Feel free to criticise Communist Party, says Xi

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China’s new leader has said the ruling Communist Party should tolerate “sharp” outside criticism, in comments that signal a potential departure from its iron grip on all aspects of Chinese life.

State media said general secretary Xi Jinping made the remarks at a gathering of non-Communist Party groups.

Their members “should have the courage to speak the truth, give advice, even if it is unpleasant, and accurately reflect the voice of the public,” Mr Xi was quoted as saying.

He also asked all party organisations to “actively accept” and “sincerely welcome” advice and criticism from outside the party.

Mr Xi, who will become China’s president in the spring, has vowed to tackle endemic official corruption, which he says threatens the future of the Communist Party.

Word of his public endorsement of “sharp criticism” quickly spread in China’s active social media, where his comment was reposted more than 20,000 times within hours yesterday. Some responded with hope, but more expressed scepticism, if not downright cynicism.

China has routinely detained and imprisoned people critical of the party and the government. It also tightly censors newspapers, other publications and the internet.

“Sharp criticism? We cannot even comment on news reports, let alone make sharp criticism,” Zhang Xing, a Beijing lawyer, wrote on his microblog account. “Will it be enticing the snake out of its cave?”

The comment was a reference to China’s notorious Hundred Flowers campaign in the 1950s, when Mao Zedong urged people to openly express their opinions under a policy of “letting a hundred flowers bloom and a hundred schools of thoughts contend”. It was followed by a brutal crackdown against those who criticised the regime, and Mao said he had enticed the snakes out of their caves.