Utopia is being moved back to the top of the political programme of the Communist Party when it holds its annual plenary session in Beijing this week. The meeting will approve a document on the 'building of a spiritual civilisation' in China, setting forth the task of creating not just a richer Chinese citizen but a new man, better morally and stronger spiritually. In his seven years in power, President Jiang Zemin has raised living standards but apparently feels this is not enough. Mr Jiang has set forth on a mission to create a 'double civilisation', a superior civilisation materially, culturally and morally. On doors all over China, organisations are putting up little brass signs saying 'twin civilisation unit' to show they are partaking in the goal of their leader. Some fear Mr Jiang's agenda is a disturbing throwback to the violent and crazed 30-year 'experiment' in extreme utopianism to which Mao Zedong subjected the Chinese. After Mao's death, Deng Xiaoping declared it was time the Chinese came down from Heaven to Earth, to abandon the fantasies and lies of the Maoists, and just concentrate on producing enough to eat and wear. Mr Deng ruled by forging a broad coalition from different ends of the political spectrum in China, but never expressly said whether the party had truly abandoned the Marxist goal of creating a new socialist man, or just deferred it for as long as it took for China and the party to recover. Now voices are being raised saying that getting rich is all very well but the party must return to its original mission. Even in the China Daily, ethics professor Luo Guojie says the trouble with the Chinese is that by concentrating too much on 'earthly happiness' they are living in a moral vacuum. 'Spiritually, they do not know where they are or where to go,' he complained. This is not a sign of a greater tolerance of religious freedom, because the spiritual civilisation campaign is accompanied by a renewed crackdown on all kinds of religious activists from Tibetan lamaseries to Taoist shamanists. No others are allowed to develop into rivals that could supplant the Communist Party in its ambitions to fill this perceived 'moral vacuum'. If the party's utopia programme were ever to be achieved, Chinese society would be composed of 'new human beings' such as Li Suli, a woman who sells tickets on the number 21 bus in Beijing. On Thursday her picture was plastered on the front of every national newspaper. An ordinary person doing a humdrum job, the party believes she is exemplary for her devotion to public service. Instead of seeking selfish ambitions such as higher wages to buy her own house and car, she prefers 'serving the people', as it was called in the Mao era. These Maoist sentiments cause real fear among those who know what else they imply. For this reason, Mr Jiang's attempt to use the organs of the state to improve public morality is not a reversion to more hallowed traditions. Chinese emperors have always sought by edicts and personal example to establish standards of personal and public morality. In the Qing dynasty when the official ideology was Confucianism, the state selected 'model women' whose deeds were publicised in official biographies and whose portraits were painted on walls in public places. Among the virtues such women were supposed to represent was a selfless obedience and devotion to their mothers-in-law. Sixteen were even sanctified for going so far as slicing off part of their own bodies to feed their relatives as medicine. No one talks of reviving such appalling Confucianist trials of loyalty but evidently some still propose reviving Maoism. A call to arms has been issued in a 10,000-character letter written or inspired by Deng Liqun , the retired party propaganda chief. It prompted a robust retort by economist Cao Siyuan, who called it a return to the ways of the Cultural Revolution and hinted that Deng Liqun is using Deng Xiaoping's absence to influence Mr Jiang. Deng Liqun has denied he wrote the letter but approves of the content. The letter complains of the growth of private enterprise and the political threat posed to China's proletarian dictatorship by the formation of a bourgeois class. What is more, the author complains the right-wing is now running wild 'declaring that Marx's vision of the Communist society was utopian and an illusion'. Mr Jiang's effort to make his spiritual civilisation programme a central plank in the state's ideology has reportedly split the top party leadership. Some have argued you cannot encourage an economy based on competition and survival of the fittest while simultaneously eulogising self-sacrifice for the public good. Behind this lurks a fear the hard left will use the cloak of spiritual civilisation to renew attacks on capitalism and spark a bitter internal party conflict. Such a comeback is already visible in different ways including the partial rehabilitation of some unpleasant people including Chen Yonggui, the Shanxi peasant leader of Dazhai commune who rose to become a vice-premier. Chen was a creature of Maoism, blindly devoted to Mao's agriculture policies which left 30 million dead and kept China on the brink of starvation for a generation. Chen personally persecuted to death dozens of his opponents in Shanxi and was a personal friend of Pol Pot, touring Cambodia at the height of the Khmer Rouge nightmare. 'Cambodia is the first to solve problems which escaped both Lenin and the Chinese,' Chen concluded. Critics of the spiritual civilisation ideology believe the party can hardly be taken seriously if it tries to hold up monstrous creatures like Chen as the embodiment of spiritual values. It is laughable too to pretend there are paragons of delicate charm among Beijing bus conductors. Yet everyone in China would undoubtedly prefer it if bus conductors were polite and friendly, the streets were clean, and officials behaved like modest civil servants instead of corrupt petty dictators. Mr Jiang may be right in wanting to tap into this deep-rooted yearning to live in a better society than that which now exists. His much touted model county of Zhangjiagang in Jiangsu is impressive, even though it has now lost its crown as China's most sanitary city to Xiamen. Visiting Xiamen last month it was astonishing to see how much a campaign had transformed what a decade ago was a run down and shabby place. Now, the streets are clean, the government had forced drivers to drive courteously and has even enforced a ban on horn blowing. Added in its fine weather, beautiful location and charming architecture, it does feel like a 'civilised' town and one wishes there were more of them in China. This passion to build a new and better China is shared by other Chinese in Taiwan and Singapore because the underlying ideas were articulated by other non-communist Chinese reformers such as Sun Yat-sen and Kang Youwei. They absorbed all sorts of ideas from Social Darwinism then current in the West. Their contemporary Chen Duxiu, who went on to found the Communist Party, feared that unless everything about the Chinese race was improved, it would be doomed. 'The majority of our people are lethargic and do not know that not only our morality, politics and technology but even commodities for daily use are all unfit for struggle and are going to be eliminated in the process of natural selection,' he wrote in the 1920s. The state has now taken on the task of raising the quality of the Chinese race in all ways. It is responsible for improving manners and morals as well as weeding the Chinese gene pool under stringent eugenics laws in order to bolster the 'biological fitness' of the nation. Mr Jiang's exhortations to create this improved Chinese being may anger those who feel that utopianism in any form should forever have been disgraced by what Mao did. Yet there are many others, with only a scant knowledge of the past, who are still convinced the Chinese must improve themselves if they are to be worthy competitors with other races and cultures.