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HONG KONG — The constitution of China’s Communist Party, revised at the recent 16th Party Congress, elevates President Jiang Zemin to virtually the same level as that of party founder Mao Zedong and the late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Each is identified as “chief representative” of the Communists during different periods.

Unlike other constitutions, which are meant to be permanent documents that are rarely amended, the party charter has been regularly revised at each party congress, held at five-year intervals, since it was rewritten in 1982.

The biggest change by far this year was the inclusion of Jiang’s name in the constitution as well as the ideological innovation attributed to him: “the important thought of Three Represents.” This asserts that the party represents advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the Chinese people. Implicit in this concept is the inclusion of professionals — bankers, managers, high-tech workers — in the ranks of the party.

The constitution calls “Comrade Mao Zedong” the “chief representative” of the Chinese Communists during his lifetime, after which “Comrade Deng Xiaoping” became the chief representative. Since 1989, “Comrade Jiang Zemin” has been the chief representative.

This could be extremely significant. Even though Jiang stepped down at the congress as the party’s general secretary and was succeeded by Hu Jintao as party leader, he may well continue to be the highest authority in the party as long as he is regarded by all party members as their “chief representative.”

Jiang’s theory, the Three Represents, has been incorporated in various sections of the party constitution and is to be studied by all party members. It is described as “a continuation and development of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.” It is heir to the thinking of all major figures in the Communist pantheon, and now the party is to take it as the main guide in its work.

The constitution, when referring to Mao Zedong Thought, uses the past tense, saying that it “led” the Communists in carrying out socialist transformation. Deng Xiaoping Theory, however, is described in the present tense as “guiding the socialist modernization of our country from victory to victory.”

Nonetheless, there is little doubt that Jiang’s Three Represents supersedes even Deng Xiaoping Theory, since it is described as “a continuation and development of Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory” — the “crystallized, collective wisdom of the Communist Party of China” and the “guiding ideology that the party must uphold for a long time to come.”

Deng Xiaoping Theory was only incorporated into the constitution when it was last revised in 1997, the year Deng died. Now, it looks as if it is already being superseded by Jiang’s Three Represents, making Jiang the first Chinese leader since Mao to have his “thought” incorporated into the constitution while still alive.

Although the party has decided to accept capitalists — or entrepreneurs — as members, this is not explicitly stated. The section of membership, as before, lists any worker, farmer, soldier or intellectual as eligible for membership, but then goes on to say “or any advanced element of other social strata.” Included in this vague phrase are capitalists, previously defined as exploiters of workers.

There are other changes to the constitution. The 1997 constitution, besides mentioning workers, farmers, soldiers and intellectuals, went on to say that “other revolutionaries” are also eligible to apply for party membership. In the new charter, there is no requirement for applicants to be “revolutionaries.” “Revolutionaries” have been replaced by members of “other social strata.”

While comparing each constitution with the previous one is illuminating, the tremendous changes that have taken place in China in the last quarter century are accentuated even more by looking at older documents. For example, the constitution adopted in 1977, the year after Chairman Mao’s death, described the Communist Party as “the political party of the proletariat,” composed of “advanced elements of the proletariat,” which “leads the proletariat and the revolutionary masses in their fight against the class enemy.”

Today, the word “proletariat” has disappeared entirely. So has the idea of a “class enemy.” Although “class struggle” is still mentioned, it is categorically relegated to a lesser position as “no longer the principal contradiction.” Instead, development now “is our party’s top priority in governing and rejuvenating the country.”

A concluding chapter has been added to the amended party constitution, one describing “the emblem of the Communist Party of China” as “a design of a sickle and hammer.” This is especially ironic when entrepreneurs and other people, who can hardly be described as “workers,” are being accepted into the party. A more appropriate emblem may be a laptop and a dollar sign.

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