Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China's Tug of War - Conflicting Ideals

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

China's Tug of War - Conflicting Ideals

Article excerpt

`I feel so out of touch with the younger generation," a friend who recently came out of China said. "It seems to me that all they want to do is to get rich and enjoy life. Things were much simpler in the 1950's."

This friend is not a Communist Party member, and he does not hesitate to complain about the privileges of bureaucrats and party officials. His father was a day laborer from one of China's poorest parts. He himself managed to graduate from a good college. Although he knows Mao Tsetung's vision was flawed, even in the early years of the People's Republic (founded in 1949), he remains committed to the ideals of socialism. He is angry that Communists don't seem capable of practising these ideals in a way that would be meaningful to ordinary citizens like him.

"When I married, I just picked up my bedroll and came to live with my wife," he says. (She was a schoolteacher.) "But now young people want all kinds of things, from televisions and refrigerators to stereos and fine clothes." This is a different kind of complaint from that of American congressmen who remain fixated on the Tiananmen tragedy. But I suspect it's rather widespread, particularly among people of my friend's generation.

China presents a paradox. It's still a poor country, and the vast majority of its 1.1 billion people lead lives most Westerners would find bleak. But in the coastal provinces where the economy has galloped ahead, doors are wide open to investment from Hong Kong and overseas, new businesses are springing up, and a get-rich-quick mentality has taken hold. Guangdong province, adjoining Hong Kong, enjoyed 25 percent growth last year.

The post-Tiananmen contest between conservatives and reformers appears to have been resolved in favor of the reformers, under the patronage of senior leader Deng Xiaoping. Li Peng, a conservative who is identified with the suppression of the Tiananmen protests, remains prime minister. But as one analyst describes it, the main difference between his line and that of the reformers is not over whether to continue opening up the economy, but at what pace. Li could well be out of office when the next Communist Party Congress convenes some time this fall. …

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