When fallen corrupt officials confess in a Chinese court, they often repent having let their mind stray while in power, which they say has pushed them down the road to self-destruction.
Take Zhang Shuguang, a former top railways official charged with accepting 47.55 million yuan (S$9.6 million) in bribes. On September 10 he admitted in court that after making some personal achievements, he turned to criminal activities as he "let his mind loose" and slackened in studies.
Interestingly, three months earlier, the former railways minister and his patron Liu Zhijun also blamed "slackening in studies and letting his guard down" for his downfall, before he was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for bribery and abuse of power.
You may brush aside such scripted excuses as hypocritical, desperate tactics aimed at being treated more leniently. But high moral standards of officials through incessant ideological indoctrination and self-study have long been a main anti-corruption strategy in China.
So when a corrupt official is caught, a lack of moral education and reflection often becomes an easy excuse, while he carefully avoids other more important causes.
Now as corruption pervades the Chinese social fabric, the question is, has the education approach ever worked to prevent moral deviations by corrupt officials?
The answer seems to be yes, but with almost negligible effects, at least judging by a growing body of research results on what corrupt officials were thinking when they embarked on their dangerous path. Researchers have identified a number of psychological triggers that prompted officials to commit acts of corruption and fraud, in the context of low salaries, ample loopholes and a porous monitoring system.
In a recently concluded study on corruption that surveyed 103 fallen officials at the vice-minister level or higher, Tian Guoliang, a professor at the CPC's Central Party School, found five most common psychological factors: jealousy, peer pressure, compensation, risk-taking and superstition.