The ruling Chinese Communist Party has probed more than 10,000 officials in the past three years alone for lavish weddings and other ceremonies, sparking renewed calls for systemic change to tackle an endemic problem.
Since Beijing issued an ethical code for officials banning the use of public funds for lavish private ceremonies and celebrations, the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) has investigated 11,445 people, and handed out punishments to 7,558 of them, official media reported.
Of those, 88 were investigated since the beginning of 2016 alone, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.
The CCDI highlighted a case in the southwestern city of Guiyang, where Jinguan village party secretary Chen Shaoxiang laid on a banquet of 135 tables for his daughter's wedding, receiving gifts of more than 82,000 yuan from guests.
In Beijing's Yanqing county, Su Jinquan, party secretary of Beiguan village, was found to have hosted a 101-table banquet that netted gifts of 56,000 yuan, the CCDI said in a monthly report on its official website.
Photos of lavish wedding ceremonies linked to wealthy officials, complete with Ferraris, brides laden with gold and convoys of Rolls Royces have gone viral on the Chinese Internet in recent months, amid growing public anger and a widening gulf between the lifestyles of the ruling elite and those of ordinary people.
Retired Shandong University professor Sun Wenguang said wedding banquets are a very common form of money-spinner for local officials.
"At local level, they really have too many of these banquets, and they use every means they can think of to invite guests and therefore to receive gifts," he said.
"The Chinese Communist Party used to cover this up in the past, but so many cases were being exposed by ordinary people that now so many officials, who are pretty much all of them party members, have been exposed," Sun Wenguang said.
But he said only a more democratic system could solve the problem.
"The only way to solve the problem of corruption is at a system-wide level," he said.
China's anti-corruption campaign has netted more than 200 individuals with criminal convictions so far, who have taken nearly one billion U.S. dollars from public coffers between them, according to a new corruption database.
Using publicly available information from official Chinese government websites, an online database compiled by the Asia Society's ChinaFile website reveals that 231 individuals have been sentenced for embezzling, stealing, accepting as gifts and bribes or otherwise misused the funds since President Xi Jinping launched the campaign in 2012.
The ChinaFile website cited the case of Yang Yueguo, a local official in the southwestern province of Yunnan, who spent U.S.$30,000 in public funds on jade jewelry.
A court case involving Henan municipal official Quan Xiaohui accused him of keeping three mistresses, while Beijing district-level party chief Yan Yongxi cached his embezzled fortune in his mistress’ gardening company.
Of the cases listed in the database, adultery was listed as an element of the case against them in 67 out of 231 cases.
Nanjing-based independent journalist Sun Lin said banquets, and the lavish "gifts" showered on officials by guests, are just one aspect of corruption, albeit a highly visible one.
"Actually, there is much worse corruption," Sun said, citing a case in Wuxi where a planned large Buddha statue had been planned, but never built.
"If you take a look at how much money was invested, and who was supposed to have built it, then you'll see what I mean," Sun said. "The amounts involved were much bigger [than wedding gifts]."
He said part of the problem faced by the CCDI is that those engaged in corruption seek to engage their colleagues in it with them, and retain evidence to deter whistleblowing.
"There was one whistleblower who had compiled a book of bribes taken by officials in Qingdao, called Sui Shuangsheng," he said.
"It had the names of everyone and the exact amount they had taken in bribes, from the very top, all the way down to the planning and land resources bureaux," he said.
"So they were unable to take the case, even through the prosecution service accepted [the evidence], because absolutely everyone was involved," Sun said.
"That was just in Qingdao, let alone the rest of the country," he said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.