These cases have fueled public anger about cozy trades of power for money and have ignited calls for asset disclosure by officials. How these cases are handled are seen as a test for the newly installed Communist Party leadership, which has warned that corruption threatens the party's legitimacy and has vowed to stamp it out.

This "goes to show how state resources and public trust and authority have been excessively abused by those people," said Yang Fengchun, a professor of government and management at Peking University. "They behave as if the country were at their beck and call. Whatever they want, they get it."

Officials have yet to give a complete tally of the worth of Gong's properties, but 21 are estimated to be worth nearly 1 billion yuan, or $160 million.

Her scandal first hit the Internet with an article sourced to a trade news site. Though the original article soon disappeared, state media and China's very active blogosphere wouldn't let go â¿¿ a familiar pattern in recent months that has seen activists posts sex tapes of officials and identify officials wearing expensive wristwatches. As in those cases, authorities followed up on the lead about Gong.

The Ministry of Public Safety moved in, setting up a task force to investigate how Gong had obtained the fake identities, including a highly-coveted Beijing one.

Gong is also accused of using the identity cards to register companies and to invest in real estate development.

While her case has fascinated the public, it has also exacerbated skepticism among many Chinese and commentators that authorities will get serious about asset disclosure or other measures to fight the corruption they have benefited from.

"First and foremost, it's unacceptable to the officials, who will be done for once their assets are revealed," said Liu of the Social Sciences Academy. "No way can any government official afford so many properties on a government salary."

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