The central government has adopted a low-key approach to the 20th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's famous southern tour, with analysts describing it as an intentional move, one designed to avoid touching on the sensitive issue of political reform.
The Shenzhen city government yesterday organised a tour for people to revisit the route of Deng's five-day visit there in 1992, but no other official commemorative activities were held. No large-scale official activities were held in Beijing or any other cities.
Deng toured Wuhan, in Hubei, Shenzhen and Zhuhai, in Guangdong, and Shanghai from January 18 to February 21, 1992, to restate his support for the policy of reform and opening up. His tour ended the debate about whether the mainland should proceed with market reforms after the Tiananmen crackdown of June 1989.
Mainland media have carried extensive coverage of the anniversary, mostly focused on the rapid economic development after the tour, although a supplement in Shanghai's Oriental Morning Post included an article discussing whether political reform could revive the economy.
The Nanfang Daily, an official newspaper under the Guangdong provincial government, quoted Chen Xitian, a former Shenzhen Special Zone Daily journalist who reported on Deng's speeches in 1992, as saying he regretted that two remarks by Deng were censored at the time.
'Don't stage political movements or formalism. Officials need to stay cool-headed,' Deng had said. His other remark was: 'People like me, old with a poor memory, should step down to wholeheartedly support younger leaders.'
Zhang Lifan, a historian formerly with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said bringing up the censored quotes, which were reported years after the tour, could be meant to send a political message. 'It may target some old people who want to influence the reshuffle at the upcoming 18th party congress.'
Chen Yongmiao, a mainland political commentator, said incumbent and future leaders would not want to comment on the tour as they would not want to be perceived as being either liberal or leftist.
However, Hu Deping, son of former reformist leader Hu Yaobang, held a forum on Wednesday in which he called for bolder political reforms. It was attended by more than 200 scholars, retired officials and other descendents of former top officials, including Ye Xiangzhen, daughter of general Ye Jianying, Lu De, son of former culture minister Lu Dingyi and Luo Yuan, son of General Luo Qingchang.
Attendees expressed hopes for reforms that could restrict the authorities and tackle problems such as the widening income gap, corruption and powerful interest groups.
Hu Deping spoke highly of the Guangdong party committee, which made concessions in a stand-off with Wukan villagers protesting over land grabs last year. 'The core issue ... is about seizing the time to push for opening and reform,' he said.
Economist Han Zhiguo said reform had come to a dead end. He called for universal suffrage, an independent judicial system, free media and the nationalisation of the People's Liberation Army.
Professor Wang Yukai, from the Chinese Academy of Governance, and Li Honglin the former president of Fujian Academy of Social Sciences, proposed competitive elections within the Communist Party to restrict the influence of powerful interest groups. 'Those groups can only be restricted by reforms such as disclosing officials' property holdings,' he said.