Dozens of Chinese intellectuals have put their names to a call for mild political reforms as authorities in eastern Jiangxi province sentenced a young man for calling on President Hu Jintao to declare his assets publicly.
The 71 prominent scholars and lawyers called on the new leadership of the ruling Chinese Communist Party to implement moderate political reforms, including separating Party from state, in a document that echoed Charter 08, which led to the imprisonment of co-author and Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo.
By contrast, however, these latest requests, drafted by Peking University law professor Zhang Qianfan, were made in highly respectful language and avoided any mention of moving towards a multi-party system.
"Though the people are disgusted by many social injustices, they are yet to have consensus on how to reform the system that creates the injustices, and that has divided and weakened the drive for reform from the people," the petition said.
The petition, dated Dec. 26, calls on the Party to rule according to the constitution, protect freedom of speech, encourage private enterprise and allow for an independent judicial system. It also calls for the people to be able to elect their own representatives without interference from the Communist Party.
Zhang warned president-in-waiting Xi Jinping and his administration: "China runs the risk of revolution and chaos if it does not change."
Zhang said the purpose of the petition was to spark debate. However, the petition was taken down from his Sina Weibo microblog account on Wednesday.
Charter '08 prompted a nationwide crackdown on political activists, of whom Liu was the most prominent, and sent a clear message once more that the Party will not tolerate challenges to its rule.
Analysts were skeptical that the scholars' pleas, however mild, would be heeded.
"All signs point to the fact the administration of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang will not liberalize the political system," Hong Kong-based China analyst Willy Wo-lap Lam said in e-mailed comments.
"The harsh regime against dissidents will continue or even become more draconian," he said.
U.S.-based liberal economist He Qinglian said that the Party had already stated clearly that it wouldn't countenance a move to Western-style democracy.
"China regards Western democracy as the 'evil road'," He said. "I think at a time when the lowest echelons of society have no power or means to make a move, for these scholars to have written such a thing is very reasonable, and worthy of respect."
"Its aim is to prevent China from descending into a violent revolution," she said.
Lam said Xi had clearly signaled his wish to be associated with late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping, with his recent trip to Shenzhen, the birthplace of Deng's economic reforms.
But Deng always firmly opposed the separation of Party and state, and of the three branches of government.
"So far Xi has promised the world that he is Deng's heir, but only as far as economic reform is concerned," Lam said.
"In politics and foreign affairs, Xi has proven to be both conservative and hawkish," he said.
Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying declined to comment on the content of the petition, saying only: "China does not limit the freedom of the media."
"As for the matter you refer to, I haven't read it yet, so I can't comment," Hua told a regular news briefing in Beijing.
Meanwhile, authorities in the eastern province of Jiangxi sentenced to jail an activist who took part in demonstrations in Guangzhou in April, calling for political reform.
Yang Chong was detained alongside activists Xiao Yong, Huang Wenjin and Ou Ronggui for taking part in the demonstrations, which called for political reforms, and for President Hu Jintao to declare his personal wealth.
He was sentenced to an unspecified prison term by a court in Jiangxi's Hukou county, the overseas news website Boxun reported.
Reported by He Ping for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.