For someone who is a member of the Communist Party, Bai Shiming has an unusual occupation. Mr. Bai, who at the age of 28 must be one of the most eligible bachelors in Harbin, is a private entrepreneur. He works for himself, not for the state.
More and more Chinese, young and old, are entering the ranks of private businessmen. In Harbin alone, there are now 12,000 private businesses, whereas four years ago there were only 610. Mr. Bai is the president of Harbin's Association of Private Businessmen, and he is advocating that a national association of private businessmen be established.
Stocky, with neat crew cut and sparkling black eyes, Mr. Bai operates a photo studio. ''I start at 7 and stay open till 8 every day,'' he said in a recent interview. ''Frequently people who urgently need photos, usually for identity cards, knock on my door late at night. Even when my door is closed, they know that I am a private entrepreneur and am bound to be there.''
Mr. Bai's prices are a bit cheaper than those of state photo studios. He charges 40 fen (about 20 cents) for a set of 1-inch identity pictures - one negative and three prints. The state studios charge 45 fen and will take four to five days to deliver, whereas Mr. Bai will develop the prints on the spot, if necessary.
How did Mr. Bai get into this profession? As a child, his dream was to go on to university and study to become a scientist. The very thought of owning or running a shop was repugnant to him. In fact, however, he was of shopkeeper background. His father had had a photo studio for years.
The Bai family had a difficult time until the sons began to reach earning age. And Shiming had not been able to go to university because he came from the wrong class background - he was neither a peasant nor a worker.
In December 1978 the third plenum of the Communist Party Central Committee approved Deng Xiaoping's program of economic reforms, among which was the revival of private enterprise.
Mr. Bai had the photographic equipment his father had left - an ancient fixed focus camera and a tripod. He thought of starting a photo studio of his own. ''But my ideal was to make some kind of useful contribution to the state and to society,'' Mr. Bai said.
''That's why I had wanted to become a scientist. Would running a private photo studio be a contribution? Also, how long would this new policy of encouraging private enterprise last?''
But Mr. Bai was unemployed and he needed some kind of steady income. Reluctantly he took the plunge. ''I was still affected by the ultra-leftist ideology of the Cultural Revolution,'' he said.
Once he got started, however, he quickly saw that his work could and did ''make a contribution to society and to the people.''
Besides photos for weddings and other commemorative occasions, he found that his customers were often urgently in need of identity photos - for jobs, for examinations, and so forth. As a private entrepreneur, he was both faster and cheaper than state enterprises. The local newspaper wrote him up, and he began to find that when he strolled the streets or took a bus, people recognized him and smiled.
Mr. Bai makes a good income, netting about 170 to 180 yuan ($85 to $90) on a monthly gross of 300 yuan ($150). He could have as many as eight to ten apprentices and employees but at present he works alone, his mother and younger brother occasionally helping him.
Last March the Communist Party accepted his application for membership, thus wiping out the stigma both of his so-called class origin and of being engaged in making money for himself. As one of Harbin's representatives to the National People's Congress, China's legislature, he was among the 2,978 delegates at the congress's plenary session in Peking in June.
''I felt I was elected as a representative of the private businesses of Harbin,'' he said, ''so before I went to Peking I went around soliciting the opinions of my fellow businessmen in Harbin.''
At the sessions in Peking he made four suggestions: a more logical system of payments and taxes to the state, the establishment of a national confederation of private businessmen, a state program of management training for private businessmen, and a pension and welfare system to be funded by private businessmen and the state. He is hoping for action on all four points.