YONGCHENG, China -- Atop the building that houses this citys Chinese Communist Party committee, a string of red characters proclaims the duties of leadership: be efficient, pragmatic, upright and, echoing Mao Zedong, work for the people.
Down one hallway, though, a row of committee offices sat closed and darkened on a recent morning. Li Xingong used to work here.
Police last month reportedly caught Li, a 42-year-old local party official, sexually assaulting an underage girl in a car. He was later arrested on charges of raping 11 girls since October 2011.
Even in a country accustomed to abuse of power, Li was a particularly shocking example of a man made strong by the Communist Party trampling the rights of average Chinese. The specter of wayward officeholders has increasingly become a challenge for the prestige of the party and, at the furthest limits, the underpinnings of its authority.
The officials at the lower levels are the most corrupt, said a man surnamed Deng, a 32-year-old who runs a photo studio in Yongcheng. As with others in the city, he spoke on the condition that his full name not be used, for fear of retribution. If all the officials in China were like this, then China would be finished.
In a year when the majority of seats on the standing committee of Chinas politburo are scheduled to change, and with them the nations top leaders in a once-in-a-decade transition, such sentiment has almost certainly caused unease in the capital. The Communists took over less than 65 years ago in part because of widespread dissatisfaction with the rapacious nature of the then ruling Nationalist Party. The view then was that Mao and his comrades offered a moral alternative.
That notion was challenged earlier this year by one of the largest scandals China has seen in decades. Politburo member Bo Xilai was removed from that position in April amid rumors of unchecked corruption and ruthlessness. Until then, hed been seen as a serious contender for the standing committee. Bos wife being named by the government as highly suspected in the murder of a British businessman only compounded a perception of rot inside the system.
The Communist Partys grip on power remains unchallenged. Its popularity is underwritten by decades of economic growth and the continuing betterment, from one generation to the next, of living standards in the worlds most populous country. But outrages like those that Li is charged with raise serious questions about the costs of conferring so much might and such little accountability on officials.
In Yongcheng, Li was the deputy director of the general office of the citys party committee. The assault of the underage girl allegedly took place May 8, though he wasnt formally arrested following detention and investigation until a few days after May 24, when one official news site says he was dismissed from his post. That apparently allowed authorities and the media they control to refer to him as a former official in announcements.
The confidence of the common people in officials has fallen, said a woman with the last name of Zhu, who was sitting in a small grocery behind Yongcheng No. 3 junior high school, near the spot where many said Li was discovered with his last victim.
His lifestyle probably wasnt this way before he got to that position, but afterward he became perverted, said Zhu, 40, absentmindedly watching a movie on a desktop computer. The common people certainly cannot do these sorts of things, we dont have that much power.