China's bloated party debates its next 90 years
By Bill Smith Jun 29, 2011, 6:28 GMT
Beijing - 'Long live the great, glorious, correct Chinese Communist Party!' said the slogan on a red banner hung across a bridge in the Chinese capital on Wednesday.
'It's more like North Korea,' said one local resident after seeing the slogan, which the party has trotted out countless times since it took power 62 years ago.
As it marks the 90th anniversary of its founding this week, the male-dominated party's 80 million members and 75 million Communist Youth League members together make up more than 10 per cent of China's vast population.
'It is too big,' said Zhang Yong, a party member in his mid 40s. 'When New China was founded in 1949, there were only 1 million party members,' said Zhang, a pseudonym used to protect him from possible repercussions over some of his more critical comments.
Zhang, the manager of a Beijing-based high-technology company, joined the party in 1985.
'I think at that time, when I joined the party, we were all very sincere,' he told the German Press Agency dpa. 'At that time I felt the organization was really caring for me, helping me.'
In the following 25 years, the party has attracted many people interested solely in the advantages that membership can bring for their careers and businesses, Zhang said.
The number of party branches nationwide mushroomed from 2.1 million in 1978 to 3.8 million at the end of 2009, according to the party's statistics.
Once dominated by workers and farmers, the party amended its constitution in 2002 to allow entrepreneurs and other 'new forces' to join.
The party branch at New York-listed Yingli Solar, one of China's largest makers of photovoltaic cells, boasts 839 members out of a workforce of 12,000, Yang Jianzhong, the company's party secretary, told state media last week.
Yang said he had received 3,000 membership applications from other staff, while 15 of Yingli's 28 senior managers were already party members.
Yet despite the party's size and importance, for most ordinary Chinese people it has 'drifted underground' to become 'like the radio playing in the background', said Richard McGregor, the author of a recent book on the Communist Party.
'In the absence of democratic elections and open debate, it is impossible to judge popular support for the party with any degree of accuracy,' McGregor said in his book, The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers.
China's leaders frequently tell the world that the party enjoys the support of the 'vast majority' of Chinese people. They say democratic elections and open debate do take place, at least inside the party.
'Tomorrow's China will be a country that fully achieves democracy, the rule of law, fairness and justice,' Premier Wen Jiabao said in a speech at the Royal Society in London on Monday.
Some analysts saw Wen's remark as another hopeful sign that the Communist Party might allow democratic reforms that could lead to multi-party elections.
But Wen also said the country remained in the process of 'socialist modernization,' a period that he has previously said could last about 100 years and would continue to feature rapid economic development with minimal democratic reform.
The party's vision of 'socialist democracy' entails more open governance and minor competition in elections to party posts. Wen cited his participation in several online question-and-answer sessions as another example of China's recent democratic development.
Such small changes are not enough to satisfy some party members, while others think the party has already shifted too far away from its roots planted in Marxism and Mao Zedong Thought.
In the run-up to the 90th anniversary, many party branches have rallied the public to join performances of political songs that were popularized during the 'ten lost years' of the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, when China was dominated by communist fundamentalism and a personality cult around Mao.
Wang Xiaohui, the vice director of party's propaganda department, last week dismissed the 'red song' movement as a nostalgic cultural activity rather than a political force.
'Today we have a very rich and diverse culture,' Wang said. 'Some like red songs, others like pop songs. And there are still others who like rock'n'roll.'
But recent essays by leading scholars and several popular online forums have supported calls for the party to return to its Maoist roots, which some fear could pose a 'leftist' challenge to party leaders.
Many other people inside and outside the party back broad democratic reforms to solve problems such as widespread corruption, human rights abuses and a growing divide between rich and poor.
'Our country is now facing many problems,' Zhang said. 'The nation is very powerful but the people are poor.'
'In 1949, the people chose the Chinese Communist Party but how will the situation be in 2029?' he asked.
'Is the people's choice at that time legal for 100 years?'