Defiant Chinese party marks its 70th birthday


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, concerts and contests.

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 more hard-core socialists, including as it did 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 elsewhere in the world, 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 LTC serve the nation.

Severe problems with corruption at all levels of the party and government, despite a continuing campaign to weed out wrongdoers, have abetted the pervasive image of a party that has long strayed from its original, lofty ideals.

"Communism can never be achieved in China, because communism depends on an honest bureaucracy and there's so much corruption here," a university professor and minor party official said in private recently.

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

Some party cadres, he said, "have abused their power for personal gain, bribed people, accepted bribes and become corrupt. . . . The party's survival hinges on its conduct. If these decadent phenomena are allowed to continue, the party will be doomed to self-destruction."

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