Faced with a strict edict to embrace austerity, China's officials have had to resort to ever more creative ways to lead the high life.
Xi Jinping, China's new president, has repeatedly warned that the graft and gluttony of the country's free-spending officials could bring down the Communist Party.
But trying to stop a Chinese civil servant or army boss from living like a prince on public money seems, at times, to be as difficult as nailing jelly to a tree. Yesterday, the front page of the 'People's Daily', the party mouthpiece, lamented a new trend of "secret sumptuousness".
"Instead of going out to high-end restaurants, (officials) are now eating in private clubs," it said. "We constantly hear reports that officials are going to secret saunas disguised as farmhouses, disguising their maotai (one of China's most expensive drinks) in mineral water bottles, and hiding Panda cigarettes (which cost up to €83) in Red Pagoda packets (€1.20)."
According to Xinhua, the official news agency, a year-long campaign will try to stamp out bad behaviour. But in the past few weeks, there has been evidence that Chinese officials are not living like monks.
In the northern city of Harbin, one street has been renamed "Corruption Alley" because of its cluster of opulent restaurants. In the city of Datong, top-end restaurants said that while business was down, they were now offering to deliver banquets to private homes. And in the central city of Taizhou, an official who was caught dining on puffer fish and drinking bottles of expensive wine was forced to kneel and apologise.
Yuan Yulai, a lawyer who specialises in prosecuting corrupt officials, admitted that there was little hope of change. "If you look at the official in Taizhou, he was sacked from his job. But then, days later, he was found to have another, even higher, position," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)