China's defiant Communist Party marks its 70th birthday

July 02, 1991|By Robert Benjamin | Robert Benjamin,Beijing Bureau of The Sun

BEIJING -- The Chinese Communist Party, riddled with corruption and increasingly isolated in a world moving away from socialism, celebrated its 70th birthday yesterday with a good deal of fanfare aimed at buttressing its sagging legitimacy.

"Victory belongs to the great Chinese Communist Party. Victory belongs to the Chinese people of all nationalities," General Secretary Jiang Zemin said in concluding a nationally televised speech before 10,000 party and military officials in the capital's Great Hall of the People yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Jiang's 1 1/2 -hour recitation of the "earthshaking" achievements that followed the first party congress -- a furtive meeting of 13 delegates at a Shanghai girls' school in 1921 -- capped several weeks of banquets, exhibitions and concerts.

Most major party or government declarations in the past year have offered something for every political faction vying for power within China's top leadership, and Mr. Jiang's speech followed the formula.

If anything, however, the speech tilted toward the party's morehard-core socialists, with rhetoric about continuing "class struggle within certain areas of our country," strengthening state-owned industries, promoting socialist culture over "bourgeois liberalization" and defending China against the subversion of "hostile international forces."

As for the dramatic decline in communism in other countries, Mr. Jiang acknowledged "some serious setbacks" in "the world socialist cause," but he characterized them as "only a temporary phenomenon in history" and one that would not deter the development of Chinese socialism.

Mr. Jiang's speech emphasized the Communist Party as China's main promoter of nationalism and economic development, not strictly socialist themes.

"As Deng Xiaoping [China's paramount leader] has repeatedly exhorted us, unless large-scale war breaks out, all comrades in the party should at all times concentrate on economic development," Mr. Jiang said.

David L. Shambaugh, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of London who is visiting Beijing, said that despite the socialist language in Mr. Jiang's speech, he found the emphasis on non-socialist themes striking.

"You have the leader of the Communist Party, celebrating the party's 70th birthday, giving a speech in which there's very little socialism," Mr. Shambaugh said. "He was talking about things that any non-Communist government in China would talk about."

Membership in the party is at a record high these days of more than 50.3 million, or one of every 15 Chinese adults. But cynicism about communism is also mounting, as is the belief that many newcomers join the party to advance their careers rather than to serve the nation.

In his speech yesterday, even Mr. Jiang expressed the fear that the rotfrom within -- rather than threats from outside -- could destroy the party.

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