In spite of a rousing New Year message from China's outgoing president Hu Jintao and vague references to "reform" by his successor, the country's dissidents say they have seen little progress in the past year in their struggle for a more open political system.
Hu told the nation on New Year's Day that 2013 had begun in a world that was "far from calm," but that Beijing remains committed to a policy of peaceful development.
"Chinese people have faced difficulties and overcome obstacles with strong determination and a united heart," he said in his traditional televised address for the New Year.
"The country has achieved progress in economic and social development amidst stability, and forged ahead in various aspects of our work, and the people's lives have kept improving," Hu said.
President-in-waiting Xi Jinping, meanwhile, once more raised the prospect of "reforms to important sectors," without specifying what concrete steps were planned, official media reported.
But dissidents and rights activists said both men's words were essentially empty and promise little meaningful change in the year to come.
Sichuan-based writer and activist Ran Yunfei said that Hu Jintao's message had presented no dream or ideal for China to work towards.
"I thought there was nothing in Hu Jintao's New Year message," Ran said. "All of them since he came to power in 2002 have been like banging a hollow drum."
"Basically, there has been no change ... no real progress," he said. "The people have been waiting for 10 years for a new policy to come from his lips, but there has been nothing."
Ran said the president's biggest failure during his decade-long tenure has been his failure to govern according to the constitution.
"He hasn't abolished re-education through labor, and he hasn't .. .protected citizens' rights to freedom of belief or freedom of speech, and he hasn't let up on official controls on the Internet one bit," he said.
"Now they are even bringing in a real-name registration system to get online at all."
'Trust the people, lift controls'
Hong Kong-based journalist Wen Yunchao, known online by his nickname Beifeng, called on Hu to grant an amnesty to all prisoners of conscience in China.
"Release political prisoners, put trust in the people, publish details of officials' assets, and step up supervision [of government]," Wen wrote on his Twitter account at the end of the year.
"[They should also] lift controls on the media and allow other political parties."
"If they don't go down this road, the authorities are just going to tie themselves up in knots unnecessarily," he wrote.
Fujian-based netizen You Jingyou, who was one of three bloggers jailed for writing about a controversial murder case in the province, said he had been incensed by the authorities' detention of Zhu Chengzhi after he questioned the cause of death of his friend and veteran labor activist Li Wangyang.
"They detained him for more than 200 days on trumped-up charges," You said. "They have no respect for anything; they are completely lawless."
"Actions like these spark public anger, and that isn't a good thing."
Reported by Xin Yu for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.