China's leader takes moral stand ahead of 2008 Olympics

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The Independent Online

China's new "eight socialist honours" are unambiguous and fiercely patriotic: Love the Motherland. Serve the People. Be united. Struggle hard. Work hard. Advocate science. Be honest. Obey the law. The eight principles are part of President Hu Jintao's efforts to combat eight pernicious "disgraces" he sees creeping into Chinese society. The only way to stop the rot is for the masses to learn a "socialist sense of honour and shame".

This weekend, the campaign hit the streets of China's cities and towns, and cadres were out in force, offering tutorials in virtue - obeying the law, protecting trees and cleaning up dog faeces. There were volunteers offering free health check-ups and giving advice on traffic etiquette.

In Beijing, the Wangfujing shopping thoroughfare became a venue for an award ceremony for those truly infused with a "socialist sense of honour". To the tune of the theme from The Magnificent Seven (obviously including the sequel), cadres honoured 10 model residents, among them Li Zhenhuan, who has been giving free haircuts to residents for more than 35 years.

China's supreme leader hopes the list of eight principles, which he unveiled at the National People's Congress early this month, will encourage moral values and bring people back to polite ways ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

Amid burgeoning wealth and the rise of flagrant consumerism in the world's fastest-growing economy, many traditional Chinese values of honour and decency are being replaced by self-serving, money-grabbing behaviour, the leadership believes.

Mr Hu said that to meet the goals set out in the 11th Five Year Plan, approved by the congress, China needed to "extensively and thoroughly mobilise the masses ... work hard to cultivate and bring up socialist citizens who cherish ideals, possess moral character and are educated and disciplined".

In the old days, these campaigns would have been trumpeted on luridly coloured posters, replete with apple-cheeked farm girls and muscled steel workers facing into the sun. Mr Hu's aphorisms, however, were printed on a plain poster with Chinese characters above a photo of the Great Wall, and displayed in offices and shops since the campaign began.

China may be embracing socialism with Chinese characteristics, which to the untrained eye looks an awful lot like straightforward capitalism, but the rhetoric of the latest morality campaign will be familiar to many in still-Communist China who remember the Five Standards, the Four Virtues and the Three Loves.

For most people in China, the focus of "socialist disgrace" is still corrupt local officials taking bribes and creaming off cash from provincial coffers.

Mr Hu's statements all have the ring of good, old-fashioned Cold-War era Communism, but the message is still a far cry from the more belligerent tone of the founding father, Mao Zedong: "Political power comes from the barrel of a gun."