A cutting-edge political magazine which has frequently come under pressure from Beijing has called in its first 2011 issue for reforms to China's political system to avoid escalating social tension.
This month's edition of Yanhuang Chunqiu carries an article calling on the ruling Communist Party to implement reforms to the political system.
The article takes its title, "Actively and Dependably Pursue Reforms to the Political System," from a phrase used at the 17th Party Congress last October.
"Why does this phrase begin with the word 'actively'?" says the article. "The reforms to the economic system have proved successful in the eyes of the entire world, and yet reforms to the political system have lagged behind."
"What do they mean exactly by active?" said the magazine's deputy editor Yang Jisheng on Friday. "They haven't pursued political reforms, and there is a lack of balance of power."
"Official corruption has already become unbearable for society," Yang said.
"It has become a cancer in society that has become the greatest source of pain for the whole population."
Yang said the mixture of unbalanced power and a market economy has produced injustice on a huge scale.
"Unequal transactions have ensured that the wealth is concentrated among those with [political] power," he added.
"The gap between rich and poor is getting wider and wider, and the government has blocked access to a higher standard of living for its people by interfering in the economy over a number of years, hardening differences in social class."
According to the article, only political reforms can address the current level of social conflict in Chinese society.
It warned that social unrest will only escalate, precipitating a violent crisis, if reforms are not implemented.
Yang said there has been very little progress in the last 20 years in the way China is governed, in spite of strong economic performance.
"I can't really see any improvement," he said. "They must have stability, but now there is too much stability and not enough active energy."
Calls for change
Chinese constitutional scholar Zhang Boshu said that there have been growing calls for democratization from the Chinese population in the past two years.
"From the point of view of those in power, they must be feeling under increasing pressure ... for freedom and democracy," Zhang said.
"This is a good thing for China's future transformation, but conservative forces inside the leadership are still attached to the ways of thinking that go along with the old system."
"They see any criticism of the ruling Party as a threat to social stability," he said. "That is why they have continued with these kinds of oppressive measures all through 2009 and 2010."
A China-based author surnamed Xiao said the Yanhuang Chunqiu article was still written from within the one-party system, however.
"Yanhuang Chunqiu is still within the establishment," Xiao said. "Their calls for democracy are still made from within that framework."
"How can democracy and socialism exist together?" he said. "They are like fire and water... Putting them together just isn't realistic."
"But as soon as they distinguish between the two, this magazine won't be able to continue to exist," Xiao said.
He said the magazine is the only serious political publication that dares to print such things, however.
"Most magazines, if they didn't have [high-level backing], would be closed down in two days," he said.
Xiao said he had written an article for the magazine which made a strong distinction between socialism and democracy.
"The result was that they didn't run it," he said.
Beginning of reforms?
President Hu Jintao announced in September that the southern city of Shenzhen, once the cradle of China's economic reforms, would begin experimenting with political reforms, including "democratic elections," sparking discussions among activists about whether real change would ensue.
Amid growing social unrest, a widening income gap, and rampant official corruption, China's leaders have repeatedly said that the ruling Communist Party will need to reform if it is to stay in power.
But while official rhetoric often mentions the word "democratic" in context with proposed reforms, it has never called for a multiparty democracy, and official media commentaries have warned that this is not on the agenda.
Yanhuang Chunqiu has published more than 200 issues in its 20-year history, and is no stranger to official criticism.
It was officially criticized for publishing articles about disgraced late former premier Zhao Ziyang and his predecessor Hu Yaobang, for writing about the separation of the three branches of the government, and for publishing accounts of Mao Zedong's early life written by his former secretary, Li Rui.
Reported by Qiao Long by RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.