By Meng Na (China Features)
Wherever Zhang Lianqi goes, he's always sure to take two things with him – a photo of his son and his laptop.
"I am too busy to take care of or even meet my 15-year-old son, so I need to take his photo," says Zhang.
As a partner of the Beijing-based China Rightson Certified Public Accountants Co., Ltd., which employs 1,000 professionals and has several branches in different cities, Zhang loses count of the number of business trips he makes every year.
Another important thing 43-year-old Zhang needs to do whenever he finds time is to "write suggestions in my laptop regarding solving thorny economic issues for the government and the Party," he says.
A "liaison person" of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Zhang takes advantage of his job, learning from customers, colleagues and economists on how to properly develop his profession and the country's economy.
"Recently, I wrote two reports for the UFWD. One was a warning of economic overheating, suggesting a variety of policies to reduce liquidity and better control credit flows. Another was about a possible stock market bubble," Zhang says.
"The two topics are a little bit big for me, but I think they are crucial. I spent several months on them, collecting materials, talking to economists and using my own knowledge to analyze, and finally complete my reports," says Zhang, who earned a doctorate in economics from Peking University.
He is certain that his two reports will be transferred by UFWD to government departments for reference.
Zhang has more than ten years of working experience in a private accounting firm, and earned a decent income, and yet often felt "disconnected from society" until he attended a "theoretical research class" in 2006, which was designed specifically for China's "new social stratum" and sponsored by the UFWD.
"I learned about the country's fundamental economic and political system, the general economic and political situation at home and abroad. My classmates and I also inspected the remote and backward countryside to learn about the national situation.
"Being a liaison person of the UFWD, providing suggestions for the government and attending UFWD class, I get a communication channel to ruling authorities and learn about my place in society," Zhang says.
The concept of a "new social stratum" officially emerged in former Party leader and Chinese President Jiang Zemin's speech to mark the 80th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2001.
He said that since the reform and opening-up began in China in the late 1970s, a "new social stratum" had emerged and many of its members contributed greatly to society through honest work and lawful business.
They were also the builders of China's socialist cause along with workers, farmers, intellectuals, cadres and the members of People's Liberation Army, said Jiang.
When the CPC was founded in 1921, the Party mainly represented workers and farmers.
Like Zhang Lianqi, Lin Kaiwen is also a member of such new social stratum. Chairman of the board of the Shanghai Kaiquan Pump Group Co., Ltd., Lin also attended the "theoretical research class" in 2006.
"The class helped me to learn about state policies and ruling guidelines from a higher level, so I can better participate in political affairs and contribute ideas to the authorities," Lin says.
The annual "theoretical research class" was launched in 2004. Every class has about 50 members mainly from private firms, managerial-level staff of foreign-funded companies, self-employed professionals and intermediate organizations.
Lin Zhimin, vice secretary-general of the UFWD, says the class is intended "to further connect with and unite the representatives of the 'new social stratum'."
"Through the class, we inform and publicize the new policies and guidelines of the CPC to the new social stratum, learn their thinking, and discover, train and select candidates to form a talent contingent outside the CPC," Lin says.
The UFWD has established a new social stratum talent reserve and a large number of candidates are graduates of the theoretical class. "Currently, we are establishing an evaluation system to recommend people from the reserve to some important government posts."
The "new social stratum" includes private entrepreneurs, technicians and managerial-level staff in private or foreign-funded companies, the self-employed and employees in intermediate organizations.
It is estimated that the "new social stratum" consists of 50 million such professionals, who possess or manage capital totaling 10 trillion yuan (1.3 trillion U.S. dollars), according to the UFWD.
Chen Guangjin, deputy director of the Institute of Sociology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, says that with economic development, the "new social stratum" is eager to influence policy-making and be more acknowledged in society.
Chen cites Wenzhou city in China's eastern province of Zhejiang, where the private sector is very prosperous, as an example. Private entrepreneurs are trying to win elections for village committee heads, deputies of people's congresses and members of political advisory bodies.
More than 9,000 members of the "new social stratum" have been elected deputies of people's congresses of the county level or above, while 30,000 others were recommended as members of political advisory bodies of the county level or above.
Lin Zhimin says the successful representatives of the "new social stratum" always have political astuteness and professional knowledge. They are not only an important force in developing a socialist market economy, but also an active force for developing socialist democratic politics.
"Uniting and guiding the 'new social stratum' to participate in politics is necessary for building a socialist harmonious society and for extending the Party's ruling foundation," says Lin.
The CPC has a history of consulting the eight non-Communist parities and unaffiliated individuals and organizations for their opinions and recommendations on important issues.
"The participation of the 'new social stratum' in political affairs has improved both in quantity and quality," says Zhen Xiaoying, former vice president of the Central Institute of Socialism.
More members of the "new social stratum" are earning senior or even top government posts, says Zhen.
The most outstanding representatives are Wan Gang, Minister of Science and Technology, and Chen Zhu, Minister of Health, who were the first non-Communist cabinet appointments since the 1970s when China launched its economic reform and opening up, Zhen says.
Wan Gang, a member of the China Zhi Gong (Public Interest) Party, replaced 65-year-old Xu Guanhua as Minister of Science and Technology in April 2006.
A former automobile engineer at the Audi Corporation in Germany, Wan, born in August 1952, was president of the Shanghai-based Tongji University before his appointment.
"To appoint non-CPC member cabinet minister is an important move in implementing and improving the system of multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the CPC," says Lin Zhimin.
China's top legislature in June 2006 approved the cabinet nomination of Chen Zhu, 54, a Paris-trained scientist with no political party affiliation, as the country's new health minister.
Zhang Liangqi says the appointments of Wan Gang and Chen Zhu indicated that more members of the "new social stratum" would be given important governmental posts. "The 'new social stratum' shall be ready."
China's top legislature in June approved the cabinet nomination of Chen Zhu, 54, a Paris-trained scientist with no party affiliation, as the country's new health minister. Chen is the first Minsiter without any Party affiliation since China began its reform and opening-up drive in 1978.
Wan Gang, vice chairman of the China Zhi Gong (public interest) Party and president of Shanghai's Tongji University, was named minister of science and technology in April, 2007.