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Monday, 2 July, 2001, 21:36 GMT 22:36 UK
China's changing face
The gathering to mark the 80th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party
The ideological fervour of the old days seems far away
By Duncan Hewitt in Shanghai

From mass inductions of new members to TV and radio galas of revolutionary songs, China's Communist Party this weekend celebrated its 80th anniversary in time-honoured socialist fashion.

In the past 10 years membership has grown by some 20 million to over 64 million - making it the world's largest political party

At the site of the first meeting of the Communist Party in Shanghai, where Mao Zedong and 12 others met in secret in July 1921, 800 party members of all generations took part in a ceremony to renew their oath of loyalty to the party.

Yet just around the corner was a reminder of the changing times in which they live.

The rest of the city block containing the revered party museum has in recent months been converted by a Hong Kong property developer into a high-class leisure complex of luxury restaurants and boutiques, aimed firmly at expatriates and China's new rich.

Pride of place there this weekend went to a new Maserati sports car, on display just metres from the party shrine.

Massive changes

And the speech made by China's president and party secretary-general, Jiang Zemin, to thousands of party loyalists in Beijing's Great Hall of the People was a clear attempt to convince the Chinese people that the party remains relevant despite the massive changes in society over recent years.

A woman photographs members of her family on the eve of the anniversary
China has made great strides in recent years
These changes have led to the jettisoning of many aspects of socialist ideology and of the party's once basic pledge to provide social welfare for all.

Mr Jiang pledged to represent the most progressive economic and cultural forces in society - and he sought to reach out to China's growing number of private business people, giving perhaps the most explicit sign yet that the party will shed its ambivalence about accepting such people as members in the future.

That would fit in with the party's attempts, in the decade since the Tiananmen protests of 1989, to increase the number of young and well-educated among its members.

Ideological fervour

In the past 10 years membership has grown by some 20 million to over 64 million - making it the world's largest political party.

Mr Jiang pledged to represent the most progressive economic and cultural forces in society

Yet many people in China believe that young people who join the party are often motivated largely by a desire to improve their career prospects within official organisations.

The ideological fervour of the old days seems far away - even President Jiang himself said that while the party could never abandon Marxism, such ideas needed to be constantly enriched and developed in line with the demands of China's "socialist market economy".

He added that it was neither possible nor necessary to envisage the details of what path the nation would take in the future.

In the absence of a powerful political ideology, he made it clear that the party would continue to make use of what some would call nationalism but what the party calls patriotism and national unity to rally popular support.

Widespread corruption

Mr Jiang listed reunification with Taiwan as one of the party's most important tasks for the 21st Century, along with continuing modernisation.

Chinese policemen watch over the crowd on Tiananmen Square
The party now presides over capitalist-style reforms
Yet while such ideas may have widespread support in China, the country's leaders are aware that, on their own, these do not necessarily guarantee public loyalty to the Communist Party itself.

In an acknowledgement of the public anger at widespread corruption, which he has repeatedly called a life and death issue for the communists, Mr Jiang promised that there would be no hiding place for corrupt elements in the party, and pledged that officials at all levels would be subject to the scrutiny and supervision of the people.

At the same time he ruled out any type of Western-style multi-party democracy, which many ordinary people in China believe would make such scrutiny rather more effective.

After 80 years, the party founded to build communism to China is clearly hoping that bringing economic opportunities and development, along with national pride, will be enough to enable it to retain its grip on power.

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