China Leadership Monitor

Is Political Reform Ahead?—Beijing Confronts Problems Facing Society—and the CCP

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

On July 1, Jiang Zemin, general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), called for admitting private entrepreneurs into the party. Although this decision in some ways brought party policy into line with reality, it was an important announcement not only because it reversed a formal party decision made in the wake of the Tiananmen crackdown but also because it opened the door to a wide range of possible political changes. Jiang's announcement may be only the tip of the iceberg. Recent publications have suggested that, in the run-up to the Sixteenth Party Congress (scheduled for fall 2002), party leaders are thinking systematically about the changes it needs to make to cope with the very rapid socioeconomic changes in Chinese society. Although the clear goal is to keep the CCP in power, it is evident that party leaders at the highest levels understand that they can only stay in power by changing. Political change is not without danger. "Leftists" in the party have excoriated Jiang's announcement, and there is widespread resentment over inequalities that have opened up in recent years in Chinese society. If the party is widely seen as speaking only for the well to do—a perception that is already widespread—popular discontent is likely to continue to spread.