Political reform with Chinese characteristics is intriguing talk

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 10 March, 2010, 12:00am

It has become routine that top mainland leaders renew pledges to push ahead with political reform during the parliamentary plenary sessions. This year is no exception.

Although the promises still lack specific details as they did in previous years, the officials seem to have changed their tone this year. There is a greater sense of urgency that has rarely been seen for years.

And the change of wording has left many China watchers puzzled, with some overseas media even speculating on the possibility of substantial reform.

But other analysts have cautioned against such a rosy prediction, citing the leaders' poor track record in honouring their commitment to greater democracy and political reform.

The latest case in point is some intriguing remarks yesterday by parliamentary chief Wu Bangguo , the second most powerful man in the Communist Party.

In his annual report to the National People's Congress, Wu talked about the lessons of the Cultural Revolution as he elaborated on the importance of political reform.

'At the third plenary session of the 11th Central Committee [in 1978], the party reviewed the lessons since the founding of the People's Republic, particularly those of the Cultural Revolution,' he said.

Although that tumultuous 1966-76 era ended more than three decades ago, it largely remains a taboo subject on the mainland.

Analysts noted leaders have tried in the past to avoid mentioning the Cultural Revolution because of its sensitivity about the reappraisal of Mao Zedong and reopening bitter political wounds.

Beijing-based political observer Hu Xingdou said authorities apparently felt the heat from a group of leftists who were nostalgic for Maoist days and critical of the reform and opening-up.

'By mentioning the 1978 meeting that gave a comprehensive review of the Cultural Revolution and ushered in a new era, the leadership wants to reiterate its determination to continue with the reform and opening-up,' he said.

Analysts noted that Wu's remarks also echoed those of Premier Wen Jiabao, who stressed the importance of political reform in his annual work report just a few days ago.

It was the first time Wen said economic reform and the modernisation drive would not be a complete success without political reform.

But the concept of political reform that Chinese leaders often talk about is vastly different from what the people anticipated and the authorities have no intention to review the Cultural Revolution, according to analysts.

Another Beijing-based analyst, Liu Junning, said the public should not read too much into the words of leaders.

'They always talk about political reform, but they are talking nonsense because they don't mean it at all,' he said.