... and the party embraced businessmen

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 December, 2008, 12:00am

Communism and capitalism have learned to co-exist in the past 30 years of opening up and reform in China. As capitalism has thrived, the Communist Party has expanded its membership into non-state sectors such as private companies, foreign-funded enterprises and self-employed individuals.

In 1978, the Chinese Communist Party had just over 36 million members, the vast majority coming from its traditional base of workers, farmers and soldiers. But by the end of last year, its membership had more than doubled to 74.15 million. Of those, 4 million were from the non-state or private sectors, and included business tycoons, technocrats, volunteers in non-governmental organisations and street peddlers.

It's inconceivable that any of these could have been admitted to the party before 1978. Their capitalist or bourgeois backgrounds would have rendered them ideologically inferior to factory workers and farmers.

The dramatic turnaround took place in 2001, when the party's general secretary at the time, Jiang Zemin , said people from non-state sectors were also builders of socialism as long as they made their wealth by lawful means. Mr Jiang went a step further, one year later, extending the definition of the party to include not only the working class, but all Chinese people and the whole nation.

Political analysts embraced the new identification, saying it diluted the party's association with a certain social stratum.

Jin Hao , an official in charge of party affairs at the Beijing municipal government's Investment Promotion Bureau, remembers the moment well.

'General secretary Jiang's speech sent a huge tremor through our hearts. We suddenly realised that the scope of the party's work had been greatly enlarged,' Mr Jin said.

The bureau works with foreign investors in the capital and deals with some personnel management affairs, including the party documents, of mainland staff employed at foreign-funded companies in Beijing.

Mr Jin said party membership applications went up after Mr Jiang's speech, with the number of party members at the 1,000 foreign-funded businesses covered by Mr Jin's bureau rising from about 2,000 in 2001 to about 3,000 today. And more than 90 per cent of those businesses had more than three party members who had established party cells in their firms.