HONG KONG -- Last Wednesday, a top official declared that, as a result of the market economy, "people's jobs and status keep changing" in China today, and there are "differences and contradictions between communities, between industries and between regions." These remarks by Li Ruihuan, China's fourth-ranking leader, seem innocuous enough. And yet they reflect the distance that the Chinese Communist Party has traveled in the last quarter century.

Li, chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, went on to say in his speech to mark the closing of the conference's annual meeting: "We should be able to see that social contradictions at this stage in our country all belong to the category of contradictions among the people predicated upon a basic identity of interests. The main way to resolve contradictions among the people is through coordination work."

This is a roundabout way of saying that in China today there may still be classes and class contradictions, but they are all nonantagonistic contradictions that can be resolved through coordination and harmonization of interests. So-called antagonistic contradictions are between oneself and the "enemy," and can be resolved only by destruction of that enemy.