China's Communist Party elite on Sunday marked a century since the revolution that ended millennia of rule by emperors, a date that has stoked warnings by critics that the party must tackle deeper reforms or also risk losing power.
China's calendar is speckled with anniversaries heavy with political symbolism, and even the distant events that triggered the fall of the Qing dynasty and birth of a republic in 1911-12 have become a focus for controversy about the country's future.
President Hu Jintao said China's history since the toppling of the Qing dynasty showed that one-party rule remained vital to the nation's hopes for economic prosperity and political unity, including reunification with self-ruled Taiwan.
"To achieve the great revival of the Chinese nation, we must certainly firmly uphold the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party," Hu told hundreds of officials gathered in the cavernous Great Hall of the People in central Beijing in a nationally televised keynote speech celebrating the "Xinhai Revolution."
But the party's version of the fall of the dynasty has been challenged by critics who say the chaotic chain of coups and insurrections that toppled the corrupt empire and subsequent violent faction conflicts and invasion by Japan are a reminder of the need for democratic reform in the present.
'Grievances, distrust and rancor'
China again faces a dangerous confluence of official corruption, volatile public discontent and stalled reform, Zhou Ruijin, the former deputy editor-in-chief of the People's Daily newspaper said in a recent essay about the 1911 revolution.
"Grievances, distrust and rancor that have accumulated over many years have reached a period when they break out," Zhou wrote in a Beijing magazine.
In past months, authorities have shown how sensitive they are about liberal intellectuals using the events of 1911 as a mirror to criticize or cajole the government. Some seminars and debates about the anniversary have been canceled.
The armed uprising on Oct. 10, 1911 was led by rebels associated with revolutionary leader Sun Yat-Sen on a Qing dynasty garrison. The attack set in motion events that led to the overthrow of imperial rule and raised hopes that China could emerge from a century and a half of national humiliation it had endured at the hands of foreign powers.
The Republic of China was established 2 1/2 months later, but its government fled in disarray to Taiwan in 1949 following the victory of Mao Zedong's Communists over Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists in the Chinese civil war.
The 1911 revolution has also been celebrated in television dramas and a movie whose stars include Jackie Chan, a martial arts actor better known for high kicks than high politics.
"For us, China's Xinhai Revolution is still not dead history, it still has a strong resonance with present-day realities," said Lei Yi, an historian at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.
"A key lesson of the revolution is that the country's fate depends on whether the rulers make the right choices about advancing reforms. Above all, there's still the issue that a modern China needs a modern form of government — constitutional government."
President Hu is due to leave office from late next year, when a Communist Party congress will install a new leadership.
Hu used his anniversary speech to warn Taiwan against ever pursuing outright independence and to call for closer ties with the island, which holds a presidential election in January.
Taiwan is still formally called the Republic of China after Nationalist forces fled there in 1949 to escape advancing Communist forces.
Hu said that China and Taiwan should "heal wounds of the past and work together to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."
He said that the sides should increase economic competitiveness, promote Chinese culture and build on a sense of a common national identity.
"Achieving reunification by peaceful means best serves the fundamental interests of all Chinese, including our Taiwan compatriots," Hu added.
Among the guests in the Great Hall was 85-year-old former president Jiang Zemin, making a rare public appearance after widespread speculation in July that he was in failing health, even near death, after a heart attack.
Jiang, 85, was dressed in a dark blue suit and red tie and wore his signature large, square-rimmed glasses. His hair was slicked back as usual but was obviously thinning. He appeared at times to be tired as he sat listening to speeches with his hands on the table in front of him.
The death of Jiang, a retired but still very influential figure, could cause some of his proteges to shift allegiances, affecting the jockeying for power among China's rising political elites.