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Saturday, 9 November, 2002, 12:38 GMT
China's numbers game
Jiang wants to be seen as one of three Chinese greats

China's leader Jiang Zemin, who formally retires at the current Communist Party Congress, will bequeath as his ideological legacy a theory called the "three represents".

But millions of Chinese are still having trouble trying to square the "four modernisations" with the "four cardinal principles".

So how does Mr Jiang's less than catchy catchphrase - long a feature of newspaper headlines and now to be written into the party charter - tally with those of his predecessors?

The "three represents" is the latest in a long line of numerically inclined slogans.

Sign reading, in Chinese, Three Represents
Jiang's theory is being posted on billboards
An entire political campaign in China was once based on an outburst by Chairman Mao:

"What do you mean, taking the 'three directives' as the key link?"

Well, he did have a point. We were not even told what the three directives were.

"The white and expert road of 'three divorces' " was another mystery, albeit a slightly more intriguing one.

The constant changes in Chinese Communist theory are made no easier to follow by this stubborn tradition, tidy though it may be, of grouping things by numbers.

The "two lines", the "three red flags", the "four clean-ups" and the "five small industries" were all mastered by your average apparatchik at an early age. But to most outsiders, unused to counting counter-revolutionaries, they do not add up to much.

Perhaps an abacus helps.

But in that case why aren't the "three antis and the five antis" known simply as the "eight antis"? Or the "three reconciliations and one reduction" as the "two reconciliations"?

Materialistic world

Often the items referred to are officially frowned on - which could be the reason why they are not mentioned individually by name.

Shoppers look at televisions in shop
Modern Chinese are interested in modern goods
It is certainly easier to shout "down with the five bad elements" than to go through the blacklist of landlords, kulaks, counter-revolutionaries, bad elements and rightists every time.

And if you do not know what the "five antis" are, it probably just shows you are one of those to whom everyone is anti.

There are also the "10 prohibitions" to remember - reminiscent of the Christian 10 commandments but not interchangeable with them.

Good things are grouped together too. But they are just as liable to be affected by the prevailing political winds.

In Mao's day, everyone yearned for the "four musts" (bicycle, radio, watch, and sewing machine).

But under his more materialistic successor, Deng Xiaoping, they became the "eight bigs" (colour television, fridge, stereo, camera, motorcycle, suite of furniture, washing machine and electric fan).

Capitalism welcome

These days anyone who is anyone has the "eight bigs" several times over. The average upwardly mobile urban male is probably more interested in the "four Porsches" and "the 20 golf clubs".

Deng Xiaoping, pictured in 1981
Deng encouraged China to become business-minded
Young women, meanwhile, are still busy searching for the "three highs" - a partner with a high salary, high professional status and of above average height.

But all Jiang Zemin could come up with, at the end of his 13-year reign, was the "three represents".

What it is supposed to mean is that the Communist Party should represent three key forces: advanced production; advanced culture; and the interests of the majority (ie the new middle classes as well as the workers and peasants).

These basically boil down to one thing - letting businessmen join the party.

The old "four modernisations" and "four cardinal principles" could also each be whittled down to one thing: the first meant getting rich was good; the second meant being communist was good.

Two incompatible goals, you might think.

But Mr Jiang, combining political science, arithmetic and geometry, has tried to square the increasingly awkward circle the party has drawn for itself by abandoning its raison d'etre.

What he is saying is that being rich and being communist are good - both at the same time.

That may explain why his theory is being hailed by party propagandists as "a brilliant development of Marx and Mao".

Tim Luard is covering the Party Congress for the BBC's East Asia Today programme.

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