Hint at death penalty for Bo
There is speculation that ousted Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai might face the death penalty, after a People's Daily commentary mentioned the famous executions of two corrupt officials in 1952.
However, some mainland analysts said drawing such a conclusion from Sunday's piece may be a bit of a stretch.
The party mouthpiece ran the piece in the bottom-right corner of its front page, under a headline saying that those in high positions should always be alert and remind themselves to follow party rule. It was written under the name Ma Yong.
'From the resolute handling of the corruption cases of Liu Qingshan and Zhang Zishan at the founding of new China, to a series of determined investigations of cases that violated the law or party discipline since the 16th Party Congress ... we have been determined ... to build a clean party, to consistently resolve the internal problems of the party and to win the trust and support of the people,' the article read.
Liu and Zhang, both recognised veterans who fought in the Sino-Japanese and civil wars, were sentenced to death in 1952 for corruption that took place during their short tenures as consecutive party secretaries of Tianjin.
A commonly cited anecdote in mainland media is that even though other officials tried to lobby on their behalf, Mao Zedong said that they must be sentenced to death because they were in high positions, had made significant contributions and held wide influence.
'Only by executing them can we save 20, 200, 2,000, 20,000 other cadres who have committed various degrees of mistakes,' Mao explained, according to the anecdote.
The People's Daily article did not mention Bo's name, but some China watchers made the link due to the sensitive timing of the piece.
They said that the referral to Liu and Zhang, rather than two more recent high-ranking officials - former Beijing chief Chen Xitong and former Shanghai chief Chen Liangyu - who were brought down on corruption charges, suggested that Bo might face capital punishment, unlike the two Chens.
Chen Xitong was sentenced in 1998 to 16 years in jail for corruption and dereliction of duty, and Chen Liangyu was sentenced in 2008 to 18 years in jail for taking bribes and abusing power.
However, Yuan Weishi, an historian with Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, said the Liu and Zhang cases had long been referred to as the starting point of the Communist Party's anti-corruption efforts, so citing them now might have little to do with current affairs.
Another analyst, Beijing University of Technology economist Hu Xingdou, said: 'It [the article] is perhaps just to show the party's determination to fight corruption, and that even someone of such high stature will be subject to punishment.'
However, Hu said it was not entirely out of the question that Bo could be sentenced to death. 'If [Bo] is found to be corrupt, on top of being implicated in a murder case, it would be a very severe sentence,' Hu said.
Under law, corruption alone can warrant the death penalty. However, capital punishment has rarely been used in recent years for crimes that were solely economic in nature.
However, coupled with an additional criminal charge of either covering up, or perhaps being more directly involved in, the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood - for which Bo's wife Gu Kailai is charged - the sentence could be death, according to legal experts.
Zhang Lifan, a China watcher formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said it was unlikely that Bo - considered the 'leader of the leftists' - would be sentenced to death since there was a growing call for stability before the 18th Party Congress this autumn.
He said that any comparison of Bo to Liu and Zhang, if intentional, was ill-considered. 'Liu and Zhang were executed to make an example of them,' Zhang said. 'It was a decision made not in accordance with the spirit of the law. It is inappropriate to compare their case to today's treatment of Bo.'