the most privileged children, mainly those of Communist Party officials, could avoid the order by joining the army or staying in nearby suburban villages.

At the 18th Party Congress in 2012, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to crack down on corruption by rooting out "tigers and flies," meaning targeting both high-ranking and ordinary party officials. But those officials wining and dining at the government's or corporations' expense tried to evade the campaign by bribing inspectors or tipping off political opponents.