BEIJING -- A northern Chinese province has punished more than 300 employees caught gambling, singing karaoke or otherwise neglecting official duties during work hours.

The vast majority were given warnings or demerits, although six officials whose cases were considered the most egregious were fired, a notice from the Shanxi provincial office of discipline and inspection stated Monday.

Another 14 contract employees were let go, it said.

Despite China's abandonment of orthodox Marxism, tens of millions of Chinese still work for the government, including in state-run industries. Many also hold leading positions in the 78-million-member Communist Party, which maintains branches in a state businesses and government offices.

Over the decades of communist rule, Chinese officials have developed a reputation for sloth, highhandedness and corruption. Many local government bureaucracies also suffer from bloat, with positions offered to the highest bidder and entire families placed on the payroll. Jobs are often guaranteed virtually for life, with only the most serious infractions leading to firing.

However, recent years have seen calls for tighter discipline and better efficiency as the country's leaders seek to change the bureaucracy's image -- and that of themselves.

Officials may be periodically reassigned to boost their skill sets, while many local governments in the more prosperous east lend out leading bureaucrats to help regions in the country's poorer west upgrade their capabilities.