Communist Party officials who keep a mistress face dismissal under rules designed to crack down on the abuse of power in China.

Public officials who take revenge on whistleblowers or destroy letters of complaint from the public will also face punishment, as will those who abandon family members or elderly relatives.

The 55 articles that make up the new regulations form the first attempt by the Government to set out penalties for civil servants who misuse their positions, according to officials.

Such abuses are increasingly prevalent in a country where status is of crucial importance and officials have the power to hand out favours, as well as lucrative government contracts, to those around them.

From June 1 any official found to be keeping a mistress will face dismissal. Government officials, who are usually men, frequently socialise in the evening as part of their job. To arrive with a smartly dressed pretty girl on one’s arm is seen as an important status symbol.

Chu Huaizhi, of the Peking University Law School, said: “Officials take advantage of their power to seek benefits for their lovers. Civil servants should be models of morality for the public and they must have high moral standards.”

The new rules may be hard to enforce. Almost every Chinese official detained for corruption has been found to have a mistress. Some officials also put themselves out of reach.

Those who refuse to return to China after official tours abroad, and may be among the growing number taking refuge outside the country with profits from bribery or embezzlement of state funds, will simply be dismissed under the new rules.

The most recent example of the scale of the problem was Hu Xing, a former director of the transport department of poor southwestern Yunnan province, who was captured in Singapore after fleeing the country with more than 40 million yuan in bribes. The 49-year-old official has been accused of using his position to advance family members, keeping a mistress and having unlawful sexual relationships with other women.

An online survey by www.qq.com, a popular website, found that about 80 per cent of more than 92,000 who voted said that the extramarital affairs of employees were a moral issue always linked to corruption.

One of the more notorious cases was that of Lin Longfei, former party secretary of a county in southeastern Fujian province, who invited all his 22 mistresses to a banquet and offered an annual award to whichever woman provided him the greatest satisfaction. Lin was sentenced to death for corruption in 2004.

It was unclear how the latest regulations would deter officials from taking a mistress. Rules against the practice have been in place since 1988 and have had little effect. But the extent of the regulations gives a clue to the breadth of abuses by government servants.