At its expansive 80th anniversary celebrations today, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has put across one simple but dramatic claim - that the fate of the people and the Party in China cannot be separated. Neither the creation of a new China over the last eight decades nor its future advancement can be imagined without the CCP, the leadership has declared.
No one in China, and very few outside, will quibble with the CCP's justified claims about its crucial role in transforming China from a shambles at the turn of the 20th century to the second most powerful nation in the world today.
At the same time, there is a fascinating debate within the CCP on how to remain at the cutting edge of China's future in an uncertain world. Rising to the political challenge, the President, Mr. Jiang Zemin, has come up with a new theory, called the `Three Represents'.
To remain relevant in China, Mr. Jiang suggests, the CCP must unswervingly represent the advanced forces of production, the progressive course of China's culture and the broad interests of the majority of the Chinese people. The theory of `Three Represents' will dominate the political discourse for sometime to come.
With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy for the Party to pronounce on the past. Overcoming imperialists, feudals and petty capitalists, the CCP has united the nation and lifted it to unprecedented prosperity in a very short span of time. The CCP ended China's humiliation at the hands of foreigners and put Beijing at the top table in world affairs. There were mistakes and yes, blunders too. But they pale, the CCP says, in comparison to what it has done for China.
In reflecting on this great miracle, the CCP will highlight the contributions of three generations of its leadership. The revered first generation led by Mao Zedong liberated China and defined an independent revolutionary path for it. The second generation, centred around Deng Xiaoping, opened China to the world and accelerated its economic modernisation.
The third generation of leadership, with Mr. Jiang at the core, is at the helm today. It naturally takes full credit for the great history and brilliant achievements of the CCP, including its success in maintaining the heady pace of Chinese economic development.
But Mr. Jiang also has the unenviable task of defining a strategy for the uncharted waters ahead. The world acknowledges the CCP's unique role in building modern China. But it also looks sceptically at the prospects of the Party dominating its future. At a time when most Communist regimes in the world have collapsed, questions on the CCP's future may not be irrelevant. The CCP itself has over the last decade encouraged its ideologues to deliberate on the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Communist regimes in East Europe.
The CCP examined the history of various ruling Communist parties - their successes and failures in coping with the imperatives of the modern world. Instead of resting on its laurels, the Party was determined to learn from the mistakes of others.
The leadership was also keen to figure out how the Party could be adapted to cope with the challenges of economic globalisation, the internet, the rapid advances in science and technology and the sharpening politics of the global balance of power.
At the end of this debate late last year, Mr. Jiang came up with the theory of `Three Represents'. The CCP believes an effective representation of the imperatives of modern technology, China's culture and the general interests of the masses will make it undefeatable for a long time to come.
The theory is likely to be adopted formally by the CCP at the crucial quinquennial Congress next year. Meanwhile, `Three Represents' is being hailed as Mr. Jiang's contribution to the ideology of the CCP. It is being compared by some official commentators to the Communist manifesto of Marx and Engels as the new guide to the future.
As the CCP takes up the tasks of implementing three represents, there will be an inevitable battle for correct interpretation of its premises. Would representing the advanced forces of production imply putting greater value on professionals and hi- tech experts at the expense of blue collar workers? Would it imply raising the new economy sectors above smokestack State enterprises?
Does representing progressive direction of Chinese culture mean a return to the traditional Confucian ideas or adapting the best ideas from the West? Does it demand a stress on Chinese nationalism or an openness to the global village? Does representing the broad interests of the Chinese masses suggest a willingness to let greater participation of ordinary people in political decision-making or in re-educating the Party to remain the elitist vanguard of the masses?
Clearly, there are more questions than answers in the current political debate. But the debate itself points to a healthy political churning in China.
Above all it reflects the political self-confidence of the CCP, which is today proud of its past achievements and ready to reinvent itself for the future.