A leading communist academic on the mainland has warned that plans to downsize the Communist Party, with more than 82 million members the world's biggest political party, would not be easy to implement.
The party has said it plans to expel "unqualified party members" in an effort to boost its vitality and reputation. But analysts say there is a danger it could be turned into a political campaign and used to get rid of opponents.
The campaign stems from comments by party chief Xi Jinping last month at a Politburo meeting about cultivating new party members. He vowed to control the size of the party and purge "unqualified members" in a timely manner.
Li Junru, a former vice-president of the Central Party School and a mastermind of the scheme, said downsizing had been proposed by former school president Zeng Qinghong when he was in charge of party affairs five years ago.
"We found that some applicants for party membership were not pure and even had their own, different political aims," Li said, adding that the party had set up a pilot programme at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou to expel unqualified members.
"When I was vice-president [of the party school] about five years ago, we once planned to cut 10 million of the party's membership of 70 million, but we found it was not an easy job," Li said.
"After a series of brainstorming meetings and studies, we gave up the pilot plan because many party experts found it was very hard to decide who should be given the right to design and define the qualification criteria.
"We failed to reach a conclusion on whether the qualification criteria should be decided and controlled by party members themselves, the public or party branch leaders," he added.
"If party branch leaders had the right, we were afraid it might become a means for some leaders to kick out comrades who had different opinions. And if the public had the right, some aggressive members who dared to offend people when promoting policies might be thrown out."
Despite the difficulties, Guangdong's provincial party committee recently announced a pilot programme to expel unqualified members in eight places, including Shenzhen, Qingyuan and Dongguan , with local party branches allowed to set different qualification criteria.
But political analysts said the party would be better off tackling some obstacles and inherent risks that had lain hidden in the party for decades.
Professor Ding Li , director of the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences' regional competition centre, suggested the pilot scheme should start at the party's upper levels.
"Criteria for Central Committee members should be higher than normal members," he said. "It's meaningless if the pilot scheme just focuses on unqualified grass-roots members."
The impact of such members was limited, while unqualified party leaders could ruin the party and the country.
"The current key problem for the party is that many presentable party leaders do well in political shows and making fair-sounding speeches but are actually living a decadent lifestyle," he said. "They should be the real target to be weeded out by Xi."
Professor Yuan Weishi , a political commentator at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, said the plan would not make the party purer.
"The core problem of the Communist Party is the rampant corruption among senior officials, while unqualified grass-roots members do not have any impact on the party's overall reputation." Yuan said.
But Li said; "We should encourage Guangdong party branches to try to promote the pilot programmes because local cadres may discover new measures that eluded upper-level party leaders several years ago."