Old conventional wisdom: the Shanghai faction is a power-hungry clique interested only in expanding its turf. New conventional wisdom: the same clique is a force for reform. As with most matters concerning the high-profile faction, it was President Jiang Zemin and his chief adviser, Wang Daohan, whose other title is head of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS), who started the ball rolling. Earlier this year, the neo-conservative President and party General Secretary sought the advice of his Shanghainese aides on the best way to buttress his reputation as a reformer. Mr Wang suggested that he try to conciliate the nation's restive intellectuals, who had chafed under the yoke of dictums such as 'talking more about politics' and 'building up spiritual civilisation'. With Mr Jiang's blessings, Mr Wang, a former Shanghai mayor, visited a leading liberal scholar in the metropolis, Wang Yuanhua. Mr Wang, who briefly headed Shanghai's propaganda bureau in the early 1980s, told the ARATS chief Beijing must liberalise its policy towards ideology and culture. The former mayor - and later President Jiang - signalled their appreciation of the scholar's advice. This apparent recognition of the need to loosen up the straitjacket was also reflected in a memo recently sent to Mr Jiang by the head of the General Office of the party's Central Committee, Zeng Qinghong. Also a Jiang confidante, Mr Zeng pointed out he was disappointed that 'of the thousands upon thousands of books published last year, very few could be considered serious or thought-provoking'. Mr Zeng, a former vice-party secretary of Shanghai, hinted that Beijing's strictures on ideological purity might be at fault. Apart from building bridges to the party's reform-minded cadres and intellectuals, Wang Daohan and Mr Zeng also suggested that Mr Jiang stake out his claim as 'the only party leader who has solved the problem of corruption'. Mr Wang put it this way: 'Chairman Mao made it possible for Chinese to stand tall; Deng Xiaoping showed them the way to get rich; Jiang Zemin enables them to live and work in a corruption-free environment.' Earlier this month, the party's Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection put out a detailed list of tough penalties against all kinds of infractions of party discipline, including graft and 'economic crimes'. According to a Chinese source, Mr Jiang was determined to mete out heavy punishments to 'tigers' among morally decrepit officials such as the ousted party chief of Beijing Chen Xitong. This is despite pronouncements from the Beijing municipal leadership that Chen, a former Politburo member, would get off with a light sentence for 'dereliction of duty'. The source said that 'new evidence' against Chen had been given by a close associate of his son, Chen Xiaotong, who was also detained for dubious economic deals. Moreover, the new 'tiger-nabbing campaign' could hit a number of princeling businessmen who had eluded the net of justice thanks to the clout of their patrons. Sources close to the judicial establishment have cited a spate of resignations among the heads of state and private enterprises. 'Having heard that a tough round of anti-corruption investigation is in the offing, these businessmen have called it quits and moved to other fields - or left the country,' they said. On the economic front, Mr Jiang has authorised Vice-Premier Wu Bangguo, a former party boss of Shanghai, to draft a series of what the latter called 'bold measures' to overhaul the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Through arduous lobbying, Mr Wu has convinced many cliques in the party that even large SOEs should be sold off or rendered into shareholding companies. The Jiang protege, however, has encountered unexpectedly vehement opposition from the leftists, or remnant Maoists. According to diplomatic analysts, Mr Wu, who lacked seniority in the party hierarchy, had early this year asked regional cadres such as Shenzhen party boss Li Youwei to float more risque ideas such as auctioning off large firms. In numerous articles in the leftist mouthpieces, however, the Maoists have decried Mr Li's 'sell-out to capitalism' and even called for his resignation. The analysts pointed out Mr Wu was taken aback by the leftists' heavy fire - and the ball was now in the court of Mr Jiang. They said an appraisal of whether Mr Jiang's initiatives would bear fruit could only be made at the 15th party congress late this year. This was when the party General Secretary would present his 'blueprint for the 21st century' in a political report to the conclave. In the coming few months, however, Mr Jiang must first convince central and local officials of his commitment to reform. After all, much of the fault of the phenomenon of 'a hundred flowers wilting' in the cultural and intellectual milieu stemmed from the conservative policies of Mr Jiang himself. It would be unfair, as some of the President's aides seem to be doing, to put the blame on executors of Mr Jiang's neo-Maoist instructions such as propaganda chief Ding Guan'gen. Secondly, the President was partially responsible for the failure of the law enforcement departments to catch the graft-taking tigers. To ensure the support of party elders in the post-Deng era, Mr Jiang had, in internal meetings last year, hinted that some of the princelings would be handled with kid gloves. On enterprise reform, cadres opposed to market measures could quote hundreds of Jiang statements on the imperative of 'preserving the status of large SOEs as the mainstay of the economy' and 'bailing out loss-making SOEs to show solidarity with the workers'. Above all, Mr Jiang has to answer charges that the current reforms are but a stocking horse for the aggrandisement of the Shanghai faction. The President has, for example, lobbied for the transfer of Shanghai party boss Huang Ju to Beijing to take over the critical post of party disciplinary chief.