A former civil servant in China's northern province of Shanxi released at the end of a lengthy jail term for corruption has received a hero's welcome from fellow members of the the ruling Chinese Communist Party and the business community, local media reported.
Former Shanxi deputy provincial party secretary Hou Wujie, who earned himself the nickname "the secretary for official-buying," was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment in 2006 for taking bribes totaling 880,000 yuan (U.S.$14,000).
The Hong Kong-based Apple Daily reported on Thursday that he was greeted on his early release from jail by a top aide to the current Shanxi provincial Party committee, who took him flowers.
He was also escorted on his journey back to the provincial capital, Taiyuan, by the boss of a coal-mine who had profited from decisions he made while in office, the paper said.
Several other prominent businessmen lined up to welcome him at the Dadongguan exit to the highway back from the prison, it said.
Part of a 'rotten' system
Taiyuan-based rights activist Li Maolin said he had been unsurprised when he heard the story, which comes amid a nationwide anti-corruption drive launched by China's new leader Xi Jinping.
"In the past few years, there have been a lot of stories like this about the way those in power behave," Li said. "Nowadays, no one even thinks such oddness is strange."
Li said it was taken for granted that business and local government officials moved in a circle of protected interests.
"They're all part of the same system; all rotten; all birds of a feather," he said. "For them to greet each other is normal, now."
Guangzhou-based rights lawyer Tang Jingling said those who went to greet Hou were likely those who had benefited most from his tenure in office.
"If an official is corrupt, then in the course of that corruption, he will set up a chain of corrupt interests, particularly when he is in office," Tang said. "Perhaps these are companies that use his power and position to win benefits."
He said the "meet-and-greet" behavior was likely generated by a sense of honor and obligation, however twisted.
"If he gets arrested, then it falls to him alone to pay the price for all of that, so maybe he is seen as a hero by those who shared in the bounty," Tang said.
Some reports have suggested that the true extent of Hou's gains was at least 50 million yuan, and that he owned a total of 38 properties.
Incoming president Xi Jinping, who takes over formally from president Hu Jintao in March, has warned that the Chinese Communist Party must beat graft or lose its grip on power, sparking a nationwide clampdown on graft.
However, political analysts say that officials with friends in high places are unlikely to be touched by the crackdown, and reports suggest many are liquidating their assets and making moves overseas.
China scored poorly in an annual global corruption index published last year by Transparency International, which measures perceptions of corruption around the world.
Mainland China ranked 80th out of 176 countries, down five places from the previous year.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.