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Forget robbery, try state-owned enterprises for a quick buck
The most popular Hollywood movies on the mainland are always about heists, with Fast Five reaping 67 million yuan (HK$82.45 million) at the box office in its first four days of screening last year.
In that perfect world, the outlaws pocket all the money and take hot, bikini-clad girls back home. The outlaws are happy, and so are the audiences.
But the real world doesn't have Hollywood endings and, on the mainland, robbery is a particularly bleak vocation compared with other avenues for illicit gain - such as working for a state-owned enterprise.
The Zhengzhou Daily reported on Wednesday that one young man who stole a purse on the street was caught immediately and jailed for more than eight years.
Meanwhile, the Legal Evening News reported that the head of a small company owned by Shandong's provincial government who, together with his wife corruptly received nearly 2 million yuan was jailed for 13 years. That's only five years more than the poor robber who did not get to spend a fen of his ill-gotten gains.
And a popular online post detailed purchases made by a state-owned real estate company based in Nanjing , showing the spendthrift nature of its officials. Modern Express, a newspaper owned by Xinhua, reported that the Nanjing company spent 4,000 yuan to buy a pet dog as a gift for one of the officials, 3,762 yuan on saunas, 3,000 yuan on fishing trips and 2,622 yuan on a suit for a female official.
'That is nothing but a drop in the bucket,' the story quoted a blogger as saying. 'How many officials in state-run companies are never corrupt?'
Local discipline officials told the paper that they had looked into the matter. The paper said some of the company's officials were fired - but if things follow the normal pattern, that is likely to be the only punishment they will receive for their corruption.
The Shanghai Securities Daily, which covered the same story, said the list was shocking because the company paid for nearly everything - including a few thousand yuan's worth of Wuliangye, a famous liquor brand.
It then recalled a corruption case from last year to illustrate the situation in state-owned companies and their executives' love of upmarket alcohol.
Lu Guangyu, head of the Guangdong branch of Sinopec, one of the largest state-owned oil companies, billed the company 630,720 yuan for several boxes of Chateau Lafite Rothschild and 958,320 yuan for mao-tai. He was sacked and placed 'under the investigation of the company's internal affairs division'. No further penalties have been announced.
This may explain why talented young mainlanders are eager to work for state-owned enterprises. It's more secure and safe, and if you are lucky, you make much more money.
Robbery might not have the same career prospects but Chinese people still love stories about robbers. China's classic novels often feature characters stealing from corrupt officials and greedy businessmen, and giving to the poor.
The tales are similar to those of Robin Hood and his men, with one exception. The Chinese Robin Hood almost always either surrenders or is caught by the authorities.
That's why the most popular comment online about the gift list story was: 'Please help us to shoot these corrupt officials. Where are the brave men?'
The central government also realises the scale of the mainland's corruption problem, with officials gathering too much power amid almost no supervision or monitoring. It is concerned that if the situation continues, it might undermine social stability.
In an article published last week in Qiushi, the Communist Party's mouthpiece magazine, Premier Wen Jiabao promised more resolute measures to combat abuses of power and corruption.
Entitled 'Let power be exercised under the sunshine', Wen's article said the central government's big task this year was to fight corruption.
The official Guangming Daily ran an editorial headlined, 'The value of state enterprise', to echo Wen's call. It concluded by saying 'the reform of Chinese enterprises is far from finished'.
The premier has talked a lot about fighting graft, but it does not appear that much has been achieved in the past two years.