When He Peng set foot in Tongle Square of Luliang county, Yunnan province, at 2 am on Saturday, the 30-year-old felt like a stranger in his hometown.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 after withdrawing nearly 430,000 yuan ($63,000) from his bank's ATMs, which gave him money that was mistakenly put into his account by a bank clerk.
He was set free at midnight on Saturday and given a second shot at life after Xu Ting, a young man in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, who committed a similar crime, had his life sentence commuted to five years in 2008. In the aftermath, media coverage raised questions over the fairness of the judicial system.
His lawyer also plans to seek State compensation for his incarceration.
A freshman at Yunnan's provincial police academy in 2002, He Peng discovered 1 million yuan in his account at the Agriculture Bank of China at the ATM on March 2, 2001.
After his first withdrawal attempt, He found the money was real and proceeded to draw several thousand yuan more, "thinking maybe some relatives had deposited the money for me", he was quoted in a Beijing News report as saying.
The second day, he drew more from ATMs all over the provincial capital of Kunming. He took a total of 429,700 yuan. He then asked his mother to help declare the loss of his bank card.
He was arrested on March 5, 2001, and jailed for stealing the money on July 12 that year.
The man's plea of innocence was subsequently denied and the Yunnan Higher People's Court upheld the sentence.