Remember Communist China, that bastion of Mao and Marxism? It's changing faster than you can say "dictatorship of the proletariat." U.S. Ambassador James Sasser says of present-day China, "It is an economy in transition, a society in transition, a political system in transition."
|CBS.com reports on President Clinton's trip to China|
Tens of millions of people are out of work. Job centers are crowded. For some, this spells disaster; for others, opportunity.
Mrs. Feng Xian Pan's state-owned factory went bankrupt. The government is training her as a beautician, a job communists once called useless. What's more, she wants to be a capitalist. "I'll have a job I love. Some day I'll own my own beauty shop."
To understand about the new China, you must first forget about the old, when the party was so powerful that it would tell people when to take a bath, when Mao Tse-tun decreed that speaking the word "profit" could cost you your life. Now all of China seems intent on it's MBA -- not just a Master's of Business Administration -- that other MBA -- Mao's Been Abandoned.
Abandoned by those like economist Chen Qiwei, once a prominent member of the party. He quit. It was taking too much time from business. And that's another change: Communism to many is becoming irrelevant. The people have less and less interest in what happens in politics, like the activity of the Communist party. They are not interested in this kind of question.
In Mao's days, the writing on the wall in textile factories was full of patriotic messages. The writing on the wall now is work hard today, or you'll work harder tomorrow to find a new job.
Every worker Â— including plant boss Wang Qiu Rong Â— walks by the slogan posted on the wall every day: "Be Competitive." And the bottom line is spelled out by that last Chinese character: it means "make profit."
Mrs. Wang says "it doesn't matter if it's Commnism, Socialism or any 'ism.' People have to be encouraged to work hard because there is fierce competition in the market. Otherwise, we'll go out of business."
The push for a grass roots, capitalist-style economy is being orchestrated by Premier Zhu Rongi. Mao the Marxist wanted to control China's economy. Zhu sounds like he's running for Congress in America. His message: Get government out of business and off people's backs to get the economy rolling.
The U.S. Ambassador to China, James Sasser, says Zhu is motivated by one thing -- results.
"You ask him his political philosophy and he would say he is a Communist. But he's very much a conservative economist. I've heard him discuss economics with Dr. Alan Greenspan of our Federal Reserve Board, and actually, Zhu Ronji is more conservative on fiscal matters than Alan Greenspan."
Under Zhu's great leap forward, workers can be fired and subsidies for state industries are being phased out. The new golden rule: be competitive or die. On the factory floor these days, you get an earful of Capitalism 101.
Under Mao, housing was built, paid for and, like all property, owned by the state. Now the state is getting out of the housing business and wants people to buy.
On the 17th floor of a new high rise, we meet thirty-somethings Gang, an earthquake specialist, and Lei-Ou, a medical technician. They bought their condominium Â— that's right, private property Â— and what's more, they took out a mortgage. They are part of China's first generation to be in debt. A stroll through their condo comes complete with another dream. The couple would like a Ferrari.
All of this is not lost on General Motors, which is advertising in China. It's building its image for the day later this year when it will be building Buicks at this state-of-the-art factory in Shanghai. What's good for GM, says boss Rudy Schlafz, is good for China.
"This is a country that has moved so rapidly and I've seen people in this country improve their freedoms, improve their well-being in just a four year period. It's unbelievable...(They now have) the ability to travel, the ability to drive, for example, to buy a car, buy a TV," say Schlafz.
President Clinton's visit will be haunted by human rights issues, the massacre at Tiananmen Square and the stifling of dissent. But as people win control of their economic destiny, says economist Chen, they will demand more control over their political destiny.
"I strongly believe the economic growth will be a success...a successful one in this country. Then they will definitely be accompanied by other changes like political changes," says Chen.
Across China today, according to Ambassador Sasser, there is a spirit Americans can recognize.
"They're optimistic about the future of their country. They're optimistic about their own lives, and many have said they remind them of Americans at the turn of the century...as we were on the cusp of becoming a geat power in the 1900's," he says.
This is a China where the party controls less, Communism matters less, and the proletariat is finally beginning to dictate, economically if not politically, the course of their lives.