BEIJING - After it was leaked that Xi Jinping, the man anointed to be the next Communist Party chief of China, had met in private with a well-known supporter of political liberalization, the capital's elite began to buzz about the import of the encounter.
Hu Deping, the son of a former leader, who went to Mr. Xi's home in July, has organized salons where the scions of powerful families have discussed how to keep the party from becoming mired in corruption and losing the trust of ordinary Chinese. People briefed on the meeting said Mr. Xi had declared his support for steady reform.
"Hu Deping through certain channels sent out the message that he had been meeting with Xi Jinping," said Zhang Lifan, a historian who knows Mr. Hu. "I think the two are trying to send a signal."
As China's critical once-a-decadeleadership transition approaches in November, Chinese officials, policy advisers and intellectuals are again pushing for what they broadly call "reform" - a further opening up of the economic and political system that the party has constructed through 63 years of authoritarian rule. With China's economy slowing, the disconnect between haves and have-nots building, and state-owned businesses exerting even greater influence on policy, advocates for change say the status quo appears increasingly sclerotic.
Much of the talk now over China's future path centers on whether Mr. Xi, the son of a revolutionary leader who helped oversee China's post-Mao economic transformation, can muster the confidence, ideological grounding and power base to push through what reformers see as the policies needed both to keep China vigorous and help overcome its growing inequities. Mr. Xi, 59, has not revealed his plans and intentions - to rise to his level in the party system, survival depends on holding cards close, analysts say.
But the messages he is hearing are becoming clearer: a number of prominent people orbiting Mr. Xi are urging the party to adopt more liberal policies to regain the legitimacy it enjoyed when it was a revolutionary force.
David Fuller's view The Singapore experience is mentioned several times in this article as being of interest to China's leaders as an example of a successful, modernising single party state.
It was the economic achievements of Lee Kuan Yew which helped to steer Deng Xiaoping away from the disastrous Chairman Mao years and successive Chinese leaders have met with Singapore's legendary founder, including leader apparent Xi Jinping. Somewhat plump and smiley when not surrounded by rivals, he has the look of a reformer rather than a ruthless apparatchik.
Let us hope that looks do not deceive in this instance. To the extent that vast China can model itself on little Singapore's governance, the more its future will be assured.