In measured tones, the semi-official Xinhua news agency reported that the meeting is set to focus on “strengthening and improving the party building under new circumstances” as part of a review of party activities taking place after 60 years in power at a time of a worldwide crisis. The meeting comes just a couple of weeks before the 60th anniversary celebrations of the People’s Republic of China, beginning on 1 October.
Many observers are waiting to see if this time the party will actually reform its internal election rules along democratic lines.
The 4th plenum is also likely to pick Vice President Xi Jinping as the new vice-chairman of the party's Central Military Commission, which would further cement his status as President Hu Jintao's heir apparent, paving the way to him becoming party boss at the 18th National Congress in 2012; then president, and finally military chief.
Xi, 56 and son of a Communist revolutionary hero, rose quickly up the hierarchy, joining the Standing Committee of the Politburo two years ago.
Another hot topic on the discussion table is corruption, rife among CPC officials.
For decades, ordinary Chinese have been frustrated by how much party members have failed to live up to Mao’s dictum of serving the people, becoming instead corrupt and unjust.
Every year for the past six years, some 50,000 officials have been convicted of corruption. The average size of bribes went from 2.53 million yuan (US$ 370,000) in 2007 to 8.84 million yuan last year (US$ 1.3 million), this according to the Supreme People's Court.
In 1995 and 2001, the Central Committee issued clear rules, requiring party officials to declare their income, but these were limited to officials' salaries and allowances, enabling many of them to avoid controls by stashing away money and hiding property under relatives’ names.
A regulation requiring party cadres to reveal their family wealth and assets has been reportedly under discussion for quite some time.
For a number of analysts, such a change would be a good idea. They are not convinced though that it would work because the party controls both police and justice system.
Yet the “introduction of democracy and rule of law” is “the only solution,” one observer said.