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Champagne socialism in a Politburo’s dream town

Graham Earnshaw

ZHANGJIAGANG, March 25, Reuter – Long live cellular phone socialism Zhangjiagang in east China is an economic success story that is giving the propaganda barons of the Communist Party new heart.

Once an isolated and poverty-stricken rural area on the banks of the Yangtze River Zhangjiagang is experiencing one of the fastest economic growth rates in the world.

Communist leaders, including the party chief, Jiang Zemin, and 640,000 cadres from all over China last year came to praise and learn from its example: startling growth rates combined with North Korean-style social discipline.

The ultimate aim is still the creation of communism,” the local propaganda chief, Qian Xueran, said.

This sort of talk is not heard very often in China these days, especially not from cadres with double-breasted suits and mobile phones. But Zhangjiagang is different.

Under the guidance of the charismatic local Communist Party chief, Qin Zhenhua the city of just 820,000 has under gone a complete reconstruction in the past four years physically and mentally.

Huge buildings have arisen, vast infrastructure projects and factories have been completed in record time.

The city’s gross domestic output last year was Rmbl5.25bn (HK$14.l8bn), mainly from textiles and light industrial products, and is expected to reach Rmb2lbn in 1996, officials said.

Such a growth rate would be four times the national average.

What’s more, all residents have been ordered to comply with strict new rules of social morality, including no smoking and no spitting in public places, which appear to be being followed.

Residents of Pyongyang in North Korea would feel at home here in the well-scrub bed city. The streets are wide and virtually empty, the local supermarket is huge and well-stocked and is almost deserted.

There are few flaws visible in the facade of ideological correctness. But contrary to the assurances of city officials, local shops are selling pirated United States and Hong Kong music tapes.

“The key is to have good leadership and a determination to be number one,” Qian said.

What appeals to the communist leadership is that the engine of economic growth has been collective enterprises, not capitalist private enterprise with its unsavoury side-effects like money-grabbing millionaires.

Private enterprise, a key element in the growth of other coastal cities, is actively discouraged in Zhangjiagang, Qian said.

Its achievements are visible for all to see – modern buildings and infrastructure, a six-lane motorway, the sixth biggest port in China and a level of cleanliness and order that most of the country can only dream of.

The slogans are similar to those of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, when Maoist dogma and political correctness was all, even if the economic results were disastrous.

Dazhai village in north-west China was then held up as a national model where the hard work of peasants was said to have overcome difficult conditions. Dazhai’s achievements were largely fake.

The difference is that Dazhai was created as a propaganda tool while Zhangjiagang was seized upon only after it was already a success,” one resident said.

Jiang, allowing his name to be directly attached to the miracle of Zhangjiagang, last year wrote an inscription about “Zhangjiagang Spirit” which is now seen all over the city.

With such high-level backing, Zhangjiagang is aiming big – if not for the stars, then at least for the dragons. “Our aim is to catch up with developed countries and regions such as Asia’s four dragons – Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea – within 10 to 12 years,” Qian said.

“If you extrapolate the growth rates of the past five years, then ifs reasonable,” Daniel Tao, the vice-chairman of the Tangshi township enterprise, said.

The venture is building a textile base in co-operation with a number of German and French companies.

“But in the future, it is going to get more and more difficult to maintain those growth rates. The bigger you get, the harder it is.”

Not everyone is in favour of this effort at finding a new formula for economic development that is both profitable and politically correct.

“I tell you bluntly, I don’t like Zhangjiagang, the whole thing feels like a military camp to me,” a party official in Shanghai said.

“You can do big things on the basis of orders for a while, but how long can you maintain it for?

“Look at North Korea, it’s basically the same. Shanghai has lots of problems to be sure, but at least it has a feeling of humanity about it,” he said. REUTER

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