Authorities in East China's Fujian Province claim they are winning the war against illegal emigration.
The Frontier Defence Authorities say 394 people have been arrested this year accused of involvement in the crime.
They are alleged to be connected to 71 cases uncovered this year since the province launched a series of campaigns to crack down on such criminal activities, said an official.
The province has tightened its control on emigration and clamped down on illegal activities this year, especially since June, when 58 stowaways from Fujian were found suffocated to death in an airtight truck of tomatoes in Dover, England.
But now the situation has been brought under control, said the official.
He said that in the coastal regions of Fuzhou, the capital of Fujian Province, the number of illegal emigration cases has declined to the lowest point for years.
On Friday, Weng Jinshun, a "snake head" from Fujian Province charged with organizing the illegal emigration of 277 people,, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty.
It is thought to be the most serious punishment a stowaway agent has ever received in China.
Usually they are sentenced to between three years and seven years in prison and fined between 1,000 yuan (US$120) and 5,000 yuan (US$600).
In recent years, illegal emigration has become big business in some areas of the country, especially in Fujian where many residents have connections abroad.
The destinations of the emigrants vary, although the most common countries they go to include the United States, Canada and Australia.
In order to attract would-be illegal emigrants, "snake heads" do not ask for too much cash initially. Instead, extra fees are demanded as the process gets going.
Sorting out illegal emigration is a profitable profession for many, despite the risk of being caught.
Emigrants pay different amounts to "snake heads" depending on the economic and employment situation in the destination country.
An illegal emigrant who wants to go to Britain pays around 210,000 yuan (US$25,000), leaving the "snake heads" with fat profits.
(China Daily 11/28/2000)