Ever since the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989, Western observers have been hoping for a reformer to emerge in China. Thus, in 1990, when then Shanghai Mayor Zhu Rongji visited the United States, he was dubbed "China's Gorbachev" by the American media. The exasperated Zhu responded, "I am China's Zhu Rongji."

When Hu Jintao appeared on the scene a decade ago, many hoped that he was the longed-for reformer. But that was not to be.

Last November, another Communist party leader, Xi Jinping, was installed, and again hopes stirred that he would institute political reforms. Expectations rose after he said in a speech that no one "has the special rights to overstep the constitution and the law."