I am always hoping for that turning point when Hu and Wen live up to the hopes some of us placed in them right after SARS, for that turning point when they will let us know that they've only been clamping down until the right moment arrived, that they've been waiting for some rivals to fall aside before they make their big political reformist move. That moment probably won't ever come (as just about everyone else but me has admitted).
But at least we can expect a few more moments of change like the aftermath of Sun Zhigang's death, when "detention and repatriation" was abolished. At least we can expect some tweaking of the state's coercive apparatus.
Such a moment may have come again with the journalist (or fake journalist by some accounts) Lan Chengzhang's beating death at the hands mine thugs. Hu has intervened as Wen did for a woman whose husband was owed back wages long, long ago--back when we thought the leaders might be a new wind.
The furor this time is a little too planned. Why allow discussion of the incident for so long? It's more like the death penalty debate a little while ago (which led to a policy of referring all capital cases to the Supreme People's Court) than the out-of-control Sun Zhigang case. Maybe this is being used for a long-planned change.
But what would the change be? Lan Chengzhang's death epitomizes something huge in China's new economy: corporate-official collusion. Changing this would mean actualizing the last NPC meeting's decision to relax pressure on local governments to develop, develop, develop. It would mean an end to giving capitalists a comfy seat at every big meeting, regardless of how they came to their wealth--and risk alienating them as Party supporters. And it would mean really unshackling the press.
For the best summary of coverage on Lan Chengzhang, see, as always EastSouthWestNorth's collection.