Nearly two decades after late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping made his capitalist clarion call 'to get rich is glorious', the private sector is finally winning a measure of support in its push to gain official respectability. In Shanghai, banking academics are urging banks to lend more to private businesses - one of the city's growth engines - instead of focusing on state-owned enterprises. In Shandong, the provincial government has given permission to private enterprises to nominate exemplary staff as 'model workers', an honour previously bestowed on workers of state-owned and collectively owned enterprises. On a national level, the China Export and Import Bank is adjusting its loan policy to extend lending to foreign-funded enterprises controlled by mainland partners, a component of the private sector. Previously, loans were given only to large and medium state enterprises. More significantly, on the political front, private businesses have about 80 representatives - four times last year's figure - at the current sittings of the National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Committee, a parliamentary advisory body. These small but hard-won concessions reflect a gradual change in the official mindset towards the private sector, once dismissed as the hotbed of capitalist exploitation of the proletariat class. When Deng made his clarion call, attitudes towards wealth and private entrepreneurs were still heavily influenced by feudal and communist ideas. Then, people who struck it rich were seen as uncouth or ideologically incorrect. Twenty years on, the idea is slowly changing - thanks partly to President Jiang Zemin's call at September's 15th Party Congress to state enterprises to press for faster reforms and support the non-state sector and private business. As state firms embark on massive retrenchments, the fast-growing private sector is expected to soak up the labour surplus and generate more wealth for the country. Already, the sector is emerging as a force to be reckoned with. Figures released by the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce - the business chamber of the private sector - show there were 960,700 private enterprises by the end of last year. They employed 13.5 million people, or about 10 per cent of the urban workforce. By his support for the non-state sector, Mr Jiang has shattered the last bit of ideological resistance towards private businesses and, by extension, wealth creation. People, especially those in the coastal cities, no longer feel guilty if they are rich, although flashing one's wealth is still considered bad taste or dangerous. Indeed, among the 20-somethings, the pursuit of wealth is considered a worthy goal: not surprising, since the younger generation is no longer entitled to cheap housing and home-ownership is possible only if they have money up front. More significantly, changing attitudes towards private businesses could encourage some of the retrenched civil servants and workers to consider trying their hands at running their own companies. Experience of market economies elsewhere shows it is ultimately the small private businesses - not the headline-making conglomerates - which form the backbone of an economy. It will be no different for the mainland in time to come.