- It's an old Chinese proverb: Change the substance, but don't
change the name. As China's Communist Party meets in preparation for
a complete turnover of top leaders expected tomorrow, that proverb
rings like a Beijing bell tower.
A party that once doted on former Chairman Mao Zedong's "little
red book" and sought to export its "forever correct" aphorisms
worldwide is undergoing major alterations to its core ideology and
identity. The change is part of an effort to keep pace with market
forces and national sentiments already far advanced in Chinese
After 13 years at China's helm, President Jiang Zemin is stepping
down, though he is expected to retain many levers of power and
influence. The tone he is setting is clear: China is open for
business. Communism, in turn, is increasingly outdated in a party
that now seeks legitimacy by appealing to a proud 5,000-year-old
Chinese national identity.
Indeed, the greatest applause lines in Mr. Jiang's work report -
a 68-page speech that opened the 16th Party Congress - were not old
saws about workers or party ideology, but a line repeated throughout
the text, and eight times in the final four minutes: "the great
cause of rejuvenation of the Chinese nation."
One of the hallmarks of this Congress, moreover, is the
acknowledgment and acceptance of entrepreneurs in the party. Once
derided and occasionally arrested, the private business class now
represents the growth engine of China - and the party is clearly
signaling a freer hand.
Private businesses will be allowed to compete against state-run
enterprise, Zeng Peiyan, chief of the powerful State Development
Planning Commission, stated in a press conference this week. They
will also enjoy policies such as applying to state banks for loans
that "level the playing field," Mr. Zeng said.
In speeches and press conferences by top leaders, and in off-the-
record interviews with party officials, it is clear that China's
leaders are seeking new non-Marxist pathways to deal with a
globalized economy and with problems of banking and ownership not
anticipated in earlier eras.
In elite party circles, this is not only well understood, but it
is the way officials speak.
"The problems of the CPC [Communist Party of China] are forcing
us to change and evolve," says one senior party member. "These
problems have no answer from classical Marxism. Some of us may not
like that, or want to say it. But it is the reality of China."
An example of such party "problems," according to the official,
are instances when state enterprises in different cities may want to
own shares in companies in other provinces. Currently, no party
rules govern how state enterprises should interact. The need for
such regulations will likely "force the party to adapt even
further," the official says.
The Party Congress, which meets every five years and is expected
to vote current Vice President Hu Jintao into its top slot (the
official term is chairman), has also used the language of nationhood
to an unprecedented extent. …