A man wanted in China for a killing in a nightclub 16 years ago has been found living as an abbot in a Buddhist monastery after shaving his head and disguising his identity.

Zhang Liwei had changed his name to Wen Shiguang, and had also risen to become a member of a local political advisory body, and Buddhist representative organisations, according to local media reports.

"Everyone is surprised," an employee at the local religious affairs bureau told The Beijing News.

"He was a hardworking and responsible person. Who would have thought he could be involved in something like this?"

He is accused of being part of a group of five men who stabbed to death three people in a nightclub in Heilongjiang in 2000. The north-eastern province is 1,000 (2,000 km) from Mount Jiuhua monastery in Anhui, where Zhang had risen to become abbot.

He previously worked as a ticket seller and monastery cook after fleeing, according to reports.

Police unmasked him when he applied for a passport, and his fingerprints matched those of a suspect in the murders.

His monastery had reportedly donated around a million yuan ($150,000) to charitable causes, and Zhang was supporting two orphans financially.

However a local nun was unimpressed.

"The Buddha tells us to be contrite," the Beijing News report quoted her as saying. "He should have turned himself in if he sincerely repented of what he did."