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An official government site also showed Fan was to be promoted to be the police chief of Sunitezuoqi from a lower-ranked deputy position in Xilinhot. Xu said Fan lost his rank last year when he was implicated during the investigation against Liu, and is now a regular police officer.

In Xilingol, local officials said Liu’s case is a thing of past and that office-buying is limited to a handful.

“The majority of our cadres are good. Only a few are corrupt,” said Yao Situ, director of foreign affairs.

He said local governments are recruiting and promoting cadres through democratic, fair and transparent competitions that value merit above anything else.

Many experts, however, say graft continues to flourish thanks to opaque government, a lack of accountability, the absence of independent supervision and ineffective punishment. They say that in China’s one-party government, personnel decisions are made by a few powerful people despite policies and procedures stipulating collective rulings.

“Simply put, in China’s cadre selection procedure, the party chief, the deputy chief for personnel, and the director of personnel wield the real power. For office-seekers, it is far more cost-effective to bribe them than to bribe voters in a democratic election,” said He Zengke, who has studied China’s corruption for more than 20 years. He is director of the China Center for Comparative Politics and Economics, a Beijing-based think tank.

In a heavily regulated country where the government controls resources, it seems almost all government offices can be a profit-making enterprise.

Transportation officials take kickbacks for road projects. Planning directors cash in on their approval powers. Police chiefs dismiss cases for private payments. Judges accept bribes for lighter sentences.

Office-buying is difficult to root out in part because it is so prevalent in China. Those tasked with combatting corruption — such as party chiefs and prosecutors — are often guilty of it themselves.

Sometimes office-buying is uncovered by chance. In northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province, a scandal emerged following an assault on police officers who were investigating prostitution in a bath center.

The assault led authorities to examine the business’s finances. They found problematic loans that implicated a senior official at a local state-run bank, according to state media.

Investigators uncovered a pyramid of graft. One official, Li Gang, accepted bribes totaling 2,100,000 yuan ($330,000) from more than 35 people over promotional issues. Li himself paid Suihua party secretary Ma De to be a county party secretary. And Ma got his job by paying 800,000 yuan ($127,000) to Han Guizhi, a Heilongjiang party official in charge of personnel affairs.

Han sold other top positions as well, including the chief prosecutor, the chief of the provincial supreme court and the chief of the personnel bureau, according to state media reports.

In 2010, several senior officials fell to corruption charges, including Huang Yao, former deputy party secretary for southwestern China’s Guizhou province, and Wang Huayuan, a party standing committee member overseeing discipline inspection in eastern China’s Zhejiang province. State media said they had profited from “job assignments” but did not offer more details.

Now, a criminal investigation against Huang Sheng, formerly the vice governor of eastern China’s Shandong province, has silenced the Dezhou government, where many officials were promoted during Huang’s tenure as the city’s party secretary, according to state media.

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