As mainland drifts away from Marx, questions of where to next
Many political commentators have been advising the leadership in Beijing that with all the developed economies in trouble, it's a good time for China to expand reform.
But having seen the problems in both Soviet-style socialism and free-wheeling capitalism, what kind of political system should China build for itself? Different commentators point in different directions.
Their continuing debate reflects, first of all, that it is hard for the country to remain committed to Marx's dictatorship of the proletariat.
Two political designs have been competing recently to prove themselves as more practical alternatives. One is offered by Hua Bingxiao, a young research associate at Xian's Northwest University.
Reviews of his book Beyond Liberalism: On Constitutional Socialism, published recently by the university, have appeared on mainland websites.
Professor Jiang Ping, from the China University of Political Science and Law, writing in the Guangzhou-based Nanfang Weekend late last month, described Hua's theory as having 'directly inherited the reform spirit of the 1980s'.
'While many people say China has come to a post-reform era, meaning the death of reform and the dwindling of its dynamics, Hua insists the country is actually on the threshold of a new reform era.
'In the next 10 years, the ideal of constitutional socialism will give a new life to reform, providing it with a new driving force and a new consensus.'
Hua maintains his theory is 'civil-society socialism', requiring both the rule of law and self-management by citizens. Jiang says that means it follows the logic of constitutional democracy, with diversity in political participation.
Hua's proposal does not require the immediate abandonment of one-party rule, Jiang says, but calls for its reform by introducing ideas such as competition, participation and consensus.
'A practical direction' in China's political reform, Hua proposes, is to have a 'compound democratic structure'. It embraces centralisation on the strategic level with two groups campaigning for different public policies amid consultations among political organisations and interest groups. This would be a 'more flexible' form of democracy, Jiang says.
Hua's design has, however, been met with criticism. On the Nanfang Weekend's website, commentator David Tsang says constitutional socialism sounded like a revised version of constitutional monarchy, with an organisation taking the place of royalty.
The other grand design has been championed by 62-year-old Zhang Musheng , who was on the staff of the Communist Party's central research office of rural policies in the early years of reform in the 1980s.
Zhang does not care to label his design socialist or capitalist, instead calling for a return to 'new democracy', an idea the Communist Party proposed as a future political structure in the 1940s but which Mao never seriously put into practice.
It was meant to be an alliance of workers, peasants and the bourgeois classes, under the leadership of the Communist Party.
The Guangzhou-based Southern People Weekly published a lengthy interview with Zhang late last month. He said he got the idea from his mentor, Du Runsheng, then leader of the central research office of rural policies.
In 2007, Du published an article saying that 'new democracy' could have prepared the ground for China's harmonious development in the 1950s. It was a grave mistake the idea was abandoned in the rushed pursuit of Soviet-type socialism.
But is it worthwhile to go back to an aborted political design from more than 60 years ago? Gu Xiaojun, an internet commentator, says Zhang is just trying to help the party maintain its grip on power.