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A Communist Party Membership Card photographed in Bejing, China. (Sean Gallagher for The Globe and Mail/Sean Gallagher for The Globe and Mail)
A Communist Party Membership Card photographed in Bejing, China. (Sean Gallagher for The Globe and Mail/Sean Gallagher for The Globe and Mail)

MARK MacKINNON

The changing face of China's Communists Add to ...

As the Communist Party secretary for his work unit, Xiao Jinquan is theoretically the person who should be guiding his colleagues in how best to apply “socialism with Chinese characteristics” in their daily lives.

But as a senior partner in China's biggest law firm – and someone who bills 5,000 yuan (about $750) an hour – Mr. Xiao confesses that studying the latest mutterings from the party's Central Committee isn't high on his priority list. “We bill a lot per hour. It would be very expensive to organize people into reading the People's Daily [newspaper]each day,” he said with a chuckle.

Being a member of today's Communist Party of China has little to do with the writings of Marx or Mao, though both have some lingering adherents. Many party officials are now better known for their love of high-fashion labels and sleek sports-utility vehicles than the rigorous classlessness sought by the clutch of staunch socialists who gathered on July 1, 1921, in Shanghai.

Mr. Xiao and his 200 fellow party members who work in the 15th-floor Beijing offices of the Da Cheng firm are certainly a very different face for the Communist Party than the austere image of Mao Zedong and his comrades proclaiming the People's Republic from atop the rostrum overlooking Tiananmen Square.

Mr. Xiao's experiences with the party are also very different from those of someone like Ai Weiwei, the dissident artist who disappeared into custody for two months after offending the country's rulers (he was released on bail on Wednesday).

“I know many Americans and Westerners have some bias against the Communist Party of China. They compare us with Nazis, with dictatorship. They think we read the Little Red Book every day,” Mr. Xiao said, laughing again.

As the party gets set to celebrate the 90th anniversary of its foundation on July 1 with gala performances and a big-budget propaganda movie (known in Chinese as The Founding of a Party and in English as Beginning of the Great Revival), the official Xinhua newswire extolled people to “draw profound inspiration from the glorious historic journey of the party and stride confidently toward the lofty goal of national rejuvenation under the guidance of the glorious banner of the party.”

Instead, The Globe and Mail talked to five Chinese citizens about what the Communist Party means to them in 2011.

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Follow on Twitter: @markmackinnon

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