The ruling Chinese Communist Party looks set to step up its nationwide anti-corruption campaign in 2016, with the party's disciplinary body launching a social media channel for members of the public to denounce corrupt officials, official media reported.
The party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) launched an official account on the smartphone chat service WeChat at the beginning of the year, offering "a one-click channel for users to report disciplinary violations by officials," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The account will also provide users with "first-hand, authoritative information" on the work of the CCDI, it quoted the disciplinary agency as saying.
Rights activists, however, said the new channel was unlikely to protect the identities of whistle-blowers.
"Currently, people who wish to remain anonymous can't make a report using WeChat," Beijing-based activist Hu Jia told RFA.
"This is because it keeps a record of the source of the information."
He said the government should allow the media to play more of a role in exposing corrupt officials.
Meanwhile, Chengdu-based activist Yuan Ying, who has lodged complaints over official corruption in relation to her forced eviction from her home, said many petitioners have long since decided that online complaints result in little action.
Yuan said prefers to demonstrate outside the headquarters of the CCDI in Beijing.
She said some 2,000 petitioners from across the country have been gathered there since the start of 2016.
"They are shouting slogans, all along the road for about 1,000 meters (0.62 mile)," Yuan said. "There are busloads of police officers, and they have sealed off the street, although we didn't block traffic."
"We have made so many complaints through online channels, as well as writing letters of complaint and handing them in personally," Yuan said. "So then we started coming to Beijing to get our grievances heard."
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said the new chat tip-off channel is largely cosmetic.
"They have just come up with something new to try to satisfy people, and to make them waste more time trying to complain on WeChat, and then waiting for the authorities to do something," Huang said.
"But if the authorities don't change their fundamental attitude to petitioners, they will keep on petitioning, year in, year out," he said.
Tip-offs in the tens of thousands
Since the anti-corruption campaign was launched by incoming President Xi Jinping in 2013, the CCDI has received more than 270,000 tip-offs from members of the public, while tens of thousands of Chinese officials have been criminally charged, imprisoned or otherwise "disciplined."
The CCDI has also called on the public to watch out during the holiday period for officials who dine out or take private trips on taxpayers' money, or who use official vehicles for private purposes.
"Historically, New Year until Spring Festival is the season when lavish entertaining and gifting with public money run rampant," Xinhua reported, citing a CCDI directive dated Dec. 24.
"Purchases of holiday gifts, shopping cards and fireworks with public money are prohibited," the directive said.
"Officials are banned from sending or receiving electronic hongbao [gifts of money], while officials are not allowed to enter private clubs," it said.
China's anti-graft campaign has had a significant impact on sales of luxury food, alcohol and consumer goods, according to a recent report from Morgan Stanley cited by Bloomberg.
Sales of imported luxury items such as Cognac and Maotai, designer brands, and watches fell after Xi's campaign intensified in early 2014 as more officials were disciplined and arrested, affecting the gambling industry, especially in the former Portuguese territory of Macau, the report said.
The CCDI investigated 37 provincial and ministerial-level officials last year for graft charges in a campaign which has targeted both high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies."
Last week, authorities said they would prosecute former deputy environment minister Zhang Lijun for corruption after a probe found he abused his power and took bribes.
While in office, Zhang "took gifts in exchange for promotions, abused his position for the business interests of family members and of unnamed companies," the CCDI said.
He has been expelled from the party and now faces prosecution.
Hong Kong-based political commentator He Liangliang said Zhang has likely acted as a scapegoat for the swathes of toxic smog that have engulfed northern China and even its southern regions this winter.
"The smog just keeps coming in the north ... and his disgrace will mollify the public mood to a certain extent, and channel it in a definite direction," He said, adding that Zhang has already retired.
"That seems to be where the authorities are going with this," he said.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service and by He Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.