Paper in 'subtle push' for democratic change

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 November, 2011, 12:00am


A newspaper article eulogising a reformed-minded official has sparked speculation that it is subtly - yet boldly - pushing the upcoming leadership to launch democratic reforms.

The article this week in the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis News marked the sixth anniversary of the death of former Guangdong party chief Ren Zhongyi and paid curt but bold tribute to ousted leader Zhao Ziyang and late party chief Hu Yaobang for their contributions to the province's prosperity.

'Mr Ren attributed Guangdong's success to [late paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping , but said it would not have been possible without the contribution of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang,' Ren's former secretary, Pan Dongsheng, wrote in the commentary.

Next to the article was a 1980 photograph of Ren shaking hands with party reformist Xi Zhongxun, his predecessor as Guangdong party chief and the father of Vice-President Xi Jinping - who is widely tipped to take over from President Hu Jintao next year.

Ren was in charge of Guangdong between 1980 and 1985 and was widely credited with leading its transformation into one of the country's wealthiest regions despite conservative political pressure.

His boss Zhao was purged for sympathising with students in the 1989 Tiananmen pro-democracy movement and kept under house arrest for nearly 16 years until his death in 2005. The party tried to obliterate any public mention of him after his downfall and few state publications have dared raise his name since.

Hu Yaobang, an ostracised reformist leader whose death in 1989 triggered the Tiananmen protests, is considered a less sensitive figure.

In the late 1980s, Hu Yaobang and Zhao embarked on a number of liberal political reforms for more official transparency, a greater public say on policies and a more open media. But they were thwarted after the crushing of the Tiananmen protests.

Analysts say the eulogy on Ren reflects a wish among liberal intellectuals for the younger Xi to follow in the footsteps of his reformist father.

'People low down are trying to use this opportunity to push people up high,' independent political analyst Chen Ziming said. 'They want to use the relationship between Xi's father, Xi Zhongxun, and Ren and their achievements to urge him [to do something].'

Zhu Jianguo, a political commentator and retired journalist, said the Southern Metropolis News took considerable risks in publishing the article, even if it contained only a few words praising Zhao and Hu Yaobang. He said party liberals were trying to be heard in the run-up to the leadership transition ahead of next year's 18th party congress.

'They are saying to Xi: 'You must remember your reformist father's wish, don't lean towards the left',' Zhu said. 'In urging Zhao's rehabilitation, they're hoping the country will steer towards political reform after the party congress.'

Du Daozheng, the publisher of outspoken political magazine Yanhuang Chunqiu, said he expected the country's politics to become more open and democratic in the long run, but he dared not hold out much hope for the near term.

'In the couple of years after the 18th party congress, things aren't likely to roll backwards, but don't expect major improvements either,' Du, a friend of Ren and a former subordinate of Zhao, said.

Du, who helped Zhao secretly record his memoirs, said: 'It's difficult to have big steps forwards, but I think there will be small improvements.'