Guangdong media began a belated campaign yesterday to commemorate the famous southern tour of Deng Xiaoping in 1992.
But the timing of the stories, which come weeks after the 20th anniversary of the late leader setting off on his trip, has raised eyebrows.
Some observers think the campaign is an attempt to boost the reform model of Guangdong party chief Wang Yang at a time when his chief rival, Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, is embroiled in controversy.
But others say there are more benign reasons for the stories.
The Southern Metropolis News reported on its front page that a forum to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Deng's historic visit to southern China would be held in Shenzhen on Saturday. The paper plans a series of news features with the theme 'The Choice, 1992', starting today, reviewing the city's development over the past two decades.
The paper devoted no coverage to Deng's tour on January 18, widely regarded as its anniversary, the day he set off for Shenzhen from Wuhan in Hubei province .
The commemoration of Deng's tour - which helped revive the mainland's economic reforms, stalled after the June 4 incident three years earlier - comes about a week after Wang Lijun, a close ally of Bo's, fell from grace in what has become a riveting political drama.
Guangdong-based party mouthpiece Nanfang Daily published commentaries yesterday urging people to praise Deng's spirit of reform and to persist with scientific development.
Wang Yang has called for 'free thinking and mind liberation' to remove red tape and obstacles to economic development, and for Guangdong to 'be a vanguard of scientific development', since he took over as provincial party boss in 2007.
Official mouthpieces in Shenzhen, such as the Shenzhen Special Zone Daily and the Daily Sunshine, also published front-page stories. Guo Zhongxiao , a well-known mainland commentator on Shenzhen affairs, was among those who thought the timing was odd.
Mainland media has tended to downplay the anniversary in past years, as Deng's calls for bold reforms could embarrass regional leaders, Guo said.
'The latest media campaign could stress Guangdong's vanguard position in reform and help to build up Wang's image, but it is not necessary to link the campaign with the political drama in Chongqing.'
Some people view a recent trip to Guangdong by Premier Wen Jiabao as a nod to Wang.
Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said: 'Wen Jiabao also mentioned Deng's southern tour when he accompanied German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel to Guangzhou earlier this month.
'Because Deng's southern tour lasted until February 1992, it doesn't matter if it was commemorated in January or this month.'
A retired Guangdong propaganda official who declined to be named said the delay was because Guangdong had not received Beijing's approval for the reports until last month, and it took a few weeks to prepare them.
Wang and Bo have been widely regarded as political rivals jockeying for a top party position. The media in Guangdong and Chongqing were engaged in a war of words early last year over the two places' different models of development.
Additional reporting by Ivan Zhai