Guangdong's Communist Party committee has launched a pilot programme to eject "unqualified" party members. It says the drive is in line with a recent Politburo decision to control the size of the world's biggest political organisation.
Under the scheme, local party committees will be allowed to set different qualification criteria, with the provincial party organisation department having the final say on approving assessment rules and regulations.
Political analysts warned that local leaders could use different membership criteria as a tool to squeeze out political opponents or minority voices.
The party had more than 82 million members by the end of 2011, exceeding the population of Germany, the biggest country in the European Union.
The Beijing Youth Daily said yesterday that Guangdong's party committee had set up eight experimental units in townships and counties in Shenzhen, Dongguan , Qingyuan and other cities since July, with some local committees including "illegal petitioning" among their criteria for expelling members deemed "unqualified".
In other places, members could be expelled for a "lack of revolutionary will" and "failing to perform party members' obligations", the daily reported.
The party magazine Outlook Weekly said in Qingyuan's Qingxin county, 14 members rated unqualified faced expulsion.
Professor Yuan Weishi , a political commentator at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, said he doubted such pilot schemes for disqualifying members could help boost the Communist Party's reputation.
"What's the definition of illegal petition? The party constitution doesn't say members should not take part in petitions," he said. "And how could you define whether a member lacks revolutionary will?"
In Dongguan's Liaobu town, qualified members should achieve at least 60 marks out of 100 on regular appraisals, the Beijing Youth Daily said. Unqualified members would be expelled if they failed to improve within a defined time.
The pilot programme has gained extra prominence since party general secretary Xi Jinping called for the upholding of the "advanced and pure nature" of the Communist Party when he chaired a Politburo meeting on the cultivation of new party members last month. The party vowed to optimise its membership structure.
Professor Ding Li , director of the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences' regional competition centre, said the lack of a unified qualification standard would stir controversy and upset members under assessment.
"Our experiences over more than six decades have told us that every time a new political system was introduced, a lot of honest members who spoke the truth and offended local officials suffered and were even kicked out for no reason," Ding said.
"Actually, it's hard to define a qualified party member. That will provide room for local officials to decide whatever they prefer."