Tony Blair earned the scorn of the Chinese media yesterday for accepting £200,000 for a three-hour spin through southern China, during which he gave a "cliched" speech and fitted in a quick jaunt around a high-class villa complex.

"Is he worth the money?" asked some Chinese newspapers and compared the former prime minister's oratorical insights to those of a village official.

The Guangzhou Daily said the trip was simply a "money-raking" exercise and complained that China was becoming a place for celebrities and former leaders to come and cash in. The paper said it was time for Chinese sponsors to think a bit harder about who they invite to open their supermarkets and walk down their red carpets.

"We should exercise less ostentation and vanity... learn more new and genuine knowledge - especially when we are using even a cent of taxpayers'money," the paper said.

The 1.8 million circulation newspaper said the property company sponsoring his visit, Guangda, had also offered him one of the villas in the luxury estate, worth 38m yuan (£2.4m), although it declined to say whether he took up the offer. Perhaps he is holding out to buy the £3m Winslow Hall in Buckinghamshire, as is widely rumoured.

His trip that has garnered its fair share of other negative notices. Earlier in the week, foreign journalists were banned from the hall where Mr Blair was giving an address in the capital, reportedly at the request of his aides. They could only listen to the speech via a closed-circuit television feed but transmission was cut after he moved into a 40-minute question-and-answer session.

The tone of the visit was set early on. Mr Blair arrived in Hong Kong on a private jet on Monday to start his lecture circuit, kicking off with a group of bankers at Merrill Lynch before heading over the border the following day.

He travelled to Dongguan, a vast industrial city in the Pearlr river delta near the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, where many of the industrial goods fuelling China's remarkable economic boom are made. Dongguan, with a population of seven million, is also home to some of the factories producing the sub-standard toys that shops had to recall earlier this year.

In an editorial, the China Youth Daily, which is affiliated to the Communist Party's Youth League, the power-base of Chinese President Hu Jintao, criticised the amount of Mr Blair's fee.

In a comment that rang hilariously true to those used to hearing tiresome speeches by local officials in small towns, the paper said his speech was full of pleasantries and cliches on collaboration between the government and business, education, innovation and environmental protection, but was decidedly low on insight.

It said: "Like reports made by some local officials, there was nothing new in his views... so was the speech worth the large sums of money paid out?"

Mr Blair has been criticised for concentrating on earning a lucrative income from speeches and books since he stepped down as prime minister in favour of Gordon Brown in June. There were reports that he stands to earn as much as £5m from his memoirs.

During his speech at the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, Mr Blair urged countries to look at the huge recent growth in China and consider how best to achieve partnership.

Since his resignation Mr Blair has worked as special Middle East envoy representing the US, the European Union, the UN and Russia, helping the Palestinians lay the groundwork for a viable independent state alongside Israel.

Catholic move 'in weeks'

Tony Blair is expected to convert to Catholicism within weeks, according to the Catholic magazine The Tablet. He is likely to be received into the Church at a Mass led by the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, in the private chapel of Archbishop's House, Westminster. Cherie Blair and their four children are Catholics. The involvement of Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor suggested Mr Blair's preparations for conversion began while he was in office, because a candidate was usually received into the Church by their parish priest, The Tablet said.