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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

December 23, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 173




Dennis Coday The true end of an era

Dennis Coday, NCR staff writer

The biggest news of this week may have slipped under most people's radar. The Cold War ended officially Monday.

As people here rushed to last minute Christmas shopping and finalizing travel plans, China completed its revolution. The Communist-era has ended officially (in all but name).

Other Today's Takes by Dennis Coday
Dec. 22 Those who long for peace
Oct. 23 Keeping the rituals alive
Oct. 22 Making us bigger and better than we are
Oct. 20 U.S. agenda tops world agenda, again
Oct. 8 Fighting corruption
Oct. 6 Defiling language
Yesterday was the opening of China's legislature, the National People's Congress, and the body approved an amendment to China's constitution giving legal status to private property. It's the first time in the Communist Party's 55-year rule that private wealth has been protected.

The People's Congress is a rubber-stamp parliament. The Communist Party writes the laws. The property law amendment came after long months of debate at that level. But this does not render the change any less potent.

Twenty-five years ago Deng Xiaoping uttered his now famous epigram, "It doesn't matter if a cat is white or black as long as it catches mice." The economy that Deng inherited from Chairman Mao's rigidly enforced collectivism was in shambles; it was catching no mice. Although what Deng released would begin as a gentle breeze, it became a firestorm of change.

For 20 years, China's economy has averaged nearly 10 percent growth per annum. The eastern coastal areas, especially around Shanghai and Guangzhou, have become home to an elite class of wealthy tycoons and a burgeoning strata of what is sometimes called "middle class." The latter group is probably not "middle class" as we would understand in America. They can, however, begin to afford homes and cars, and their jobs are structured enough to allow leisure time and vacations.

It was to these two groups that the Party was appealing with its somewhat cold-shouldered embrace of private property. Addressing the Congress, President Hu Jintao has promised a government that is more responsive to the people. In its coverage of the Congress, The Guardian said, "democracy was notably absent from the proposed reforms."

Despite 25 years of change, entrepreneurship has always been extremely risky in China; it was more tolerated than accepted by the ruling class. The new law signals acceptance. The Party can see the future. Capitalism will come to rule China. The struggle is now who will rule the capitalism.

The People's Congress also amended the constitution to incorporate the "three represents" philosophy of Jiang Zemin, who retired as China's president last year but remains as military chief. Jiang followed Deng and made his career by bending China's communism into a contortionist's capitalism.

Jiang said the Party must expand its base to represent not only the masses and the intellectuals, but also the free market's "advanced forces of production."

According to one commentator (China amends constitution to protect private property), Jiang's "three represents" made "irreversible the move to a capitalist economy, albeit one that a dictatorship rules over."

But with other political reforms stalemated and a corrupt judicial system, "modern China [is] an increasingly prosperous private economy ruled by a dictatorship. In this it resembles General Pinochet's Chile, South Korea under military rule -- or Taiwan before it moved to democracy in the 1980s."

The real message here: China's "middle class" can look forward to a long slog. Or perhaps I should say, they face a long march.

I guess that it is appropriate that China embrace private property at this time of year. As the Western world buys its way through another Christmas season, the gift buyers must be acutely aware of China's embrace of the three represents. My eight-year-old is.

When I returned home last night I found him sitting amid the contents of a dumped toy box look closely at his miniature cars, plastic race cars and air planes that fold-into robot/reptiles.

When I walked into the room, he looked up at me. "Hi, Dad. Dad, why is everything made in China?"

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer and coordinates NCR's Web site. He lived in Southeast Asia for 11 years. His e-mail address is

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