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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 March 2005, 11:48 GMT
China dabbles in democracy
Sun Fabao
Mr Sun is keen to take part in forthcoming elections
By Kashif Anwar
BBC News Online

Sun Fabao has a makeshift shrine to Chairman Mao in his house. Its centrepiece is a large poster of the Great Helmsman, the red sun rising over his left shoulder.

His village, Qianrenqiao in central Anhui province, is being presented as a case study of Chinese democracy in action.

Qianrenqiao is preparing for its next election, and 13 local government officials have accompanied us there to make sure the villagers are on-message.

Mr Sun was voted in as the village committee's deputy head last time, and is keen to stand again.

"We can take part in democratic village management and democratic monitoring of cadres," he told the BBC World Service's Analysis programme.

"People trust elected officials," he said.

Recommended candidates

But not everyone agrees.

"The government recommends all the candidates," one man, Mr Qiao, pointed out.

"It would be better if you could nominate yourself, because then elected officials would actually speak for the people."

Yao Lifa
Yao Lifa is a peasant turned democracy activist
Among the elected officials who have been disappointed is Yao Lifa.

A former peasant, he was elected as an independent candidate to the people's congress. In office, he campaigned against the wastage of public funds and tried to overturn certain disputed election results.

When his term was up, he wanted to stand again but was unsuccessful. He now claims unelected officials cheated him and the other independents.

"We spread information about how the system should work, so the local officials hated us and were afraid of us," he said.

"They used illegal measures to mess up the election."

Some official estimates say just 10% of village elections are actually competitive.

At village elections, for example, local party secretaries decide what form polls should take, and who can stand.

New members

Originally the Communist Party represented the workers, peasants and soldiers, and businessmen were the exploiters, the enemy.

But in 2002, the party opened its ranks to private businessmen, the "capitalist running dogs" of old.

Elections are good for us poor people. Elections serve the people.
Mrs Zhou, local voter
Yin Mingshan, whose Li Fan company makes motorcycles, is one of China's richest men. Mr Yin says he owes his entry into politics to the communists because the party allowed him to get rich.

"The mercy of the Communist Party towards me and my business is as big as a mountain," he told Analysis.

"It provided a huge stage for me to change from a penniless intellectual to a millionaire famous across the land. Because of the Communist Party's kindness, I've been able to reinvent myself," he said.

Mr Yin was jailed in the 1960s for having capitalist inclinations, and spent nearly 20 years doing forced labour.

Pragmatism is now key, and the party boasts that one-third of private businessmen have joined its ranks.

The children of the revolution gather every Sunday in a Beijing park to sing the anthems of struggle.

Many of these old-timers admit they come together to remember old times, the era of Mao Zedong. But many of them also support China's rising economic might, saying it could not happen without bringing businessmen into the political establishment.

However, there are some dissenters.

"Our country's socialism has changed colour - now some people join the party with different motives from back in Chairman Mao's time," said one man, who did not want to be named.

"Now they join the party as a springboard to get a high position and make money," he said.

Shift in attitude

The party's natural recruiting ground has been elite universities, where students are well-trained in Communist thinking.

Crowds in Beijing Park
Crowds regularly gather to sing the anthems of struggle
But student Gu Dai has already made her decision.

"I don't intend to be a Communist Party member - to be a party member is just like a soldier in the army because they guide me in my mind," she said.

"That would deprive me of my freedom."

The true believers may feel alienated by the party's latest incarnation, while the young are no longer willing to sacrifice themselves to a cause they hardly understand.

They have been brought up mouthing slogans to socialism, while watching capitalism rampaging through their lives.

Despite this, the Communist Party's control is not threatened, because it has not allowed alternative centres of power to emerge, even stopping election bids by a handful of independent candidates.

It is a measure of the party's determination to ensure its own survival, and it is showing that it will change in order to prolong its reign, even if that means jettisoning its core ideology.

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