Standing in a half-built library, Hebei businessman Sun Dawu looks weary and heavy-hearted. Had he not been arrested in May for illegal fund-raising, the library would have been finished three months ago. The library was just one part of the 50-year-old agribusiness millionaire's vision for transforming the little-known town of Xushui in Hebei province. Mr Sun has spent years establishing his Dawu Group of businesses in Xushui and ploughing some of the profits into making the town a centre for culture and education, with sports facilities and history and military museums. But that dream suffered a severe setback with his arrest last May on charges of illegal deposit-taking - borrowing money without official approval. Now he is trying to pick up the pieces following his release from five months of detention after a court handed him a suspended jail sentence. He sees himself as a symbol for all ethical businessmen who refuse to bribe officials for bank loans. How badly was he hit? His Dawu Group has been largely paralysed. A number of its factories have closed and nearly a third of its employees have had to be laid off because the company could not pay their wages. The output of Mr Sun's animal-feed business has dropped by half, and a roast chicken plant has lost 80 per cent of its business. A plan to build a university with the help of some Canadian educators has had to be shelved. 'They were scared away after I was arrested,' he says. 'I am tired and weary. It used to be a busy place with a lot of people. Now it is half deserted and many things have to be restored. I have to get the people back and resume production as soon as possible,' he adds. Liu Guoying, who heads Dawu's grape research centre, cannot hold back the tears when he thinks of the 50 hectares of vineyards destroyed to make way for wheat cultivation because the company needed a quick-cash crop urgently to pay its employees. Mr Sun has talked to local officials about having his computers and financial records returned. His wife, Liu Huiru, turned herself in on Monday last week - a formality so that police could nullify her arrest warrant. She went into hiding after the arrest of her husband and his two brothers, who were both acquitted after Mr Sun's trial on October 30. He was charged in July with illegally raising 181.2 million yuan by accepting loans. Police alleged he had been raising such funds since 1993. However, he was convicted only of raising 13.08 million yuan from 611 local depositors between January 2000 and May this year without the approval of the People's Bank of China. His sentence was three years in prison, suspended for four years. Scholars and fellow businessmen have already expressed their support for Mr Sun. Liu Chuanzhi, a director of computer giant Legend Group, wrote a letter of support and sent representatives to Dawu Group to explore ways of lending a helping hand. Mr Sun believes such support explains the lenient sentence he received. He says: 'For other entrepreneurs, the dark side of their personal life was often exposed after their downfall. But in my case, I have not colluded with corrupt officials. There is no dark side of my personal life to be exposed. Only the dark side of the society was exposed after my downfall. 'I am an example to demonstrate that the survival of private enterprises is very difficult. For an entrepreneur like me to end up in prison means people cannot take my way, but my way is the right way: I don't bribe officials or give kickbacks. But taking the right way is very difficult.' He began taking deposits, initially from his own employees, to finance the growth of his business after state banks had largely turned him down for loans. Asked what makes it so difficult for a private entrepreneur to borrow money from banks, he says: 'They say there is no quota [of loans] left. And there are other, untold reasons.' He would not elaborate on those reasons, but in an interview he gave while in custody to Oriental Outlook - a Xinhua publication, he said: 'No company can borrow money from banks without bribing officials.' Only 'model projects' assigned by local leaders could obtain loans, he said. For anything else, bank officials required kickbacks. Mr Sun told the magazine: 'Some companies are giving kickbacks of up to 50 per cent of the loans. Some give officials 500,000 yuan in order to borrow 500,000 yuan. For this kind of loan, do you think they will pay it back? The central government should find out why there are such big losses in loans at the local level.' Having been sentenced, he is wary of repeating those blunt remarks. But he says he wishes private enterprises could deal with banks on an equal basis. 'It should not be like having one side begging the other for approval,' he says. Mr Sun has only two wishes now - to regain his full freedom and to avoid returning to jail. 'My wish is that I will never have to go back there again. But if I have to, I won't be afraid,' he says. In the first two weeks of his five-month-long detention, he was kept in isolation - something he says he will never forget. 'I was like a blindfolded donkey driving a millwheel in circles. I was thinking my value as a human being was so low. When thousands of people were so active outside, I was doing nothing,' he says. Later, he was put in a bigger cell with other inmates. He says they treated him well and respected him. What struck him most while in jail was the nation's slow progress. 'I was reading a book about the 5,000 years of the history of China when I was in custody. Progress was difficult. 'To succeed, [we] need perseverance from everybody in society. That was what I was thinking.' For now, the businessman says, he will refrain from giving speeches, attending seminars or visiting universities - things that he used to do before his arrest. 'I should do more and say less,' he says. 'I have spoken too much.' He does not regret what he has done. 'People were saying I was a tragic figure. [But] I feel like Don Quixote tilting at the windmill. 'The thing I fear most in my life is to die a coward.'