BEIJING -- The execution was as swift as it was unexpected. It also sent shock waves through China's bureaucracy and led to a flurry of self-initiated confessions of accepting bribes.
The speedy execution of Lai Xiaomin, former chairman of China Huarong Asset Management, in January after he was found guilty of accepting 1.79 billion yuan ($279 million) in bribes rattled bureaucrats for the breaking of an unwritten rule against carrying out death sentences for bribery or other financial crimes.
Meanwhile, Qin Guangrong, a former Communist Party chief of Yunnan Province who was also found to have taken bribes, was sentenced to seven years in prison after confessing voluntarily.
The number of government officials involved in corruption cases who turned themselves in jumped by half in 2020 to 16,000, apparently in an effort to demonstrate President Xi Jinping's ability to project authority throughout the Communist Party hierarchy ahead of the 2022 edition of the twice-a-decade party congress.
The surge follows the discipline committee's January 2020 decision that officials who voluntarily surrendered would be shown leniency, while those repeatedly accepting bribes would be dealt with harshly.
People voluntarily surrendering roughly doubled from just over 5,000 between October 2017 and the end of 2018 to 10,357 in 2019 and then climbed 54% in 2020, according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party's top anti-graft body.
High-profile cases last year include a former Qinghai Province vice governor found to have ignored illegal coal mining, and a party chief of the Hebei Province city of Handan.
The trend has continued this year. The discipline committee said Monday that the deputy secretary of Chongqing's political and legal committee, which oversees police and the judicial system, would be removed from office and expelled from the party after using his position to receive large sums of money. The official turned himself in Feb. 19.
May has seen news of a senior official in Shandong Province's political and legal committee surrendering to authorities, as well as of the chief procurator of Shanghai's Pudong district confessing to crimes. In Beijing, Xi's backyard, the deputy head of the city's education authority and a senior official at state-owned Beijing Tong Ren Tang Chinese Medicine have both turned themselves in.
The anti-graft campaign that Xi launched soon after taking power as the party's general secretary in 2012 has ensnared numerous high-level party officials. None of the Communist Party's top 200 officials were disciplined last year -- a first under Xi -- which observers chalk up to the president having already solidified his position by targeting political foes and bringing allies into key posts.
The discipline committee has stressed that it looks to normalize officials coming forward to voluntarily confess to corruption, pointing to a shift in tactics away from its aggressive efforts to unearth graft.
Reports of officials turning themselves in abound in state-controlled media, in an apparent bid to demonstrate that Xi's grip on the party extends down to its lowest levels.
"The goal is to show the Communist Party's governance capabilities to the public," said Tomoki Kamo, a professor on the policy management faculty at Japan's Keio University.
Yet whether Xi's authority actually reaches every corner of the party apparatus is not entirely clear.
Last year saw a flap over Shaanxi Province authorities failing to crack down on illegal building of villas in a national nature reserve despite repeated calls from Xi to take action.
Zhao Zhengyong, who served as party secretary of the province during the construction, was given a suspended death sentence and stripped of his party membership and political rights last year over a bribery scandal, in an apparent sign that he had incurred Xi's wrath.