In the days of Chairman Mao, capitalists were "counterrevolutionaries" and "poisonous weeds", but China's Communist Party has ceded some ground of late to "capitalist running dogs" and now lists people like Chen Ailian, a sharp-suited entrepreneur, among the ranks of cadres.
She is a successful car component maker who sees no conflict between driving a Rolls-Royce and being a Party member. "Don't stereotype a Communist Party member, who can also be modern, fashionable and open-minded," she told the China Daily newspaper.
China reveals the identities of its new elite Politburo today, marking the end of a remarkably open party congress in the capital Beijing.
The new Politburo, which is expected to cede some of its older blood for the younger allies of leader Hu Jintao, will run a different brand of Communist Party to the group of 13 ideologues who gathered in a draughty hall in Shanghai for the first congress in 1921. Back then, there were just 60 Communists in China – now there are 73 million.
In her old life, before she bought the Roller, Chen drove a truck, but now she is chairwoman of Wanfeng Auto Holding Group – the largest manufacturer of aluminium alloy wheels in Asia and one of the top 50 auto parts suppliers in China. "Like workers, farmers, intellectuals, cadres and soldiers, private entrepreneurs are also builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics," said the 49-year-old, who represents the private sector in the booming province of Zhejiang.
The fiery rhetoric rings uncannily similar to the dictums of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book, but her story is a parable of new China.
She borrowed £32,000 and rented a factory, then built her business up until her company, based in her home town of Shaoxing, was supplying components to the likes of Ford, Toyota, and GM. Chinese factories built 8.5 million cars last year, making it the world's biggest manufacturer and the third-biggest car buyer.
Private entrepreneurs were long excluded from the Communist Party, but now they are recognised for their contribution to the economy. Last year 1,554 capitalists joined the party, a small but significant number in terms of their influence. The rise of the stock market and years of double-digit economic growth have given rise to a new entrepreneur class and China's 345,000 dollar millionaires are more than welcome into the ranks of the party.
Chen Ailian joined the Communist Party in 1995, a year after she started her business, and cannily set up a branch of the party in her company in the late 1990s.
The spokesman for this year's Communist Party Congress, Li Dongsheng, said private entrepreneurs could "expand the popular foundation of the party and facilitate the healthy development of a private sector".
The Communist Party is keen to boost its representation in private companies as a way of maintaining a high profile in people's day-to-day lives and not losing its relevance in the face of rampant private enterprise. The party also needs to woo entrepreneurs if it is to address the wealth gap between the new rich of the eastern and southern seaboard and the largely rural heartland.
Party data shows that this new "social strata" of entrepreneurs numbers around 50 million people, controlling billions of pounds worth of capital, half the patents in the country and accounting for one third of all tax paid in China. Karl Marx must be spinning in his grave. Indeed you wonder what Chairman Mao himself would think.Reuse content