The absolute power of the top party officials on the mainland is the major reason so many are corrupt and changes are needed to dilute their influence, analysts have cautioned.
The warning comes as a mainland survey revealed that 60 per cent of senior corrupt officials caught in the last decade were the top party official in the organisations they supervised.
Researchers from the National Academy of Development and Strategy at Renmin University found that of 367 officials at or above the department or bureau level convicted of corruption between 2000 and 2014, 219, or about 60 per cent were the top official in a locality, organisation, enterprise or institution.
The results triggered heated debate inside and outside the establishment over why most senior mainland officials are much more corrupt than their deputies.
Analysts said the country's "unitary party leadership system" that gave chief officials absolute power was to blame.
"Under the unitary party leadership system, they are the real bosses of any institutions under their stewardship," said Zhang Lifan , a party historian, formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Under the existing leadership system, the No1 official in any organisation is usually the party secretary, who is also the unit's chief executive or equivalent. For instance, the top official in a state-owned enterprise is often the secretary of the firm's party committee as well as the chairman of the board.
The Renmin University report said reforms were needed to dilute the power of those senior officers.
Hongyi Lai, professor of contemporary Chinese studies and politics at the University of Nottingham, said that unlike in Western political systems, mainland officials were subject to few independent constraints and little oversight other than that from those higher up the chain.
And higher-level authorities usually did not have an accurate picture of the activities, including the wrongdoings, of the No 1 officials under their jurisdiction.
Even if they had the information, there might be little incentive to take on these corrupt officials, "either because they are their followers, or because the wrongdoings of their subordinates may show up their own failures", Lai said.
Lai said that often local courts, local media and local residents were under the heavy influence of top officials and afraid to offend them.
"They cannot exercise their duties to supervise the No1 leaders. This gives rise to the corruption in such officials," he said.
Xiaoyu Pu, professor of political science at the University of Nevada, said corruption was inevitable with such a high concentration of power.
"That is why many people are calling for institutional reform to deal with corruption in a more fundamental way," Pu said.
The widespread nature of the corruption had raised the possibility of long-awaited reform to require top officials to declare their personal and family assets, analysts said.
"It is imperative to build a system that puts senior officials under public scrutiny by requiring them to make their personal and family assets public," Zhang said.
Warren Sun, who teaches contemporary Chinese elite politics at Monash University, said China remained an authoritarian state with a hierarchically minded culture, ensuring that those in the senior ranks were valued over those lower down.
"Power in the absence of real political reform tends to run wild and become personalised as well as capitalised," Sun said.