China's leadership has launched a corruption probe against the mayor of the eastern city of Nanjing, who is now under investigation by the disciplinary department of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, official media reported on Thursday.
Ji Jianye, who has also served as deputy Party secretary in Jiangsu's provincial capital since 2009, was last seen in public discussing plans for a sewage project on Tuesday.
However, the Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a brief statement on its website that investigations into Ji's activities had begun Wednesday morning.
Ji, 56, was nicknamed "Mayor Bulldozer" in a jibe at his fondness for major construction projects in the city, the Party-backed Global Times newspaper reported.
The 21st Century Business Herald quoted sources within the Commission as saying that the probe is linked to corruption allegations, as well as some "problematic" projects linked to Suzhou-based property developer Zhu Xingliang, who has been under house arrest since July.
Investigators are focusing on deals involving Zhu's company during Ji's tenure as mayor and Party secretary of Yangzhou from 2001-2009, it said.
A Beijing-based academic commentator who declined to be named said the case would come as no surprise to the majority of Chinese.
"It doesn't matter who they investigate, in which department, province or city. No one is surprised, unlike in years gone by," he said.
"People just think this is normal and that there will be plenty more, one after the other, in an unending stream."
He said the problem runs through China's entire political system.
"This is systemic corruption, and so any of them, regardless of their position, could run into this kind of problem. Even if they're not trying to gain benefits for themselves, others will seek them out [for their own benefit]."
President Xi Jinping has launched a nationwide clampdown on corruption, warning that the Communist Party must beat graft or lose power.
But police continue to detain activists who call for greater transparency.
"Xi Jinping is in quite a difficult position, because the economic situation is getting worse, and recently we had something of a financial crisis, while officially reported inflation is worse than predicted," Shenzhen-based commentator Zhu Jianguo said.
"Xi hasn't really achieved any economic results in the past year, so he's looking to achieve results politically, in terms of the Party's working style and the fight against corruption."
He said Xi had gained little political capital from the jailing of disgraced former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai.
"He didn't catch Bo Xilai, so he doesn't get the credit," Zhu said. "So now he has to go after some new corrupt officials ... mainly to establish his authority."
He said Ji was nowhere near as big a fish as Bo, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last month for corruption and abuse of power, in the biggest political scandal to rock the Party in decades.
"However, I think this will shake up mayors across the country, because the biggest characteristic [of this case] is the massive scale of forced demolitions and forced evictions to make way for large-scale projects," Zhu said.
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to communities under collective contract under a system that replaced large-scale state-run farms and communes when late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping took power in 1978.
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
Violent forced evictions, often resulting in deaths and injuries, are continuing to rise in China, as cash-strapped local governments team up with development companies to grab property in a bid to boost revenue, rights groups say.
"[The officials] go for prestige projects, mainly because every project becomes a source of unofficial income for them," Zhu said.
"China's cities have been developing so fast in recent years, mainly driven by the private interests of developers and municipal officials, which are bound up together."
A total of 129 officials at the prefectural level or higher were investigated for corruption in the first eight months of this year, China's state prosecutor, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, said in a statement on Thursday.
China’s hidden household income—otherwise known as its "gray economy"—has topped 6.2 trillion yuan (U.S.$1 trillion) or about 12 percent of the world's most populous nation's economic output, according to a recent government-backed report.
The China Reform Foundation said most undeclared income in the Chinese economy is undocumented and is held in the hands of relatively few people.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.