UNITY has replaced class struggle or ideological purity as the highest virtue of the land, according to the official China News Service (CNS). In a commentary yesterday on the major themes of the recent National People's Congress and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, CNS said unity among disparate elements in society was a prerequisite for the development of the market economy. The news service hinted that the party was especially committed to mollifying sectors which had been neglected or discriminated against in the past. They included farmers, private entrepreneurs and members of religious communities. For example, CNS said, agricultural issues had dominated the congress and the conference because of the growing grievances of farmers, whose standard of living has not risen as fast as urban residents. It claimed Beijing had decided to promote unity with the more than 30 million entrepreneurs and workers in the private economy, because ''the non-state sector has provided tremendous material guarantees for reform''. ''When we realise that religion performs a similar role as advanced morality in regulating people's behaviour, we will do well in maintaining unity with the nation's more than 100 million believers,'' it said. Other disadvantaged sectors CNS has identified include residents in the western parts of China, underpaid intellectuals and the victims of corruption and unfair competition. The commentary said, however, that the successful promotion of unity required ''a change of mentality'', especially among people who were still preoccupied with class struggle and the purity of ideology. It cited party leaders including Mr Jiang Zemin and Mr Li Ruihuan as calling for the promotion of unity and cohesiveness in the nation.