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Last Updated: Monday, 7 January 2008, 08:28 GMT
Beijing bulletin
Portrait on Mao on Tiananmen Gate as people wave Olympic and Chinese flags
China's communist gloss is giving way to 'naked capitalism'

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

China, along with a few other diehards such as Cuba and North Korea, is one of the world's last so-called communist states.

Mao Zedong's portrait still hangs in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Marx is still mentioned and, of course, the Chinese Communist Party is still in power.

Even the outdated greeting 'comrade' is still used in official circles - despite the fact it's now become a slang term for homosexual.

But under this communist gloss, there's not much communism in China.

A society that once promised cradle-to-grave care - the 'iron rice bowl' - is now a dog-eat-dog world of naked capitalism.

Of course, naked capitalism does have its good points.

As the government dismantles giant state-owned companies, the private sector is taking over.

KFC outlet in Beijing
Tiananmen Square: Mao at one end KFC at the other

New entrepreneurs are looking to make enough money to buy a villa in the suburbs, holiday abroad and send their children to school in London.

Flights from Beijing to Heathrow are often crammed with nervous teenagers setting off for a new school, and a new life, in Britain.

Ordinary people are also getting in on the act. They're buying houses, opening businesses and investing on the stock market.

One young woman recently told me her stock market earnings are bigger than her salary.

And such is the allure of a car that many Beijingers would rather spend 20 minutes or more driving to work on traffic-clogged roads than 10 minutes biking to the office.

A popular song recently claimed Beijing had nine million bicycles, but most people would rather they were locked up in a shed, behind the new Toyota.

All this is mostly good news for a population whose business instincts could once have landed them in jail, or worse.

Society is opening up in ways unimaginable just 20 years ago. Chinese people are no longer told where to eat, what to wear or where to work.

But, of course, there's a less savoury side.

Migrant workers live in rooms just big enough to fit a bed, farmers are regularly robbed of their land and labourers often have trouble getting paid.

A cyclist in Beijing
A rare outing for one of Beijing's nine million bikes

Hard luck stories are not hard to find - just stop someone in the street.

A security guard in my compound said this week he was physically beaten by his boss when he asked for his wages. He works seven days a week.

China is certainly not the workers' paradise envisioned by Marx and his followers.

The contradiction between the official ideology and what goes on in the streets will be obvious to everyone coming to Beijing for the Olympics.

But admitting communism is no longer important might mean admitting the communist party is no longer needed.

Those in power certainly don't want to do that.

And so the charade goes on, with Mao's portrait at one end of Tiananmen Square and KFC dispensing fried chicken at the other.

Michael Bristow will be filing fortnightly columns from Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics in August.

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