Jiang Zemin, the former Chinese president, has urged the current leadership to rein in the toughest anti-corruption campaign in decades.
Mr Jiang, who stepped down as president of China in 2003, has sent a clear signal to president Xi Jinping in the last month, according to three people familiar with the matter.
Mr Jiang sent a message saying “the footprint of this anti-corruption campaign cannot get too big” in a warning to Mr Xi not to take on too many of the powerful families or patronage networks at the top of the party hierarchy.
Former President Hu Jintao, who was replaced by Mr Xi a year ago, has also expressed reservations about the anti-corruption drive and warned his successor not to expand it too far, says a person involved in executing the campaign.
Mr Jiang and Mr Hu think the campaign has gone far enough and that further escalation could harm their own interests or those of their respective factions. They are worried that a harsh long-running campaign could erode support among the Communist party’s rank and file and threaten the stability of its rule.
Mr Xi has made tackling corruption and official largesse the centrepiece of his presidency, vowing to tackle powerful high-ranking officials known as “tigers” and the lower level bureaucratic “flies”.
In the coming weeks, the authorities are expected to reveal public charges against one of China’s biggest “tigers”: Zhou Yongkang, the former head of the domestic security apparatus.
Mr Zhou was detained by Communist party investigators last year along with family members and hundreds of allies in the security services, energy industry and political bureaucracy. If he is put on public trial, he will be the most senior Chinese official to face such charges since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.
Mr Hu and Mr Jiang have been broadly supportive of the anti-corruption drive until now and both accepted Mr Xi’s decision to purge Mr Zhou, even though he was a Jiang ally for many years, according to people familiar with top leadership discussions.
In Mr Hu’s case, there have been persistent rumours that Mr Xi intends to open investigations into key allies, including Ling Jihua, head of the United Front Work Department of the Communist party.