A prominent Tsinghua University economics professor has come under fire for describing Western-style governments as inferior to the "people's society" run by the Communist Party.
In an op-ed published in the People's Daily overseas edition yesterday, Hu Angang, a leading member of the 'New Left', argued that the party's style of government was better because it was homegrown and "fits China's basic national conditions better".
"Compared with the civil society in the West, the people's society is superior ... it is a great made-in-China innovation in theory and practice," Hu wrote. "The people's society is a socialist society under the leadership of the Communist Party."
Hu linked his ideas to two campaigns launched by President Xi Jinping - the promotion of a "Chinese dream" and his demand that party members toe a "mass line" against extravagance.
"It is a Chinese dream, which is different from the American dream and European dream," Hu said. The people's society should have no confrontation between the government and the people, he wrote, an idea consistent with Xi's mass line.
The op-ed drew strong reactions online. Some academics argued Hu was advocating a return to the principles of Mao Zedong and dismissing the individual's role in society.
Hu's notion of the people's society draws on the Maoist principle that the party governs in accordance with the interests of the majority of the people.
The term "civil society" is more general, but has traditionally been defined by freedom of speech, an independent judiciary and an informed citizenry participating in a democracy.
Steve Tsang, director of the University of Nottingham's China Policy Institute, said Hu had "submerged the individual into elements of the whole, whose interests, desires and aspirations are to be defined and led by the Chinese Communist Party".
"Unlike the concept of civil society, where the rights and aspirations of the individual are respected, this concept ignores them completely," said Tsang, who pointed out that the people's society has its roots in the ideas of Marx and Lenin, both westerners.
"[Hu] ignores history completely, as this concept is a Maoist development based on Marxism-Leninism, and neither Marxism nor Leninism is Chinese," Tsang said.
Internet users were even more critical, with one describing Hu as a "political clown".
"We can not force an intellectual to risk telling the truth, but not lying is the last line of morality for an intellectual," said another.
Hu, whose New Left movement favours strong state control of the economy, attracted similar ridicule last year when he wrote that the Politburo Standing Committee was superior to the presidential system of the United States.
"There are always scholars who attempt to endorse what the officials in power say," said Xigen Li, a communications professor at City University. "Their efforts often outsmart themselves."