- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 1, 2001

SHANGHAI — The ash-gray former girls' school where China's Communist Party was born is now a national shrine. It's also part of a new shopping mall shared with an Italian ice cream parlor, a hair salon and a Starbucks coffee shop.
Opening China to global capitalism was hardly what Mao Tse-tung and 11 other revolutionaries had in mind when they met secretly in 1921 to create a party that would rid China of foreign colonizers and build a workers' paradise.
But as it marks the 80th anniversary of that meeting on July 1, the world's largest Communist Party is trumpeting two decades of capitalist-style market reforms as its crowning achievement — and with no hint of irony.
With a birthday propaganda blitz in China's wholly state-run media, the party is seeking anew to convince Chinese that it deserves credit for raising living standards and should remain in power.
Government workers have been made to attend classes where they sing patriotic songs. On June 1, 10,000 people singing, "The party is in my heart," gathered on Beijing's Tiananmen Square to wave red scarves and release red balloons.
With 64.5 million members, the party is bigger than ever. But it also faces many challenges. Market reforms, the Internet and satellite television are diluting party power by giving millions of Chinese unprecedented freedoms and choices.
These days, young Chinese say the party's draw isn't ideology but as a career move to better jobs in government and business. Applicants must be recommended by other members, then show their worthiness through exemplary behavior in their schools or offices before entering a probationary period, often two years.
The party's constitution still says it's "the vanguard of the Chinese working class." But market reforms are forcing ailing state-owned factories to close, eliminating millions of jobs. Among farmers, whose support helped the party seize power in 1949, incomes are falling.
But the communists are embracing markets more tightly than ever and hoping entry into the World Trade Organization will bring more investment, open foreign markets to Chinese exports and force outdated factories to modernize.
The trappings of communist times are still evident in the red stars that crown government buildings and faded Marxist slogans on the walls of abandoned rural communes. But nowhere is the contradiction of communist-led capitalism more apparent than at the party's birthplace, Shanghai.
Thickets of glass and steel office towers clutter the skyline. The city is home to one of China's two stock markets. Neon signs advertise foreign mobile phones and American cars.
But outside the school where the party held its first national congress on July 1, 1921, a line of visitors two blocks long waited on a rainy day.
Inside, crowds gathered around glass cases exhibiting Mao's personal possessions. Among them were the black cloth shoes he wore during his historic 1972 meeting with President Nixon, and the menu for his 69th birthday in 1962 (stir-fried shrimp, stewed bamboo).
Mao died in 1976.
While not a party member, shoe-factory worker Wu Haijun, 32, said he came to visit because the party still deserves respect.
"Our Communist Party liberated China and its people," Mr. Wu said. "Today's modern China is only possible because of Chairman Mao."
Most exhibition space was devoted to the party's glory days — guerrilla war against Japanese invaders during World War II and the redistribution of land to poor peasants after the 1949 communist military victory over Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang (Nationalist Party).



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