A series of criticisms of President Xi Jinping and his policies - the latest in the form of an explosive anonymous letter calling for his resignation - could be a sign of growing frustrations within the Communist Party amid the leader's bold moves to consolidate power.
Experts say although Mr Xi is typically portrayed as the most powerful leader after the late Deng Xiaoping, a significant part of the establishment with strong vested interests is increasingly unhappy - and showing signs of resistance.
"It indicates a fierce struggle among Chinese leaders over various issues and reflects resistance and opposition from some quarters, especially in the light of Mr Xi's anti-corruption campaign," Professor Huang Jing of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy told The Straits Times.
"While I think the letter reflects the opposition's desperate efforts to hold on to power rather than a sign of strength, it still shows Mr Xi has yet to achieve a decisive victory in consolidating power," he added.
The letter, which calls for Mr Xi to resign for the good of China and his own safety, has led to at least 11 arrests, including that of relatives of two exiled writers, the New York Times (NYT) reported. Signed by "loyal Communist Party members", it accuses Mr Xi of amassing too much power and making bad decisions that led to China's stock market turmoil, among other charges. His declaration that the press should serve the party, not the people, also "stunned the whole nation", it added.
The letter was first published on a Chinese-language website based in the United States on March 4 before China's annual legislative session kicked off. It later appeared on a small Chinese news site Wujie before it was quickly taken down. The news site's editors and technicians have since been reported missing and are believed to be under investigation, NYT said.
The letter comes even as respected magazine Caixin challenged government censors last month for demanding it take down an article in which an academic urged the authorities to heed a wider range of views.
Some experts point to Beijing's sweeping efforts to root out those behind the anonymous letter as betraying Mr Xi's insecurities.
"If Mr Xi were the strongman many say he is, he could have just ignored (the letter)... Instead, he took it seriously and now the whole world is paying attention," said political analyst Steve Tsang at Nottingham University.
Also, given that Mr Xi was the target, the response would have been made with his knowledge, he added.
"Mr Xi probably overreacted as he did not feel sufficiently secure about his hold on power, and thus felt he had to be seen punishing those responsible, not least to deter others from trying to challenge him," said Prof Tsang.
But others say there is too little information to draw a definitive conclusion on what is likely a highly complex scenario. For instance, Peking University political analyst Zhang Jian said it is unclear if Mr Xi himself ordered the response.
Added Prof Huang: "It could be those opposed to Mr Xi trying to sell the story that he's in trouble. The strong reaction to the letter could also be engineered by those trying to set him up. We can't just simplify a complicated situation."
If Mr Xi, who is in Washington to attend a nuclear security meeting, were truly in trouble, he would not have left China, he noted.
Still, China has placed a growing group of activists under stricter control as it seeks to rein in activities that go against the party line. Human rights lawyer Ni Yulan said yesterday she had been denied a passport to travel to the US to receive an award, Agence France-Presse reported.