When Deng Xiaoping famously said: "To get rich is glorious", he let the genie of aspiration out of the bottle. He gave permission to ordinary Chinese to make a buck and emphasized the joys of financial prosperity under a Communist Party leadership.
The West was stunned. In 1986, a team from America's 60 Minutes program flew to Beijing to interview the 82-year-old leader. The interview with veteran reporter Mike Wallace was compelling.
Wallace: "To get rich is glorious. That declaration by Chinese leaders to their people surprises many in the capitalist world. What does that have to do with communism?"
Deng: "According to Marxism, communist society is based on material abundance. Only when there is material abundance can the principle of a communist society - that is, 'from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs' be applied. Socialism is the first stage of communism. Of course, it covers a very long historical period.
"The main task in the socialist stage is to develop the productive forces, keep increasing the material wealth of society, steadily improve the life of the people and create material conditions for the advent of a communist society. There can be no communism with pauperism, or socialism with pauperism.
"So to get rich is no sin. However, what we mean by getting rich is different from what you mean. Wealth in a socialist society belongs to the people. To get rich in a socialist society means prosperity for the entire people. The principles of socialism are: first, development of production and second, common prosperity. We permit some people and some regions to become prosperous first, for the purpose of achieving common prosperity faster. That is why our policy will not lead to polarization, to a situation where the rich get richer while the poor get poorer."
Some of China's rich are getting richer, but the poor are not getting poorer. Despite today's rich-poor divide, wealth in China is more evenly distributed than any time in the Middle Kingdom's history, and thanks to the strategies announced at the 17th CPC Congress, this distribution is set to continue. The CPC can see the gap widening and is taking action.
During the peaks of any Chinese dynasty, all the riches were held by a chosen few - maybe less than 1 percent. But today, the wealth is wider spread. There are discrepancies, like there are and have always been in any other society in the world, but today I see hope and aspiration among China's poorest people.
I have seen a Yunnan farmer chat away on his 1,000 yuan ($130) mobile phone. I have seen this man's first big truck and he told me he sent his daughter to university. It was the first time in his family's centuries-old history that anybody had entered college.
China's rich and poor are wealthier than they ever were, and their lives are steadily improving.
To see real income disparity, look back less than 100 years. The fall of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) ended thousands of years of feudalism.
In just a couple of generations, the CPC has steered the nation into the uncharted waters of prosperous socialism.
But, as Deng said, the first stage of socialism takes a long time. And he also said some will get rich first.
The author is a senior editor for China Daily
(China Daily 10/19/2007 page7)