Paul Jacob

By the time you reach 80, even strangers begin to notice your birthdays. It's natural. The older you get, the more your life resembles a contest — almost a sport — with Grim Natural Death as antagonist.

You gotta root for octogenarians. It's not the law . . . just a sign of humanity.

Well, China's Communist Party has turned 85, and constitutes something of an exception.

Sure, it's lasted. Years ago, at a mere 28, it took over a very, very large nation and has held it in stranglehold since. Its older brother established the U.S.S.R., and had maintained its tyranny for just less than 70 years. So the commies in charge in China are getting nervous.

There's not much "ah shucks" support for the 85-year-old. In the West, we merely wait for it to die. In China, increasing numbers suspect that it soon will. Or at least should.

But the youth in Asia can't yet count on that hoped-for euthanasia. For now, as the 85th anniversary of the Party closes and daily business resumes, Chinese activity still tends to center on the Communist Party: Membership is even increasing!

But CP membership ranks increase in China for the same reason that, in America, most kids go to college, or businessmen join a local Chamber of Commerce: membership in the party is the way to get ahead.

And under the constrained capitalism that the Communists now nurture, the ones seeking mainly to get ahead make up today's key players. These "floating members" are the ones who, given the right circumstances, could switch alliances so easily. Perhaps that's one reason they are called "floaters."

A disrespectful term, eh? I'm no expert in Chinese, but I gather that it casts a dark glance to the growing Lumpenproletariat in China, also called (in English translation) "floaters."

The lumpen-floaters are the homeless, who resist control by the Chinese bureaucrats. Kicked off or wandered off of the former commie-feudal land system, they don't fit in today's world, other than when transformed into low-wage workers . . . or mendicants. The fact that this class is growing presents a problem for the control the CP demands and the equality the CP allegedly represents.

The bourgeois-floaters, on the other hand, look like a bigger problem yet. They are rich. Almost everyone looks up to them. And they seem to be having all the fun.

Yup, they are China's yuppies. They are developing their own culture of play and irony, and they don't take communism or authority or anything but wealth very seriously.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.