The initial paragraphs of this article outline the broad themes of this special section, drawing attention to changing perceptions and definitions of corruption and to corruption prevention practices in Greater China. The remainder of the article focuses on a particular theme: the relationship between conflicts of interest and corruption in both theoretical terms and in its application in mainland China. Conflicts of interest are conceptualized as the incompatibility between the public interest associated with official duties and interests derived from the private domain. Such conflicts do not always necessarily lead to corruption and may be distinguished from it. By examining the way in which they are regulated in China, we argue that although an intricate web of rules has been established, regulations alone cannot guarantee ethically sound behaviour if there is no supportive value framework of like-minded civil servants. Rules require interpretation and if this discretion means that civil servants choose to follow an administrative culture and personal values that conflict with the regulations, they will have little effect. Hard rules may mean soft constraints.