Anniversary Looks Like Party For Elite
Hong Kong Standard

While leaders celebrate 50 years in power with pomp and ceremony, many workers and peasants wonder what happened to the Communist Party's grand promises.

Economic reforms have seen almost 30 million people cast adrift from the traditional socialist safety net of jobs and welfare in the past three years.

Many view lavish celebrations for the 50th anniversary of communist rule slated for October 1 with indifference. ''It's got nothing to do with us - we're just ordinary people'' is a constant refrain in Beijing.

''When the Communist Party came to power it was seen as a kind of liberating agency, and it was also seen as a force for democratisation to the extent that it succeeded in incorporating ordinary people into the political system,'' Joseph Cheng, a China scholar at Hong Kong's City University, said. ''Today it has become largely a power elite.''

Members of the disjointed democracy movement say ordinary Chinese feel alienated from the government because of a lack of checks and balances in the past 50 years.

''A small number of people who were put in power began to think that they were very powerful,'' He Depu, a China Democracy Party member and former social science professor, said. With no mechanism for supervising the party's work, he said, ''it began gradually to be so concerned with its own interests that it ceased to represent the people''.

He has been detained repeatedly after trying to stand as an independent candidate for his local people's congress.

Fifty years ago, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic of China, the party enjoyed widespread support in the countryside, which Mao saw as the key to the revolution.

Shining-eyed cadres spread the message: in the New China, farmers would be freed from the tyranny of landlords and despots, everyone would work together for a fair share of produce, and the party would educate people to modernise the country.

Villagers were encouraged to get together in ''talk bitter'' sessions - emotional gatherings when oppression at the hands of landowners would be recounted and punishment meted out. Punishment was often summary execution.

The communists were greatly preferred over the nationalist army of Chiang Kai-shek or the Japanese invaders. They recruited soldiers instead of press-ganging them, provided shoes, bedding and food, and made sure food was shared evenly.

They promised everyone their own slice of the glorious future to come. ''The party's slogans promised democracy and freedom,'' said He Depu. ''People who had had terrible  lives beforehand flocked to support what they saw as the party of progress.''

The suffering in the ''old society'' and two successive wars appeared to be a thing of the past until Mao threw the country into famine and chaos with the Great Leap Forward (1958-59) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-76).

But while Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms of 1979 leased land to the peasants after the disasters of collectivisation, his ''to get rich is glorious'' policies led to a widening gap between rich and poor, together with official corruption and abuses.