When the Communist Party's top anti-corruption agency announced this month that it was sending 10 "inspection teams" to provinces and state-owned enterprises, internet users and state media compared them to the envoys sent by emperors to check on local officials.
Such procedures have existed for many years, but the move by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) under new anti-graft chief Wang Qishan is attracting much public attention since Xi Jinping announced a crackdown on corruption shortly after becoming president in March.
Recent media reports have shed light on the teams, in particular their leaders and methods of operation: it seems their most effective tool for weeding out graft has been simple interviews with officials.
Each team, whether it is sent to a province or a state enterprise, interviews hundreds of officials over a few months.
Qi Peiwen, a former head of a CCDI inspection team, told the Beijing News that "one-on-one chats" were the best way to detect misconduct because few officials were willing to comment on others, especially their bosses, in group discussions.
It was Qi's team that reportedly brought down Li Baojin, the former chief prosecutor in Tianjin , who took millions in bribes and was given a suspended death sentence in 2007.
The inspectors also set up public hotlines and e-mail addresses for the public to report the wrongdoings of officials.
Wang Yukai , from the Chinese Academy of Governance, said confidential interviews were the most productive method used by inspectors.
The 10 teams, all led by retired ministerial-level officials, were sent by the Communist Party Central Committee earlier this month to Inner Mongolia, Chongqing, the provinces of Hubei, Guizhou and Jiangxi, the China Grain Reserve Corporation, the Ministry of Water Conservancy, the China Publishing Group, Export-Import Bank of China and Renmin University, the Beijing News reported earlier.
The teams look for classic signs of corruption: officials or executives enjoying extravagant lifestyles, failing to toe the party line and even trading official positions for money or favours.
But some pundits doubt the value of probes carried out internally rather than by independent bodies. Some team chiefs may even have personal ties to people they have been sent to find out more about.
Wang Yukai said the power of the inspectors was weakened further by their being able to do nothing more than uncover problems and report to Beijing.Topics: Anti-corruption Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Wang Qishan China Politics