In the folklore of modern China, small-town officials are notorious for two vices: devoting inordinate time to besotted games of poker and using their official powers for personal gain.
Now, enterprising prosecutors in the seat of Qiuxian County in central China, have found a way to harness the first sin to combat the second.
They have distributed, to thousands of local officials and police officers, decks of playing cards with forbidding messages. Each card carries the legal definition of a "crime of public office" and a cartoon depicting the illegality.
The ace of spades describes the meaning of embezzlement, showing a smug official with a stuffed cash box behind his back.
The king of spades depicts a practice that is much reported these days, the bribery of officials with sexual favors rather than cash. No statute specifically refers to sexual bribery, but the cartoon is explicit: a man covered only by a towel luxuriates on a beach, shielded from the sun by a woman with her dress billowed out, forming an umbrella.
The 10 of diamonds shows a police officer interrogating a woman who has been hauled into the air by her arms. The crime is "obtaining evidence through violence" and in a caption, the officer says into a telephone, "The witness' living conditions have been raised, and she's finally talking."
"We've been searching for good ways to prevent corruption before it occurs," said Li Jianjun, 39, the chief prosecutor of Qiuxian County in southern Hebei Province, as he proudly showed the deck. "In the past, our propaganda materials were very boring."
A few news reports on the educational cards have led to mounting requests from other provinces, and Li's office has applied for a patent on the design, not to profit from sales, he insists, but to spread the message.
Qiuxian County, where sidewalk sales of cheap motorbikes suggest a modest prosperity, already had another claim to fame that steered the officials to the idea of illustrated cards.
The cotton-farming county, 500km south of Beijing, is known for its "peasant cartoonists," an informal club of men and women whose hobby is making simple but clever drawings that convey a message like "protect the environment" or "adopt scientific methods of pig farming."
The cartooning was started here in the 1950s by Chen Yuli, who is lame and defiantly signs his drawings "Chen the Cripple." Chen, now 69 and head of the county culture office, said he took up cartooning because his ability to do farm work was limited and drawing required no costly materials.
His cartoons gained notice, and he gained a following of local farmers who enjoyed doodles with a message, usually describing some aspect of rural life or promoting a government campaign. Chen and others have had many cartoons published in national newspapers, too.
In Qiuxian, several of the artists have painted murals along an official "cartoon street." One portrays a family struggling to bear the costs of a lavish wedding; another shows the evils of gambling.
After Li moved to Qiuxian as chief prosecutor in 1999, he recalled, he and his colleagues considered ways to harness this local talent. First they asked the cartoon club to produce posters depicting abuses of power, then they tried putting drawings on a calendar.
Those methods proved too expensive and limited. Then a colleague had the flash of insight: Why not playing cards?