The two large Chinese characters say "Clean Breeze," the name of an anti-graft exhibition in Beijing. Fusing culture and corruption, the invite-only show for central government employees was designed to build honest government, amid Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing campaign against corruption. / Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY
BEIJING - With mock prisons and scary films, Zhao Quntang tries to shock Chinese government officials and Communist Party members to turn them away from temptation.
"I won't take any bribes for the rest of my life" pledge many officials after visiting the anti-graft "warning and education bases" built in several cities by Zhao's design firm, he says.
Chinese residents, however, will need more convincing. The nation is so rife with corruption, and public opinion of those in power so low, that many people last month cheered a thief, Fang Yunyun, when she told police her gang targeted corrupt officials to steal their luxury watches, pre-paid shopping cards and other bribes.
To win back the public trust, Communist Party chief Xi Jinping, who is also president, has made the fight against corruption the centerpiece of his leadership that began nearly two years ago. His vigorous, anti-graft campaign challenging China's elite shows no signs of slowing. New investigations of named officials are announced almost daily.
Surprising take-downs this summer include Zhou Yongkang, a former security czar of such high rank that he was considered untouchable, and Xu Caihou, a former military chief, who will both be prosecuted for corruption. Thousands of other officials are being investigated as Beijing sends inspection teams nationwide to dig up more dirt.
Many more officials and employees of state-run companies are being taken on group trips to these anti-graft "education bases" and exhibitions in cities across the country that are usually closed to the public. That translates into a booming business for companies like Zhao's Sanyueyu in Beijing, which also design anti-corruption exhibits being set up in city parks and squares.
"Sometimes we design part of the hall as a prison and use digital methods such as 4D film," he says. "Visitors see a sea of flowers and warm red sunshine, then suddenly the scene changes, with thunderbolts and lightning strikes on the corrupt, who fall into a big crack."
Xi's drive against corruption "is less of a campaign than a crusade, as it's become almost religious in intensity and lengthy in terms of time," says Russell Moses, a political analyst and dean of the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies.
"It's about winning trust within the (Communist) party and establishing a connection between the party and the public. You can't talk about the 'China Dream' unless you end the nightmare of graft in China," Moses says.
Wang Teng, a clerk at a Beijing bank, says he's inspired by the unprecedented scale of Xi's anti-graft struggle.
"My generation has just started work, and these activities will help us follow rules more strictly and stay clean," says Wang, 25, whose employer organized a trip to an official anti-graft exhibition called "Clean Breeze" last week. "I'm fully confident that with the determination of the leadership, and the supervision of the people, fighting corruption will succeed."
Yet authorities still are not considering public participation or oversight, warns Hu Xingdou, an outspoken economist at the Beijing Institute of Technology. Led by the party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, authorities believe in "cleaning up their own room," without external involvement, Hu says.
"We can't have an independent anti-corruption agency, like in Hong Kong, as in (mainland) China, everything must be led by the party," he says.
To scare officials into more honest governance, provinces from Guangdong in the south to Xinjiang in the far northwest have organized prison visits to hear confessions of those jailed for graft. In August, 200 staff members from the powerful National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) toured a prison now housing some of their former colleagues.
Two other senior NDRC officials are currently under investigation, Caixin media reported last week. But without real oversight by an independent agency, plus a news media and judiciary free of party control, China will continue to fail in efforts to prevent corruption, Hu says.
"We can take them to prison to scare them, but the effect will only last three days - then they forget!"
Contributing: Sunny Yang
Read the original story: China targets widespread corruption, but doubts remain