A leading state-run newspaper's controversial editorial that said the mainland had no choice but to accept a considerable level of corruption came under fire from another party-run paper and internet users.
China Youth Daily, an organ of the Communist Youth League, yesterday slammed an editorial that ran on Tuesday in the Chinese edition of the Global Times, a nationalist tabloid run by party mouthpiece People's Daily.
The rare public spat between two state media outlets and the fierce public criticism came at a politically sensitive time, with the party gearing up for a once-in-a-decade power transition this autumn. The party is also dealing with the unfolding political scandal surrounding the abrupt sacking of Chongqing party boss and Politburo member Bo Xilai, who is accused of 'violating party discipline' - a euphemism for corruption.
The Global Times had said the public should show more understanding and forbearance towards government corruption, as the time was not yet ripe for the country to completely rid itself of the problem.
It said corruption was a disease that could never be cured completely in any country, and that neither political reform nor the introduction of Western-style democracy could eliminate it.
The editorial called 'naive' those who believed democracy was a solution to graft, saying 'there are many democratic countries in Asia, such as Indonesia, the Philippines and India where the problem of corruption is more severe than in China'.
The China Youth Daily, in an editorial published yesterday, ridiculed the Global Times, saying that its point of view would make people 'goggle-eyed and agape'.
It said the editorial was full of empty words about fighting widespread graft, which leaders had already warned could threaten the party's grip on power.
Most online voices argued that only fundamental political reform and the introduction of democracy could cure the epidemic. 'Global Times' heresy is one of 'Chinese characteristics',' one internet user said.
Another said: 'The so-called acceptable theory suggests that Chinese people should be the obedient subjects of their rulers.'
But the Global Times blamed the widespread criticism of its editorial on a 'twist' in the headline when QQ.com, a major news portal owned by Tencent, quoted the editorial.
The headline in the Global Times said, 'Fighting corruption is a crucial battle for Chinese society'. But QQ.com rewrote it as 'China must permit some corruption, the public should understand'.
QQ.com issued a public apology for its editing.
After the public fallout, the editor-in-chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, issued a statement yesterday saying that 'if arm-twisting editing is encouraged and imitated, this will be to the detriment of public opinion in China'.
But some online commentators said the QQ.com had actually reflected the 'true import of the Global Times editorial'.