Jiang Zemin yesterday promised full protection for private income and property and came close to endorsing a market for land, giving another major boost to entrepreneurs who have been shunned by the Communist Party for decades. 'All legitimate income, from labour or not, should be protected,' he said. 'It is improper to judge whether a person is politically progressive or backward by whether they own property or how much they own, but rather, we should judge them mainly by their political awareness, state of mind and performance.' He said entrepreneurs should be judged by how they had acquired and used their property. The recognition by Mr Jiang was welcomed by businessmen and executives, but some said they were waiting for concrete measures to eliminate discrimination against them. Some party members have criticised the notion of admitting entrepreneurs into the party, claiming the move could weaken the socialist nature of the ruling party and turn it into a party for the rich and powerful. Mr Jiang defended the contribution made by entrepreneurs to the mainland's economy and stressed that private income, regardless of whether or not it was earned from labour - must be protected. This puts income from rent, share dividends, interest from bank deposits or other profits from trading on an ideological par with income from labour, which in the early years of communism was the only legitimate form of income. Mr Jiang said the priority was economic growth and development. 'This requires that we do away with all notions that hinder development, change all practices and regulations which impede it and get rid of the drawbacks of the systems which adversely affect it. 'Public ownership plays a dominant role with diverse forms of ownership developing side by side.' Mr Jiang said the public and non-public sectors should not be set against each other. 'All sectors of the economy can very well display their respective advantages in market competition and stimulate one another for common development,' he said. 'We should unite with the people of all social strata who help to make the motherland prosperous and strong, encouraging their pioneering spirit, protecting their legitimate rights and interests and commending the outstanding ones.' Mr Jiang also called for easier transfer of land. 'Wherever conditions permit, the transfer of the contractual right of land can be carried out according to law and on a voluntary and compensatory basis.' This is meant to alleviate one of the biggest failures of Mr Jiang's time in office - the rising gap between urban and rural incomes, and the inefficiency of much of China's agriculture. Absent from his speech were calls for institutional changes that would level the playing field for private companies, in the form of independent regulators. Xie Yali, the manager of Shanghai property firm Gongfu Economic Development, said: 'It's not like before when entrepreneurs running small businesses could not hold their heads up. Now we have confidence.' But executives said private companies, especially smaller ones, needed more sources of financing to develop. Wu Yiming, the chairman of thermal underwear maker Saiyang Beijirong Development, said: 'The biggest problem we have now is how to become bigger and stronger. The operating environment needs to be more relaxed. 'The Government must take a step to put forward new policies,' he said. Bill Savadove in Shanghai contributed to this story.