'Cake Theory' Opens Up China's Political Debate As China gears up for a once-in-a-decade political transition, those vying for leadership are backing competing socio-economic models. This year's political debate has sprung out in the open — and it has leaders and constituents considering how to move forward politically.
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'Cake Theory' Has Chinese Eating Up Political Debate

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'Cake Theory' Has Chinese Eating Up Political Debate

'Cake Theory' Has Chinese Eating Up Political Debate

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China's leaders are also debating how to allocate resources within their country. And this year, as China gears up for a once-in-a-decade political transition, that discussion has broken out from behind closed doors.

NPR's Louisa Lim reports from Beijing.


LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: In recent months, the streets of the Chinese city of Chongqing have been ringing with song. These are not spontaneous outbreaks. They're government-mandated sessions requiring employees to Sing the Red - or sing patriotic songs praising China.

This is a leftist vision of China's future, with powerful echoes of its Maoist past.

BO XILAI: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: This is the brainchild of Bo Xilai, Chongqing's party secretary and the son of a revolutionary elder. He's attacked corruption and organized crime. His approach also includes measures to help those left behind by China's economic boom. It's an approach known as the Chongqing model.

And the way it works is described here by Professor Yang Fan.

(Through Translator) The government intervenes to correct the shortcomings of the market economy. There are projects to improve people's livelihood by letting migrant workers come to the city, by building them cheap rental places, and allowing them to sell their land to come to the city.

While American economists talk about dividing up the pie, in China the economy is referred to as the cake. And the Chongqing model aims to divide the cake more equally.

The competing vision, based in the province of Guangdong, focuses on making the cake bigger first, not dividing it. The Guangdong model is a more market-driven, pushing forward development ahead of addressing inequality. This approach has been dubbed Happy Guangdong.

Qiu Feng, a liberal academic from the Unirule Institute of Economics, says it focuses not on those left behind, but on those who have profited from the economic boom.

DR. QIU FENG: (Through Translator) The Guangdong model aims to solve the concerns of the middle class. It's about building society and the rule of law. It wants to give the middle class institutionalized channels to take part in the political process.

LIM: Guangdong's party secretary is a man named Wang Yang. He has criticized the more traditionally Marxist Chongqing model. He says people should review Communist Party history, rather than just singing its praises.

In political terms, this is throwing down the gauntlet at his rival, Bo Xilai. Both these politicians are fighting for a place and influence inside the holiest of holies, the Politburo Standing Committee. And as they compete over their visions of China's future, there's vocal criticism of the present leadership, and from a surprising quarter.

ZHANG MUSHENG: (Through Translator) The bureaucracy is corrupt. Power has been marketized. Governance has been industrialized. Local governments are becoming riddled with gangsters.

LIM: That sharp rebuke came from Zhang Musheng, a consummate insider. His father was secretary to China's Premier Zhou Enlai. This makes him what's known as a princeling. Zhang has attended meetings with children of former leaders, who take a dim view of the current leadership. Nevertheless, Zhang says these princelings concluded that China is such a complicated society, it cannot abandon communist rule.

MUSHENG: (Through Translator) The Communist Party must reform and improve. Although it's criticized, right now there is no social force which can replace the Communist Party.

LIM: And that is the key question: How to reform and which model to follow. The liberal academic Qiu Feng says the competition between the Chongqing and the Guangdong models - with their different constituencies - has sharpened the debate.

FENG: (Through Translator) These two models have made people conscious of the factions. They will seriously consider which model they support. An even bolder prediction is that maybe the Communist Party could split along those lines, and become two parties: One for the middle-class - let's call it a Liberal Party - the other for the lower-class, the Democratic Party.


LIM: The Chinese Communist Party is no longer monolithic. Rather, it's a seething mass of different, sometimes overlapping interest groups. That could make it harder for the next generation of leaders to make policy. And what's also significant is that there is true debate about China's future direction, and this time it's being played out in public.

Louisa Lim NPR News, Beijing.


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