A legacy of 'Made in China'
Tuesday, Premier Zhu Rongji formally hands over power to Wen Jiabao.
For China, it is the end of an era.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Monday marks the departure of Premier Zhu Rongji - the face of China's epic economic transformation over the past decade, and the man whose policies opened centuries of closed doors, created a vibrant market ethos in a Communist state, and put China into the global mainstream as a member of the World Trade Organization.
Premier Zhu, a Hunanese orphaned at age 9 and twice put in prison for his pro-capitalist "rightist" views under Mao Zedong, took the reins of reform in the early 1990s, a time when China was economically adrift and in deep social uncertainty. By shrewd policy and sheer drive, he transformed a series of local fiefdoms into a high-performance national economy - one that Mao would not recognize, and one poised to adopt such free-market standards as private ownership and modern management of the state banking sector.
In some ways, the glut of cheap fishing rods, toasters, and garden hoses that Americans buy at Wal-Mart are a result of Zhu opening China's cheap labor to the West.
"That China has a national economy is a direct result of Zhu Rongji going out and beating down local officials, and finding a political consolidation here," says a Beijing analyst with a US company. " He is one of a kind."
Mr. Zhu's departure as premier - he is succeeded by Deputy Premier Wen Jiabao - is part of a sweeping set of generational changes that began last fall.
In China, the Communist Party is all-powerful, and last November's Party Congress, which occurs once every five years, the top party slot shifted from Jiang Zemin to the youthful Hu Jintao in the first peaceful transition of rule in modern China.
Monday closed the annual National People's Congress, which oversees state, as opposed to party, affairs - including the economy and other domestic concerns. Zhu, as state premier for five years and the driving force for economic change long before that, received nearly two minutes of applause by the 2,944 delegates - an honor unmatched in the nearly two-week event.
This congress marked the end of a different era as well - the departure of Vice-Premier Li Peng, the hard-line leader most associated with the 1989 killing of pro-democracy student protestors at Tiananmen Square.
In China, the office of president is a state title; it is the protocol designation under which leaders travel as head of state. Until Saturday, the title was held by Mr. Jiang, who relinquished it through an "election" to Mr. Hu. (Hu, the only candidate, scored 2,937 votes, with four opposed, four abstaining).
The president of China is also the top party chief, and while the title is largely ceremonial, its clout depends on the power wielded by its holder.
Therein lies a conundrum among Beijing's current mandarins. While Hu, heir apparent to Jiang for some 10 years, is now chairman of the party and president of the state, he still does not hold either the military or the foreign-policy reigns of China. Jiang Zemin has retained control of the Party Central Military Commission, and he controls foreign-policy matters both through his contacts and his protégé Zeng Qinghong, now a member of the ruling Standing Committee of the Politburo.
Essentially, China now has two "core" leaderships. That has brought much speculation over whether Beijing can "function smoothly" - a term highly prized here - if one of those cores exists outside official circles.