Chinese Communist Party: Would Mao Recognize the Paradox?

Article excerpt

Yang Youwei owns a slaughterhouse, holds a big chunk of shares in a nearby coal mine, sits on the coal mine board, and runs the company that sells the mine's production. He drives a black Rolls- Royce.

He walks like a capitalist; he talks like a capitalist. He is easily the richest man in this small village 300 miles south of Beijing. And he is also Yangjiaxiang's top communist, secretary of the local party.

Welcome to the paradoxical world of today's Chinese Communist Party.

Another example: Zhao Tiehong, a lively-faced woman in her mid- 50s and one of the party's 83 million members. She has been a party cadre for more than a quarter of a century, ever since she got a middle-management job with a state-owned railroad company. Salt of the Communist earth, you might think.

But she laughs sardonically when asked to explain her emotional attachment to the party. "I feel no such attachment, and I don't know anyone who does," she says bluntly. "In our society, the Communist Party rules. If you get in, you have more chances to further your career. That's it."

Looking for a true believer?

Try talking to Chen Xiankui, a keeper of the flame in his job teaching Marxism at Beijing's People's University. Pinning him down on what exactly he believes in, though, is not easy given his insistence that "there is no fixed mode of socialism."

When you come down to it, Professor Chen explains, "the party's fundamental task is to make ordinary people richer."

As China's largely rubber-stamp parliament prepares to meet in early March to install a new Communist-led government, the party that claims also to be the incarnation of the Chinese nation and state is in crisis.

Rocked not for the first time by corruption scandals, bereft of inspiration or ideology, irrelevant to increasing numbers of Chinese citizens, and united only by an overriding determination to maintain its grip on power, the party "is now entering the riskiest period" of its history, warns Wang Changjiang. And he should know: He is the head of the "Department of Party Building" at the Central Party School in Beijing, the party's intellectual inner sanctum.

Professor Wang thinks that the solution to the party's ills is more democracy (though not too much democracy; a multiparty system "is not necessary," he says).

That is problematic for a party that has brooked no challenge to its rule since the Chinese revolution in 1949 and which is now just a decade short of the record for Communist rule the Soviet Communist Party had 74 years in power.

The Chinese Communist Party is a political party unlike any other, Wang reminds you. "We did not win power through democratic elections but through revolution. Our system is a dictatorship," he says bluntly. "And our biggest challenge is still how to make the transition from a revolutionary party to a ruling party."

The party is everything ...

In China, as it was in the Soviet Union, the party is the state. The two are inseparable, since the party has colonized every aspect and function of the state, and no other group or institution is allowed even a taste of state power.

"The party is like a nerve that runs from top to bottom of society across the nation," says Li Weidong, an independent political commentator. "It's everywhere and it can do anything."

In fact, the party is more important than the state. It is no accident that Xi Jinping was made head of the Communist Party three months before his appointment as president of the nation during the National People's Congress meeting that opens March 5. He will become president because he is head of the party.

It is the same all the way down China's administrative pyramid to the hundreds of thousands of villages where the administrative village leader and the local party boss are very often the same man. And where they are not, as Mr. Yang explains, "the party chief is senior to the village chief. …