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Gilles Guiheux The Political “Participation” of Entrepreneurs: Challenge or Opportunity for the Chinese Communist Party? IN 1 9 7 8 , D U R IN G TH E T H IR D PLEN U M OF TH E ELEV EN TH NATIO N AL party congress, Deng Xiaoping initiated a new economic policy that was to have dramatic economic and social effects. Turning his back on Mao Zedong egalitarianism (pingjun zhuyi), Deng claimed “poverty is not socialism. Socialism means eliminating poverty.” From then on, people would be allowed to pursue material wealth and endeavor to improve their well-being, even if that meant that some might become richer than others. The new slogan was “Let certain regions, certain enterprises, certain people become rich first” (yibufen diqu, yibufen qiye, yibufen ren xianfuyu qilai). More than a quarter of a century later, rapid economic growth has dramatically improved the material well-being of the Chinese people, but it has also widened the gap between rich and poor—to such a level that it gives rise to spirited debates.1 Among those who have greatly benefited from economic growth and the transition from a planned to a market economy are private entrepreneurs. Almost nonexistent in Maoist China, private entrepre­ neurs form today a significant part of the Chinese society. Some observ­ social research Vol 73 : No 1 : Spring 2006 219 ers have gone so far as to suggest that China is moving from an “economy of employees” (dagongxingjingji) to an “economy of bosses” (laobanxing jingi). Though private entrepreneurs are still a tiny minority (according to one scholar, they represented 5 percent of the population in 1999),2they have accumulated significant economic power. Inrural China, they some­ times provide jobs and means of subsistence to villagers, a position that gives them clear influence over local affairs. In Chinese cities, because of their high level of income, they can afford to live in gated communities that are producing new forms of urban residential segregation. Of course, situations vaiy. Individuals owning a private business (that is registered as such) can run a small restaurant at the comer of the street or operate several factories all over the country; they can have zero to hundreds or thousands of employees; they can sell their product or service to clients from the neighborhood or export to world markets. Variety aside, this article aims to analyze the means ofpolitical influence that private entrepreneurs have accumulated over the years. The issue came to the frontline of Chinese and foreign media when the former president and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, Jiang Zemin, formulated his “Three Represents” theory in a speech on the eightieth anniversary of the party on July 1, 2001. The theory has been widely touted as a call for private entrepreneurs to join the Communist Party. For the party state, which wishes to main­ tain (or even strengthen) its monopoly on political activities, the chal­ lenge is clearly to adjust to the fast-changing shape of Chinese society. The question being addressed is therefore how, in a still authoritarian regime, the emergence of a new social group or stratum, economically and socially influential, affects the political realm. In the first section, this article reviews the conditions of the reemergence of private entrepreneurship in Communist China, which should be credited both to initiatives coming from society and the setting up of a new legal framework, and how this development led to the Three Represents theory. In the second, it looks at the various ways entrepreneurs take part in the political arena. Finally, the third section tries to assess the consequences of this participation. 220 social research 1. THE RETURN OF PRIVATE ENTREPRENEURS Over the last 27 years of reforms and opening up (gaigeyukaifang), entre­ preneurs have moved from the fringe to the center of the economic and political arenas. People engaging themselves in independent economic endeavors were being blamed and socially marginalized in the late 1970s. More than a quarter of century later, they are being praised for their contribution to the well-being of the whole Chinese society. It is not only that the structure of the Chinese economy has changed and that the private sector is playing...


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