Three prisoners, including a death row inmate, made a rare jailbreak, fleeing in police uniforms from the Yanshou county jail in Heilongjiang province after killing a guard early yesterday, People's Daily reported online.
There were conflicting reports over the whereabouts of the escapees. The newspaper's website reported that two of the fugitives were later recaptured near a reservoir about 2km from the jail, while another one was on the run. But according to The Beijing News, a Yanshou county press official denied that the fugitives had been recaptured.
The Heilongjiang public security bureau said on its official weibo account that the escapees killed the police officer and then fled the jail wearing standard-issue dark blue police uniforms.
The fugitives were not armed with guns, the bureau said.
One of the men, Gao Yulun, 50, had been sentenced to death, People's Daily reported.
The other two fugitives, Wang Damin, 35, and Li Haiwei, 29, were both charged with assault resulting in death but it was not clear if either of the men had faced trial.
The provincial public security bureau was offering a reward of up to 100,000 yuan (HK$126,000) for information leading to the criminals' recapture.
The local public security bureau could not be reached for comment.
The China News Service said the Yanshou county jail was in a heavily wooded area, surrounded by mountains, farmland and forests.
Villagers reported seeing armed police officers searching the area with tracker dogs.
Escapes from mainland prisons are extremely rare.
China imprisons a far smaller percentage of its population than the United States - 118 per 100,000 people compared with 737 per 100,000 in the US.
However, punishments are often harsh and China is believed to execute more people for crimes each year than the rest of the world combined.