Deft words to speak the unspeakable

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The Independent Online
Some deft semantic manoeuvring will be on show as the Communist Party tiptoes around the reality that public ownership will no longer be the dominant force in the economy.

Today President Jiang Zemin will resurrect the idea that China is still in "the primary stage of socialism". This formulation was first put forward at the 13th party congress in 1987 by the reformist party secretary, Zhao Ziyang.

Translated into plain-speak, the phrase means that China is free to employ whatever capitalist tools it desires in order to progress down the modernising road to a socialist future. It may be a long journey; China has admitted this "primary stage" can last 100 years.

This congress's second linguistic contribution pledges the country to "hold high the great banner of Deng Xiaoping's theory of building socialism with Chinese characteristics". This is Sino-speak for China sticking to the reform and opening policies Mr Deng launched in 1978. The expression "socialism with Chinese characteristics" was coined at the 1992 party congress, to enshrine the policy that market forces have an central role in Chinese socialism - and to justify the fact that some people were getting richer much faster than others.

This being the first congress since Mr Deng's death in February, Mr Jiang's plan for state-owned enterprises is being touted as the big ideological contribution to the post-Deng era. It was described as "the third emancipation of the mind" by Li Junru, the deputy director of the party's "theory bureau", Mr Deng's 1978 "seek truth from facts" and his 1992 "socialism with Chinese characteristics" qualifying as the first two "emancipations".

One phrase which will not be on anyone's lips in 1997 is "iron rice bowl", the former cradle-to-grave guarantee of social welfare. That one has gone right out of fashion.