China’s 6.5 million civil servants were warned today they could be fired for keeping a mistress or neglecting elderly relatives, under new ethical guidelines aimed at curbing rampant corruption.

Prime minister Wen Jiabao signed the code of conduct, which will extend deep into the private lives of bureaucrats once it comes into effect in June.

Officials face possible dismissal if they are caught with a prostitute or abusing drugs, according to the People’s Daily.

Reflecting the resurgence of traditional Confucian values, they can also be demoted if they abandon their families or fail to look after their parents.

The main thrust of the regulations is to prevent the widespread abuse of power for financial gain. As well as bribery and embezzlement, civil servants can be sacked for setting up side-businesses without proper authorization.

Beijing has been trying to rein in corruption for several years, but despite a handful of high-profile arrests — such as Chen Liangyu, the party secretary of Shanghai — the problem remains endemic.

The state media has linked several recent cases to the culprits’ “degenerate lifestyles” — a term that normally refers to at least one mistress, as well as gambling.

Last June, the former deputy mayor of Beijing was fired amid reports that he used illegal funds to keep a pleasure palace on the outskirts of the city. Local media said his mistress turned him in because she was jealous of his relationship with another woman.

Four months later, the director of the national bureau of statistics, Qiu Xiaohua, was sacked amid claims that he milked public funds to maintain a bigamous relationship with a woman in Shanghai.

Reflecting government fears that many officials are fleeing the country to enjoy their ill-gotten gains and extramarital affairs, the new regulations also include punishments for civil servants who overstay overseas trips.

Xinhua news agency reported last week that 300 government employees have escaped overseas since 1998. In the 30 years since the start of China’s market reforms, 4,000 officials suspected of crimes totalling $50bn (£25bn) are thought to have fled the country.

For years, graduates have flocked to secure government jobs, which are seen as a fast track to wealth. But the new guidelines attempt to emphasize the responsibilities and restrictions of public service.

Officials face punishment for negligence resulting in avoidable accidents, pollution or public protests. They are also forbidden from participating in strikes, joining illegal organizations or arranging “superstitious gatherings”.

Under the guidelines, civil servants can be fired for repressing criticism or retaliating against whistleblowers, but it is unclear how this will be applied in a system lacking accountability, transparency, a free media, or an independent justice system.

In announcing the decree, the vice-minister of supervision, Qu Wanxiang, said “the regulation will help consolidate the [Chinese Communist party’s] ruling position, safeguard state power, improve ethical standards of officials and persuade them to adopt a clean, honest and down-to-earth work style to better serve the people”, the Xinhua news agency reported.

Sun Tzu has spent about 7 years in Asia traveling through Japan, Hong Kong, China, and Korea. A true fan of everything that is weird and strange, he decides in the end what is displayed and published on this site. Sun has previous experience writing for numerous print mags such as XLR8R, URB, and Movement Magazine.