Proposals from the ruling Chinese Communist Party to drop references to former supreme leader Mao Zedong from its constitution ahead of a crucial leadership transition have more to do with holding onto power than with any kind of political reform, analysts say.
In an unprecedented move for the Party, which will see a once-in-a-decade leadership transition at its national congress in early November, references to late Chinese leader Mao Zedong were left out of two recent policy statements from the Politburo.
The Politburo also called for opinions on proposed amendments to its constitution at the closing plenary session of the 17th national congress on Nov. 1, after which a new generation of leaders will take the helm from outgoing president Hu Jintao and premier Wen Jiabao at the 18th Party Congress on Nov. 8.
"Mao Zedong Thought" and Marxism-Leninism have long been heralded as the Party's ideological platform.
Beijing-based veteran journalist Gao Yu said she believed the move was part of the Party's attempt to further consolidate the legal basis for its continued rule.
"Society nowadays is very unfair, and all the the fruits of reform have been taken by the rich and powerful class," Gao said on Wednesday. "Because of this, the Party must now change."
But the move to excise Mao from the ideological heart of the Party had little to do with political reform, she added.
"[The Party] turned into a bureaucracy that pursues the maximum economic and political gain long ago," Gao said. "[Its members] use power to protect their own interests."
"There is no freedom of expression, no freedom to publish," she said. "The media aren't free to report the news."
Gao said China's ideologues have long been uncomfortably aware of rampant official corruption and widespread social unrest.
"Society is divided, and the gap between rich and poor is a reality which China faces," she said. "So now they are trying strengthen the legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party."
U.S.-based political scholar Wang Juntao said the failure to mention "Mao Zedong Thought" at such a sensitive time was only a small change.
"The whole point of [the past 30 years] of economic reform was that it was Mao Zedong and what he stood for that was being reformed," Wang said. "Actually, Maoism has been bankrupt for a long time, and China has only now come to this point."
Wang said that the only logical step for the Party now is to move from economic to political reform.
"However, I don't think Hu Jintao has the resolution to do that," he said.
The proposed changes to the preamble of the constitution would have the Party uniting "under the banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics," and guided by Deng Xiaoping Thought and the "Three Represents" of former president Jiang Zemin.
Sources among China's political elite claim that many of the leftist, Maoist old guard in the Party have called in private for a return to the "continuous revolution" of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), as a way of cleansing the Party of corruption and moral decay.
The apparent polarization of left and right comes as the Party struggles to deal with the fallout from the biggest political scandal in more than 20 years; the fall of former rising political star Bo Xilai.
More than 300 left-wing members of the ruling Chinese Communist Party have penned an open letter to the country's parliament calling for a fair trial and more information about criminal proceedings against Bo, who was expelled from the Party for bribery and sexual misconduct last month.
A Party statement said that criminal proceedings against him would follow, and that he was "responsible" for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Bo’s wife Gu Kailai was handed a suspended death sentence in August for Heywood's murder, while his former police chief was handed a 15-year jail term for "defecting" to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and abuse of power.
The rare open letter to the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's parliament, which was signed by intellectuals and former officials from the left of the Party, called on the legislature not to expel Bo from its ranks until more evidence about the accusations against him had been made public.
Wang said the Party is now faced with a choice.
"Political differences are very wide, and there is very public confrontation at every level," he said.
"Chinese politics can't go any further, actually, unless they move either to the right or to the left."
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.