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After 90 Years, Graft Threatens China's Communists

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After 90 Years, Graft Threatens China's Communists


After 90 Years, Graft Threatens China's Communists

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And even as Moroccans contemplate change, China's government is urging its people to celebrate one thing that has not changed much at all. The Chinese Communist Party is celebrating its 90th anniversary today. It is the world's largest political party, we're told, with 80 million members. But some Chinese are using the occasion to engage in what the party used to call self-criticism. Even the country's president says the party's long rule has led to serious corruption.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing.

(Soundbite of music)

LOUISA LIM: The band played as party elders filed onto the stage today at the Great Hall of the People. Downstairs, Zhang Wei was waiting nervously, an enormous red corsage pinned on his jacket. He was about to be honored for his 36 years of service to the party - first as a farmer, now as a bank worker. He sums up the Communist Party's achievements.

Mr. ZHANG WEI: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: It's made Chinese people stand up, it's made them rich. And now it's made China strong, he says.

(Soundbite of applause)

LIM: The great and the good have gathered to hear President Hu Jintao's speech. Its key message: success in China hinges on the party. This is the party's moment in the sun, the official celebrations.

Across Beijing, an unofficial act to mark the party's anniversary tells another story. In a scrubby patch of ground is a small house painted with the words: Dedicated to the party's 90th anniversary. Above that is painted: Save me, Communist Party.

Ms. WANG JINSHU: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: I did this to embarrass the Communist Party, says Wang Jinshu. Three years ago, she and her husband were informed their house would be demolished for a road-widening project. They were never shown any proper legal permits. And the official plan showed the wider road still lay 30 feet from their house, but their objections got nowhere. The pair was detained and while in custody their house torn down. She believes the ordeal was a factor contributing to the deaths of her mother and father-in-law. Her verdict on the Communist Party is scathing.

Ms. WANG: (Through translator) It's rotten through and through. They don't care how many laws they break. Nationwide, how much farming land has been taken from us? What are we farmers supposed to eat?

LIM: The pair built a smaller house on the site, now painted with slogans. They say they want justice, not money.

Their plight is not unusual. One official survey found forced evictions are the biggest source of discontent in China. But this couple are reluctant protestors. Indeed, her husband, Wang Jiang, is still a Communist Party member, as he's been for the past 30 years. He believes, though, the party is communist in name alone.

Mr. WANG JIANG: (Through translator) I don't know if today's China is socialist, capitalist or feudal. Now their behavior is totally feudal. It's a dictatorship. They don't let you speak. They can just throw you in prison. Now it's like that.

LIM: Corruption threatens the very survival of the party, as its leaders attest. A recent People's Bank of China report found that $124 billion had been taken out of the country by 17,000 corrupt officials over a 20-year period.

Chen Baosheng, vice president of the Central Party School, the training ground for China's officials, blamed this not on Greece but on a breakdown in communist values.

Mr. CHEN BAOSHENG (Vice President, Central Party School): (Through translator) Of course some party members have become corrupt, but the fundamental cause is their faith and ideals have collapsed. That's not unusual.

(Soundbite of protestors)

LIM: Protests, like this one outside the railway ministry alleging official corruption, are increasing. Last year, there were 180,000 mass incidents, as the government euphemistically calls them, according to one Chinese academic -double the number four years before.

Despite this, Russell Leigh Moses, dean of the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies, believes there's no real risk to the Communist Party.

Mr. RUSSELL LEIGH MOSES (Dean, Beijing Center for Chinese Studies): Observers on the outside tend to see unrest and upheaval as a real indicator of a system starting to spiral out of control. I don't think that's at all the case. When the party deals with dissatisfaction, it confronts it in a fairly clever way. It tends to crack down in some ways but it also tends to open up. The more unrest there is, the more the party has experience in dealing with this.

President HU JINTAO (China): (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: Without stability, nothing can be done, said President Hu Jintao today. And those achievements made could be lost.

The Communist Party has survived by delivering blistering economic growth and ensuring no alternatives exist to its rule. But there are questions about what exactly the Communist Party stands for, even among its own members. And this tale of two celebrations shows how distanced the Communist Party is becoming from those it rules.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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