Local people call it the 'street of corruption', or fubai yitiaojie, a row of expensive restaurants and entertainment venues popular with officials, police, mafia and businessmen in Harbin, capital of northerly Heilongjiang province. It is located in the city's development zone, where a Taiwan developer has built several skyscrapers of office buildings, shops and upmarket apartments. The clues to the clientele are the high prices in the restaurants - double or triple those in other parts of a city where most people earn about 600 yuan (HK$565) a month - the Mercedes, Pajeros and Lexuses parked outside, many with number plates of the military or the People's Armed Police, and the well-padded waists of many of the customers. It is unfair to say that everyone there is corrupt, but the nickname expresses the widespread contempt among ordinary people for those who rule them. 'Everything is for sale here, including posts in the Government, the army and the police,' said one disgruntled official. 'To become the chief of a district, you must pay 100,000 to 200,000 yuan, in addition to winning the favour of those above you in the Communist Party and Government. 'Once you get the job, you must pay a portion of your illegal income, such as bribes and kickbacks for contracts and real estate deals, to your superiors to keep them sweet, just as your inferiors pay a cut to you. 'The army is very corrupt, too. To win promotion, you have to pay those who make the appointments. When you get the post, you in turn join the gravy train. The army also makes money by selling its number plates - which exempts a vehicle from road tolls and other taxes - and selling posts to new recruits. 'To people in rural areas, a son in the army is a valuable asset. Once he leaves the army, it will help him get a full-time job.' His friend piped in: 'The media is very corrupt, too. A job in Heilongjiang Television costs 30,000 to 50,000 yuan. It is a pot of gold because it is subsidised by the Government, has substantial advertising revenue and gives air time to companies and officials who pay for it. 'You want the television to do a programme about your company and its products? You have to pay, with some going to the reporting team and some to the editors. You want to keep off the air information that damages you? You pay for that too.' What goes on reflects practices in Beijing, where companies routinely pay reporters and editors and can have favourable articles written about them if they buy advertising in a newspaper or magazine. Luckiest of all, so people say, are those who work in central television, which has a monopoly on the world's largest audience of up to one billion people. Those who want to speak to this nationwide audience have no alternative but to go through central television. A propaganda official of a western province recalled how he invited central television to send a team to his area and was told the cost would run into hundreds of thousands of yuan. This would include free air tickets, food, travel and accommodation for all the crew, as well as a 'filming fee' and a 'broadcasting fee'. 'We are a poor province, so I refused,' the propaganda official said.