A former top Communist Party official has called for China's farmers to be given the right to own the land they till, berating the ruling Party for reneging on promises it made more than half a century ago.
Bao Tong, former aide to late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, called on China's leaders to make good on promises they made to the people during a civil war with Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) forces, which lost control of mainland China to the Chinese Communist Party in 1949.
"The Communist Party should remember that during the civil war it relied on the promise of immediate land reforms for its victory over the nationalists, not on the guiding principles of communism," wrote Bao in an essay to mark the 90th anniversary of the Party's founding.
"But after they had stripped the landlords of their land, they immediately appropriated all of the peasants' land and collectivized it," wrote Bao, who has been under house arrest at his Beijing home since his release from a seven-year jail term in the wake of the military crackdown on the 1989 student-led pro-democracy movement.
The 'great tragedy'
Bao said the policy change was a great tragedy for China's farming communities.
"It is one of the biggest mistakes the Chinese Communist Party has ever made," he said, warning that "There will be no stability in China for as long as rural communities are prevented from living and working in peace."
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
China already sees thousands of "mass incidents" across the country every year, according to official statistics, many of which are protests or sit-ins linked to forced evictions, allegations of corruption, and disputes over rural land sales.
Bao's essay, titled "Why Hu Jintao's speech won't stand up," took aim at claims made during President Hu's address to the Party on its 90th anniversary on July 1.
"Under the leadership of the Communist Party, China hasn't once had an election worthy of the name," wrote Bao.
"In the past 60-odd years, the right of Chinese citizens to vote, to freedom of expression, to form social organizations, and to demonstrate have been like a painting of a cake that assuages no one's hunger."
He called for full and universal elections every five years, according to the country's Constitution.
"In a reality where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, the president's high-flown talk of 'establishing a basic socialist system' makes people not know whether to laugh or cry," Bao said.
'Choice of the people'
Hitting out at claims in Hu's speech that the Communist Party rules China through the choice of history and of the people, Bao said that only time will decide the historical role of the Party.
"The choice of the people should be decided through elections according to law," he concluded.
"It's not for President Hu to say whether history or the people have chosen his party."
Last May, 22 years after the fall of ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, a group of Chinese scholars postponed publication of a new book which called on Beijing to follow the path of political reforms he had laid out, citing fears over a renewed crackdown on dissent.
Chinese authorities have detained or placed under surveillance dozens of dissidents, rights activists, and lawyers since February, amid fears of a "Jasmine" revolution inspired by recent uprisings in the Middle East.
Ahead of the anniversary, Chinese authorities ordered a slew of patriotic TV programs and public celebrations, as well as a stepping up of security in the capital.
Reported by Luisetta Mudie.
Bao Tong, political dissident and aide to former Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, is currently under house arrest at his home in Beijing.