China reformers set to crush old guard: Pragmatists in the Communist Party plan to drop ideology and use market forces to maintain a hold on power, says Raymond Whitaker, Asia Editor

TO THE rest of the world, to millions of their countrymen, and possibly to most of the 1,991 delegates themselves, the 14th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which begins in Peking today, seems an anachronism.

Inside the Great Hall of the People, the classic images of Communist domination - row upon row of blank-faced cadres, endless speeches, a giant hammer and sickle backdrop - will be on display, but a short walk away, past billboards advertising the consumer goods that have flooded China, is one of the world's busiest branches of McDonald's.

The crowds, better-dressed than they would be in Moscow, are taking little interest in the five-yearly congress. The party slogan they heed is the one that says, 'To get rich is glorious.'

Under the 'reform and opening up' economic policies pursued by China's supreme leader, Deng Xiaoping, the party's control of the economy has already been loosened considerably, and the 14th Congress will be told to give up more power. It will also approve personnel changes that may give reformists a significant majority in the party's highest reaches. The Communist monopoly of politics is another matter: the only disagreement is over the means of staying in power.

If the party is to survive the collapse of Communism almost everywhere except Cuba and a handful of East Asian states, it must deliver prosperity to China's 1.2 billion people, in the view of the 88-year-old Mr Deng and his supporters. They appear increasingly deaf to the complaints of hardliners that this is at the price of ideological bankruptcy.

The party has already distanced itself from the failure of Communism elsewhere by insisting that it espouses 'socialism with Chinese characteristics'. At this congress the theme will be updated to 'the socialist market economy'.

The conservatives sense that for the men Mr Deng wants to promote, economic growth has become an end in itself. China has already become the world's 10th largest exporter, overtaking South Korea, and the growth forecast for this year has just been revised from 7 to 12 per cent. In the southern enterprise zones, the economy is probably expanding at twice that rate.

As recently as last spring Mr Deng still felt sufficiently frustrated by the hardliners in the capital to make a public tour of the booming south, where he praised what was going on and urged faster economic liberalisation. Even then his opponents sought to prevent his message getting out, leading to predictions that the congress could result in little more than patched-up compromise.

But informed sources now say that in a series of unnoticed victories, starting with the summer Politburo meeting in the coastal resort of Beidaihe, where party leaders have their villas, and continuing with the preparatory meetings for the congress, the conservatives have been stifled. One source said he would be surprised if they got 'more than a few phrases' in the 10,000-word keynote speech today by Jiang Zemin, the general secretary.

At the 1987 congress, too, there was talk of the Long March generation giving way to a group of younger reformists. Economic improvements were already beginning to bear fruit. A speech by Zhao Ziyang, then general secretary, was full of plans for further liberalisation and political reform, by which he meant the greater separation of party and state.

All this was blown off course by the suppression of the 1989 democracy movement and the massacre in Tiananmen Square, outside the Great Hall of the People. In its wake, China suffered diplomatic ostracism from which it is only just recovering.

Mr Deng's conservative contemporaries, whom he thought he had thrust into retirement, tried to seize back the initiative. Mr Zhao was disgraced, while the economy suffered from a lurch back to centralism and a sharp squeeze on demand.

It has taken the reformists until now to recover the ground, and this time Mr Deng wants to make sure there is no turning back. The authority of the party, severely damaged by Tiananmen, will be weakened further as the founding generation dies off. Although there is little doubt that he would order the troops to shoot again if necessary, his successors cannot be expected to show similar resolve.

Hence the 'socialist market economy', a self-contradictory term designed to obscure the strategy of holding on to political power by abandoning ideology and allowing the economy to rip. It will probably be enough to prevent the Communist Party suddenly disappearing, but certainly ensures a vicious struggle for power after Mr Deng dies. Unless he is still alive to see it, the 15th party congress - if there is one - may be as different from its predecessors as this one is the same.

(Photograph omitted)

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
news

News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
London's New Year's Eve fireworks event is going to be ticketed this year for the first time at £10 a head
news

Revellers will have to pay to see New Year's Eve fireworks in London

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Life and Style
tech

Try putting that one on your Christmas list
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

KS2 Teacher

£105 - £120 per day + Expenses: Randstad Education Maidstone: Randstad Educat...

German & French Teacher

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are curren...

Experienced Cover Supervisors Needed

£55 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education have cover s...

**** Calling All NQT's ****

£90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Are you a Newly Qualified Teac...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week