CHINESE Premier Wen Jiabao is now engaged in the fight of his life - forestalling the revival of Maoism, which he argues has stifled political reform in China.
Recently, Mr Wen stuck his neck out by disclosing that two forces within the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have prevented people from speaking the truth.
By Ching Cheong, Senior Writer
In a private meeting last Saturday with Mr Ng Hong Man, an ex-delegate to the National People's Congress (NPC) from Hong Kong, he pinpointed the 'remnants of feudalism' and the 'evil legacies of the Cultural Revolution' as the two forces.
In the political context of present-day China, the terms are codes that refer to two things respectively: Mao Zedong and the basic political system he bequeathed, and the opponents of Deng Xiaoping's reform and open-door policy.
Due to these two forces, people are indulged in telling lies or speaking in very high-sounding but empty terms,' the Premier told Mr Ng in their one-on-one meeting at the Premier's Zhongnanhai office. The meeting lasted 90 minutes.
In other words, he put the blame squarely on Maoism for the lack of political reform, identifying it as the main stumbling block.
Although it is common for the CCP leaders to disclose policy direction to visitors, it is rare for them to reveal intra-party differences on such occasions. It is even more rare for their visitors - Mr Ng in this case - to later reveal contents of the 'private' meetings.
In fact, Mr Wen is taking a calculated gamble. One of the reasons that led to the downfall of former party secretaries Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang was allegedly their disclosures of party discord to visitors.
In this sense, Mr Wen is risking his own political career by discussing the taboo topic with Mr Ng and giving his tacit approval for the meeting's contents to be released in a press statement in Hong Kong this week. Several photos of the meeting were also released.
The high-profile manner in which the 'private' meeting is being disclosed suggests that Premier Wen may want to use this occasion to marshal support for his own political reform agenda.
Mr Ng, 85, is the former headmaster of Pui Kiu Middle School, a pro-CCP college that had churned out countless number of 'patriotic graduates' in Hong Kong and South-east Asia. He was therefore widely respected by the pro-Beijing circle in Hong Kong. He had been an NPC delegate since 1974 until his retirement in 2003.
After the June 4, 1989 crackdown on the student movement in Beijing, Mr Ng gradually became a strong critic of CCP policies and openly advocated political reform. His writings caught the attention of the Premier, who decided to have a rendezvous with him.
In his comments to Mr Ng, Premier Wen cited 'remnants of feudalism' and the 'evil legacies of the Cultural Revolution' as stumbling blocks to telling the truth. This reminds one that, in recent years, Maoism has made a strong comeback, as epitomised by the so-called 'Chongqing Model'.
Spearheaded by Mr Bo Xilai, the Chongqing model sought to revive Maoist tradition, claiming that it was the best panacea to solve China's looming political and social problems.
To do so, Mr Bo built the tallest Mao Zedong statue in China. He also started a 24-hour radio service dedicated to spreading 'red songs, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism classics, revolutionary stories, and socialist maxims'.
Of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) - the apex of political power in China - five have visited Mr Bo's turf to show their personal endorsement of the model, which is fast spreading to other parts of China.
The other four, including President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang and fourth-ranking Mr Jia Qinglin, have, until now, not made any trip to Chongqing.
From what Mr Wen told Mr Ng, one could infer that this latter batch of PSC members did not endorse the Chongqing model.
Yet the potent revival of Maoism is a phenomenon that politicians in China have to handle with great care.
This revival has led to the building of a huge mausoleum dedicated to the late CCP leader Hua Guofeng, Mao's hand-picked successor who was disgraced after the re-emergence of Deng Xiaoping following Mao's death.
Standing on 10ha of land, equivalent in size to 14 standard soccer fields, the mausoleum is almost twice the size of Mao's own memorial hall in Tiananmen Square, which measures only 5.72ha.
This is a vivid testimony to the strong opposition to Deng's reform and open-door policy, which is said to have created all the social vices that are besieging Chinese society.
Maoist revival has also nurtured three splinter parties in recent years. Unlike the right-wing pro-democracy parties which are summarily banned the moment they surface, these Maoist parties are tolerated.
The first one, called the Maoism Communist Party, was set up in December 2008. It held its first national congress right at the Tiananmen Square. The venue by itself is telling of its strong backing.
The second one, the Workers' Communist Party, was set up in August 2009. Among its 56 founding members, 76 per cent were concurrent CCP members. This also shows its close connection with the mainstream CCP.
The third one, the Marxism-Leninism-Maoism Workers Party, was set up just last month.
They all share the same goal: to bring back Maoism to solve China's burning social problems.
It is also interesting to note that, thanks to this strong revival of Maoism, the Confucius statue that stood in the Tiananmen Square since Jan 11 this year was removed on April 21.
Mao had dealt the most devastating blow to Confucius and the two can never co-exist in Tiananmen Square.
This revival of Maoism deserves close monitoring as it is going to affect China's political development in the years to come.