In China, Change Could Be Coming

Chinese women in modern dress pass a vagrant as they walk through a Beijing market, Aug. 25, 1999. Economic reforms have led to new wealth for many in China, but left others to fend for themselves.
This column was written by CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen.

Is the Party over?

In China, the Communist Party was once everything. Today, it is still the main and only political apparatus, and it punishes, jails, beats and kills those who oppose it.

But the reality is that many Chinese are losing interest in it.

First, let's be clear: China is a lot like America. No one region represents it all, just as people in Kansas might argue that their vision of America has little relation to that of La-La Land California. And vice-versa.

So let's break China in two.

COASTAL: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong -- rich places, getting richer faster, where the construction cranes labor seven days a week.

Here, the young generation has wants: better housing, a new car, a good and interesting job, freedom to be an entrepreneur, freedom to travel in and out of China and -- what the hell? -- a country club membership and a low golf handicap.

If you think this is a joke, come to China and hit the country clubs on the weekends. The new rich are there. And they're hard at work on the lower handicap.

There was a theory that a richer China would create a generation more liberal and more demanding of democracy. But this post-Tiananmen Square 1989-protest generation grew up with no great interest in politics.
Politics, many feel, is a bunch of old guys on TV -- the past. This generation seems far more focused on making money and yearns not for more democracy but a bigger apartment and a wider-screen TV.

It's as if they made a deal with the devil: The Party and politicians can do as they please as long as I'm richer today than I was yesterday and will be richer tomorrow that today.