BEIJING — Through the ups and downs of his long career, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made a practical-minded slogan world-famous: "It doesn't matter whether a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice."
The slogan captured the essence of Deng's argument with the late Chairman Mao Tse-tung, who stressed being "red" over being "expert."
Since emerging as China's paramount leader in 1978, Deng has acted on his philosophy by promoting market-oriented reforms and openness to the outside world, twin policies that are aimed at achieving China's century-old goal of national wealth and power.
At a Communist Party congress that opens Sunday in Beijing, Deng, 83, now aims at winning approval for personnel and ideological changes intended to ensure that his vision survives his ultimate departure.
The congress--the 13th in the 66-year history of the Chinese Communist Party--is expected to elevate to the powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo a successor generation dominated by reformist proteges of Deng.
Orthodox to Retire
Diplomats and other analysts in Beijing and Hong Kong expect that several elderly leaders with orthodox views who have resisted some of the reforms will step down from their current posts. Although these so-called "conservatives" are expected to retain considerable influence, their semi-retirement would lessen one of the impediments to intensification of reforms.
The congress, expected to meet for about 10 days, will also approve political reports intended to provide the framework for party and government policy for the next five years.
While the reforms of the past nine years have boosted economic growth and the standard of living, their ideological justification has sometimes seemed shaky. This has left an opening for conservative attacks and helped raise doubts in China and abroad about the stability of the new policies.
The reformist successors, headed by acting party General Secretary Zhao Ziyang, who is also China's premier, have begun unveiling a new ideological argument intended to provide a firm theoretical foundation for their policies.
New Turn to Phrase
Some observers have described the reformists' theory--to which the congress is supposed to give a stamp of approval--with a new turn of Deng's old phrase: "If the cat catches mice, it must be red."
The new ideology is based on the idea that China bypassed a true capitalist period--envisioned by Karl Marx as a prerequisite for communism--and remains in only the initial stage of socialism.
Because of this, the key task of the Communist Party is to develop the economy. Virtually anything that contributes to economic growth--including all sorts of techniques commonly associated with capitalist systems--can be legitimately adopted, as long as the ultimate authority of the party remains unchallenged.
The official New China News Agency, in an authoritative article last week explaining the new theory, said that "while many people generally welcome the measures of reform as bringing real benefits to them, many feel uncertain whether a new measure is 'socialist or capitalist' by nature."
"The task of furnishing a convincing answer to this question is a challenge to the Chinese economists, for many people have been deeply troubled by the dogmatic notions of the past," it added.
Many Chinese economists have now concluded that market mechanisms, traditionally associated with capitalist systems, and central planning, traditionally associated with socialism, are "neutral means and methods that do not determine the basic economic system of a society," the article said.
Economists at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have stated that China's goal should be a "multi-ownership system," or mixed economy, "centering around public ownership," it said.
"The concept that China is still in the elementary stage of socialism is not only the key to understanding the sweeping economic reforms, but also is paving the way for the coming political structural reforms that are expected to be unfolded in the wake of the 13th National Party Congress," according to the article.
In the official Chinese context, political reform and increased democracy--subjects due to be discussed at the party congress--do not mean movement toward a multi-party system.
Instead, these terms refer to matters such as separation of party and administrative functions in the government and the economy, adherence to legal procedures and greater grass-roots participation in political affairs.
Could Improve Efficiency
These are seen as changes that could improve efficiency and protect the rights of ordinary people by limiting the power of officials to make arbitrary decisions.
Both Deng and Zhao have repeatedly stated in recent weeks that the personnel changes and political reports to be announced at the congress will push forward the policies of openness and reform.