China routinely uses the charge of subversion to imprison dissidents for years.
Guo Quan, who started the China New Democracy Party last year, was arrested in the city of Nanjing after he sent his son to school, his wife Li Jing said by phone.
China has been governed by authoritarian one-party Communist rule since 1949. While other political parties exist, they are not allowed to wield any power.
Guo has been detained several times — but only for several days at a time — since founding the party. But this time he could be held much longer, Li said.
"I was told it was quite different this time. The police told me to prepare myself psychologically," she said.
They also took Guo's laptop computer, she said.
The telephone at the media office of the Public Security Bureau in Nanjing rang unanswered Thursday.
Guo was also detained in May shortly after the devastating earthquake in Sichuan province. At the time he said he was held for 10 days for articles he wrote criticizing the government's response to the massive quake that killed more than 69,000 people.
At least one of his stories was published by The Epoch Times, a U.S.-based newspaper linked to the banned Chinese sect Falun Gong.
It was the first known case of someone in China being arrested for quake-related criticism.
Guo, an expert on Chinese literature, lost his teaching duties at Nanjing Normal University after launching the China New Democracy Party.