Encouraged by progress in China's battle against corruption, people across the country and their representatives at the top legislature, the National People's Congress (NPC), are still eager for more achievements.
Another high-ranking official? An executive of a state company? or a village head? One of much asked questions is who will be the next target of China's mounting anti-corruption campaign after a series of graft scandals had been exposed and criminals punished.
"We are still investigating some big cases," said Cao Qingze, deputy secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Communist Party of China, but was tight-mouthed about details, at the on-going NPC session.
However, one thing is clear: corruption probe has forced officials at different levels to be more careful, and avoid to be the campaign's new preys.
"We must draw a lesson from the scandals and take a serious attitude towards the issue, and build a real clean government through self-discipline," said Fujian Governor Xi Jinping, a deputy to the NPC.
Anti-corruption efforts were intensified in the year 2000 and remain a hot topic at the current NPC annual session. Last year China sentenced former Jiangxi deputy governor Hu Changqing and NPC Standing Committee vice-chairman Cheng Kejie to death. Cheng was the highest-ranking official ever executed since 1949.
Prosecutors also investigated the Xiamen smuggling case in Fujian Province, which was believed to be the most notorious smuggling scandal in Chinese history. Major culprits including several senior officials were executed.
The anti-corruption campaign has also revealed a few corrupt Communist Party officials have connections with a brutal underground organization in the northern city of Shenyang.
According to Han Zhubin, head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate who delivered a work report at the NPC session today, 45,000 corrupt cases were investigated last year and seven corrupt officials at the ministerial or provincial level were penalized, in addition to thousands of lower-ranking officials.
"We have been all shocked by the news," said a NPC deputy from the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. "It is pretty clear that corruption is endangering the position of the Communist Party."
Experts say that corruption is commonplace when a country is transforming its economy from an old model to a new one, a course China is experiencing.
Premier Zhu Rongji admitted in his report to the NPC session Monday that "graft and corruption are still serious" and called for a "further struggle." Party discipline departments have already launched a new campaign this year to pursue their next target.
Deputies share the view that the fact an increasing number of scandals have been exposed and relevant persons punished is evidence that the anti-corruption campaign has produced noticeable results, and it by no means indicates that corruption is rolling more rampant.
"Most of the evils emerged several years ago and they were just discovered recently. We feel grateful that the Party began to kill `big tigers,' and be more resolute in combating corruption,' said a deputy.
Most deputies said that the fierce blow would greatly frighten officials who dare to violate the rules. "I think many of them are considering to stop committing crimes," said Zhou Jiachun, from Shanghai.
The number of corrupt cases has decreased in the sectors of finance, construction and government purchasing, according to Li Xueqin, an official with the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party. He even predicted that corruption would be more significantly curbed within five years.
What is more significant is that last year's investigations of and punishment for corruption cases have triggered further reforms within government departments.
Liu Xiaofeng, director of the Transportation Bureau of Sichuan Province and a deputy to the NPC, said that the bureau has abolished its old ways of selecting cadres after the bureau's former director was sentenced to death last year for taking bribes by manipulating the highway construction bid.
Sun Yongfu, vice-minister of railways, said that anti- corruption is a critical issue in building the planned Qinghai- Tibet railway in the coming five years. "We have decided to invite public bidding through newspapers and the Internet to ensure fair competition," he said.
Gan Yuping, an NPC deputy and vice-mayor of Chongqing who is in charge of the peasants' relocation work for the Three Gorges Dam project, said that the city has created a transparent system to enable the work to be supervised by the public after officials were punished for embezzling migration funds last year.
As a matter of fact, most deputies do not agree that the death penalty is the best solution. "The anti-corruption campaign has entered a new stage, that is, while punishing corrupt officials, we are making more efforts to eliminate the root cause of corruption," Cao Qingze said.
"I appreciate the concept of `governing the country through moral approach'," said Ding Jiemin, mayor of Taizhou City in the economically prosperous province of Jiangsu. "It is a better remedy to eliminate social cancer."
The concept was put forward by President Jiang Zemin early this year and parallels to the popular principle of "governing the country according to law."
If the whole nation can abide strictly by moral standards, malicious activities will be significantly decreased, said Ding. He added that good morale should be developed in a wealthy society where most people have sound educational background.
Therefore, the development of the economy would ultimately benefit the campaign. "To curb corruption, a country should build a mature market economy and bring it fully under the protection of law," he added.
Shi Liwen, an NPC deputy and president of China's number one construction conglomerate based in Shanghai, felt proud that few corruption scandals have reported in the city, saying that Shanghaiers' law awareness and the city's improved supervision system have contributed a lot.
"In the city, from officials to citizens, people have been more accustomed to doing things according to laws and norms," he said. "There is no need to trade principles by venturing upon life and freedom."
Reports say that Shanghai, China's most fashionable city in reform and opening up, is ready to internationalize itself and create a modern system under which the government's function is to provide services to companies and citizens, and bureaucratism and authoritarianism, the hot bed of corruption, will be buried.
So, who will be the next target? Maybe, neither to Shanghaiers, nor to the entire nation, it will be a hot topic several years later.