Hu's new slogan is music to ears of China's masses
John Ruwitch, Reuters/Beijing
Mao Zedong preached class struggle, Deng Xiaoping extolled the glory of getting rich and Jiang Zemin threw open the Communist Party to the capitalist entrepreneurs once considered China's worst kind of sinner.
Now, a chorus is building in state media and at the current annual session of parliament backing the need for a "harmonious society", the latest policy slogan of the heir to Mao, Deng and Jiang -- president and party boss Hu Jintao.
The "harmonious" soundbite is more than just another shibboleth in a steady stream of red propaganda, analysts say.
After years of emphasis on "the haves" under previous party chief Jiang, and an economic boom that has created one of the world's widest wealth gaps, Hu's campaign takes aim directly at the concerns of the hundreds of millions left behind by the tide of rising prosperity.
Analysts say the campaign is also a tool Hu is using to push his agenda and further consolidate power in the shadow of Jiang, who has stacked the leadership with proteges and still wields considerable influence.
"Hu Jintao is shaping ideology to fit his particular political needs," said Joseph Fewsmith, an expert on the Chinese leadership at Boston University.
"It's all part of establishing the new leadership."
Jiang is set to relinquish his last official post at the current parliament session, the largely symbolic chairmanship of the state Central Military Commission. Hu has already succeeded him as party boss, president and party military chief.
Like many past theories of China's leaders, the "harmonious society" is so vague it appears almost meaningless.
"A harmonious society features democracy, the rule of law, equity, justice, sincerity, amity and vitality," the Xinhua news agency explained. The Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily newspaper tried to elucidate: "The harmonious relation between human and nature, human and economy, human and society are the cores of creating harmonious society."
Beneath the lofty ideals, however, the campaign's expressions of concern over social tensions carry a serious though implicit criticism of the domestic situation Jiang left his successors, said a Chinese analyst who declined to be identified.
"It means that now society is not harmonious," he said.
A yawning wealth gap and rampant corruption have spawned regular protests -- about 160 each day somewhere in China -- and a rising crime rate.
Urban incomes in China averaged 9,422 yuan (US$1,138) in 2004, about three times those in rural areas, where two thirds of China's 1.3 billion people reside.
In a sign of how acutely aware the leadership is of the potential volatility, Premier Wen Jiabao told parliament on Saturday that China needed better mechanisms to "forestall and properly deal with mass disturbances."
Analysts say the "harmonious society" drive may even eventually supplant Jiang's "Three Represents" philosophy, which was the basis for allowing entrepreneurs into the party and is now enshrined in the party and state constitutions.
Last month, Hu ordered provincial leaders and minister-level officials to attend a seven-day training course in Beijing on the new concept. Already, it has become a key theme at parliament.
It may sound appealing, but its catch-all nature poses problems.
"You have different social strata that may have different responses to any political initiative put on the table," said Xue Lan, deputy dean of public policy at Tsinghua University.
"The government has to find ways to deal with that. But how do you really achieve a harmonious society?"
In his day, Mao stood for anything but. "Struggles against the heavens, the earth and man bring infinite joy," he once said.
"It does not matter if the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice," Deng insisted, seeking to allay concerns about capitalist-style economic reforms. Deng recognized that some would become rich first while others would be left behind.
Delegates to the National People's Congress session which opened on Saturday were once again grappling with a new theory.
"The advancement of society is not just about owning more and more material possessions, it's about making society better, more stable and fairer," said Cai Qiufang, a deputy from the eastern coastal province of Shandong.
Delegate Lu Jufu, a professor of astrophysics from the southern coastal city of Xiamen, was happy to be listening to a new refrain from the leadership, this time on the need for more people to benefit from China's economic boom.
"China has historically emphasized struggle, but now it is stressing harmony and that's a good thing," he said.