Communist Party general secretary Xi Jinping's call for the party to accept "sharp criticism" from non-party members has evoked a flurry of online commentary - most of it swiftly deleted.
"The Communist Party of China (CPC) should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them, and avoid them if it has not," Xi told a Lunar New Year gathering that included non-communist parties and businessmen on Wednesday.
After state media reported Xi's remarks on Thursday, the mainland internet community was abuzz with debate over whether Xi really meant what he said. A Xinhua posting of his remarks was shared 20,000 times within hours on Thursday.
But most comments were quickly deleted. Many compared Xi's remark with Mao Zedong's Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1956, when Mao encouraged people to openly express their opinions about the party. The campaign quickly turned into a massive purge of those who had criticised the party and became known as the "anti-rightist movement".
Mao said he had deliberately encouraged dissent to help him identify "rightists" and called the tactic "enticing the snakes out of their caves", a phrase invoked by internet users over the past two days to express their scepticism.
"What was the result of speaking out freely? It resulted in a storm of persecution. 500,000 intellectuals were tricked … enticing the snakes out of the caves and then wiping them out is an old trick," one microblogger wrote yesterday.
Zhang Ming , a political scientist at Renmin University, wrote on his microblog: "Since the anti-rightist campaign in 1957, I haven't seen any democratic (non-communist) party criticise the ruling party, let alone sharply criticise it … there are no democratic parties in China, only 'fawning' ones."
Other internet users wondered whether Xi would live up to his words and stop censorship.
Venture capitalist Kai-fu Li, the influential former head of Google China, asked: "Will you stop silencing and shutting down microblog accounts?"
Economics professor Xu Xiaonian wrote: "Willyou stop censoring books and media reports?"