XILINHOT, China (AP) — In a small town in northern China's Inner Mongolia where sheep and cattle easily outnumber humans, Fan Chen paid a Communist Party boss three times an average urban resident's annual salary to become a local police chief.
The scheme was exposed and fell apart, but it was hardly explosive news. It received just a one-line mention in state media. And a friend of Fan's defended him by saying that by current standards, his misdeeds were insignificant.
"What he paid was simply a drizzle," said Xu Huaiwei, a 68-year-old retired engineer. "It's too common in China, and people have paid far more — millions, or tens of millions of yuan — for a government job."
Fan was a small player in the latest of countless office-buying scandals that have touched Chinese officials from the village up to the provincial level. Some scandals implicate hundreds of officials, and state media reports show that the practice has spread to all arms of the government, including the legislature, police and courts.
Buying and selling office is so rampant in China that it has battered the ruling Communist Party's image as an institution that promotes the competent, not the connected. The practice continues despite vows by Chinese leaders to eradicate it, and the public has grown increasingly disgusted.
Fighting corruption will be one of the biggest challenges for the party leadership that will be installed in November in a once-a-decade transition.
Anti-corruption crusaders have particularly warned against personnel corruption, saying it inevitably breeds other forms of corruption as office buyers seek returns on their money. But there have been no recent signs of new action from the government; the last time a leading official talked publicly about office-buying was two years ago.