Two political events late last year sent contradictory signals about the prospects for political reform in China. One was Premier Wen Jiabao's comments about the desirability of political reform to help the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) retain power, which raised hopes that China's fragile political situation might have forced the country's leaders to seriously consider the possibility of genuine political reform.
The other event was the visit to Chongqing by Xi Jinping, the heir-apparent to President Hu Jintao, to praise popular Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai's crusade of resurrecting socialist values and Maoist revolutionary culture. This visit, and the silence of other leaders in response to Wen's comments on reform, suggests that the Chinese political leadership sees a return to Mao's legacies, not democratization, as a solution to current problems.
But whatever the signals from China's leadership, one thing is certain-- the country has been facing increasing unrest over rising income inequality, growing regional disparities and official corruption. China is entering a period of deepening social tension, and it now faces having to cope with one crisis after another.
As a result, the Chinese leadership is finding it increasingly difficult not only to maintain the status quo, but also to manage popular discontent through quick pain relief measures such as coercion and economic growth. The reality is that as basic needs have been met through economic growth, Chinese have expressed greater demands for social justice and the protection of their rights from corrupt state capitalism and the growing inequality it has helped foster.