Stealing has become big business in China; lax supervision blamed

"It's easy to steal things in Peking," reads the top headline in a recent issue of the local newspaper, the Peking Daily. The newspaper's complaint is not so much about theft in general, although there is a fair amount of that. Rather it is about stealing from industrial and construction premises, and it takes to task not only the thieves themselves but also the lax accounting controls that either keep management blithely ignorant of losses or enable it to doctor accounts to cover up waste and thefts.

The Dec. 31 issue of the Peking Daily, for instnace, tells of Li Rongsheng, a worker at an electric tube factory who stole 1,132.5 grams of industrial gold and antimony worth a total of 23,415.5 yuan (about $15,610) from his workshop over a period of several months.

The factory had no idea the thefts were taking place until the police caught one of Li's accomplices trying to sell the gold on busy Qianmen shopping street. In December 1979, Li had stolen the 500-gram lot of gold and antimony that had been registered on the company's books as having arrived on the premises in September. The theft was not discovered even when the company closed its books at the end of the year, because they noted only incoming shipments. There was no record of how much gold and antimony was actually used, when it was used, or for what specific purpose.

The Dec. 27 issue of the same paper tells of three men dressed as peansant who got away one night with six ingots of copper weighing about 50 kilograms each, another small group who stole 40-kilogram bundles of natural rubber, and still another group who stole 36 ingots of tin concentrates worth more than 10, 000 yuan, ($6,666).

These thieves simply jumped over the walls of factories and warehouses late at night and carried away as much as they could load on their bicycles without arousing suspicion.

In one case a worker at a forklift factory who lived on the premises took a walk to the toilet late at night. He came across a group of more than 10 thieves dragging away ingots of lead through a broker-down section of the factory wall. He rean to the gatekeeper to give the alarm, only to be told, "My duty is to guard the front gate. Go find the security section."

The worker telephoned the security section but could not get through. Seeing that the theives were too many for him to deal with, he went back to sleep and did not report the incident of the security section until the following morning. By that time 360 kilograms of lead had disappeared without trace.

The most outrageous incident reported by the newspaper concerns a boiler factory from which thieves caught by the police confessed to having stolen 450 kilograms of heavy copper wire.

The police managed to confiscate 150 kilograms of the stolen wire, but when they went to the factory to ascertain how much the factory had lost, officials there obstinately refused to concede that they had lost any wire at all. "There is a lot of this kind of wire around, how can you prove that it was lost by our factory?" the officials asked.

The police were forced to get the thieves to reenact the crime, showing exactly how they had stolen the wire. STill the officials said, "Unless the thieves insist that the stolen wire was ours, we will not record it as having been lost by us."

The Peking Daily says that factories do not care about losses because they can doctor the books to make incoming and outgoing accounts correspond. Once they have so doctored the books, they are, of course, embarrassed when stolen goods show up.

"Hasn't the time come to admit that present management methods are extremely backward? And to take effective measures to improve them?" asks the Peking Daily.

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