When Zhou Baosheng gave up his much-coveted job at a state-owned fertilizer plant and took up farming in 1979, his dream for a better life was still confined to his barren home village in the backwater of central China's Hubei Province.
A doggerel depicted the Guanqiao villagers before China's reform and opening up as "living in adobe houses, fed with stale grain, making 50 yuan (US$6.4) a year and swapping firewood for salt."
Zhou became the village head and contracted the collectively owned cropland to each family. That year the village with only 50 families harvested a record 175,000 kg of grain.
When the villagers were celebrating, Zhou took a bolder step.
Starting from 1981, he contracted a coal mine, a brick yard and at least 10 other plants that were to fuel local economic growth for 12 years to come.
The booming new technologies of the early 1990s convinced Zhou to draw more professionals from across the country. His Tianye Group, a high-tech conglomerate, offered 700,000 yuan (US$90,000) a year to a leading scientist, 100 times the annual income of most wage earners at that time.
Today, Guanqiao villagers make a per capita annual income of 12, 000 yuan (US$1,540) a year, more than three times the national average of 3,587 yuan (US$460) for Chinese farmers.
Zhou attributed his success to China's overall policy of reform and opening up.
The delegate to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has his own interpretation of Hu Jintao's report.
"Hu outlined a blueprint for China's development from now to 2020. In an agricultural country like China, we cannot fulfill these goals without rural development and the well-being of the 900 million peasants," he said. "It's important to help the peasants open up their minds, as their creativity has been confined for several thousand years."
In his report to the Party Congress, Hu said emancipation of mind is "a magic instrument" and reform and opening up is "a strong driving force" for developing socialism with Chinese characteristics. He put "emancipation of mind" in the theme of the congress.
Sources close to the senior CPC leadership said more than 80 experts and scholars from universities, research institutes and other think-tanks were invited to the Zhongnanhai leadership compound, a place otherwise off-limits to commoners, in the past five years.
Observers said it shows Party leaders themselves are gradually abandoning traditional ways of thinking.
Emancipation of mind, put forth by former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, has played a leading role in China's miraculous growth in the past 29 years of reform and development, said Zhao Zhongshe, Party chief of Danzhou city in China's southernmost Hainan Province.
Deng, who died in 1997, was the chief architect of China's reform by freeing some coastal areas from the shackles of conventional ways of thinking and development in the late 1970s, allowing them to get rich first and ultimately lead to the whole nation towards prosperity.
Today, Deng's heritage, passed on by his successors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, has turned China from a backwater economy to the world's fourth largest.
"Sometimes all you need is to turn around, and take a different angle," said Tong Zhiwu, Party chief in Jinzhou city of northeastern Liaoning Province.
Growth was sluggish for centuries in Jinzhou, only 25 kilometers from the Bohai Sea but locked by mountains on all sides. The opening of the landmark Bohai Avenue in 2004 and two tunnel roads leading to the sea have linked the inland city with booming coastal cities of Dalian and Yingkou.
"The nearest seaport is now 15 minutes away, and several businesses from Japan and the Republic of Korea are considering making an investment in Jinzhou," said Tong.
The pace of China's opening is amazing, said one delegate as he recalled the 12th Party Congress held in 1982.
"Everything about the congress was top secret. When a delegate returned from Beijing to his central China home, his colleagues dared not even openly celebrate -- they stealthily locked up in their office compound to beat drums and gongs."
Today, the 17th Party Congress is broadcast live and group discussions at 34 of all the 38 delegations open to journalists.
Until a decade ago, topics concerning rights, democracy and even environment protection were considered "capitalist ideology", said delegate Zhang Zhijun, who works to promote the Party's international exchanges.
Even the air quality report, launched in 1997, was controversial because some held it was not conducive to social stability. "Today, we're free to openly discuss the environment, rights and any defects," said Zhang.
Delegate Zhao Zhongshe pointed to areas where conventional ways of thinking still hamper balanced growth.
"Some officials still take GDP as the only gauge of their performances," he said. "Plus the pressure from the masses -- of course everyone is happy when you build them more infrastructure and bring in more investment."
Yet the consequence of unplanned development is like a chronic disease, Zhao warned. "Everyone agrees the growth pattern should be transformed from GDP worship to a more sustainable, balanced and environment-friendly means of development. But to do that we need further structural reforms."
Under the current system, nearly all projects need to go through complex administrative procedures, often at more than one government bodies, he said.
"A methane project in a remote China village, for example, needs approval by the National Development and Reform Commission and Ministry of Agriculture and very often, fund from the poverty reduction authorities," said Zhao, who calls for more decision- making power at local governments.
His point was echoed by Chen Haibo, a leading treasury official in Hainan Province.
"The treasury should not be the sole decision-maker in the approximation of fund -- the applicants must have a say in budgeting," he said. "We should spend more on work that addresses the concerns of the ordinary people."
When all eyes are on the planned new leadership lineup at the ongoing Party Congress, most people also expect the five-yearly gathering to put forth some innovative guidelines for China's future development, "particularly on structural reforms in the political sectors," Hu Shuli, managing editor of China's best- selling financial magazine, Caijing, wrote in an opinion piece.
"China's reform in the political sector lags behind the economic sector, a result of its complexity and subtlety," she wrote. "Besides, some unwanted misunderstanding and concerns also stagnate its process."