Freedom of speech and tolerance urged
In an unusual move, the ruling Communist Party's newspaper published a commentary calling for freedom of speech and tolerance of different views, while citing one of the most famous Western quotes about freedom of thought and expression.
People's Daily led a commentary yesterday with a quotation often attributed to French philosopher Voltaire: 'I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'
This definition of freedom of thought and expression is widely accepted in the West as a core principle of a free society.
The article was published amid a stepped-up crackdown on political dissent, a tightening of the authorities' grip on the media and an increasingly loud chorus for political reform within and outside the ruling hierarchy following widespread political upheaval in the Arab world.
While officials have ruled out the possibility that the regime heading the last major communist-ruled nation will follow in the steps of the rulers of Tunisia or Egypt, the government has launched its biggest crackdown in years, rounding up dozens of lawyers, journalists, bloggers and other activists since online appeals for 'jasmine revolution' protests began circulating on the mainland in mid-February.
The article pointedly criticised the widespread official intolerance of dissenting views and condemned those using their powers to suppress such expression.
'In their treatment of criticisms and suggestions, some [officials] have not only not listened to them with an open mind, but have also resorted to the charge of libel and even used their power to suppress such dissenting voices,' it said.
It called for tolerance of different views. 'Compared with the ordinary citizens, rulers with power in their hands should be more inclusive [of dissenting views and criticisms].'
The article said that in a complex society, dissenting voices should be respected because they served as channels to alleviate social anxiety.
Professor Hu Xingdou, an economist and social commentator at Beijing Institute of Technology, said: 'It [the article] reflects the growing voices among some liberal officials and academics as many of them see China is at a historic junction of transition now.'
The article also quoted late chairman Mao Zedong and late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on the need for citizens to be free to criticise and supervise their government.
China and the West have been bickering over freedom of speech, human rights and democracy for decades. But there are growing voices within and outside the ruling party for the introduction of Western-style democracy as decades of economic progress without political reform leave the country with widespread corruption, inequalities and tense social conflict.
Hu said the article represented some healthy dissenting views within the top leadership, who, like Premier Wen Jiabao, wanted the introduction of 'universal values'.