Steve Chapman

American business executives claim that small increases in marginal tax rates or regulatory requirements will sap their drive to achieve. But if China's officially socialist system has a demoralizing effect on the spirit of enterprise, you can't tell.

Critics at home think the problem is just the opposite. In his book, "The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers," journalist Richard McGregor quotes one academic's complaint that "the sole dominant ideology shared by the government and the people is money worship."

He says that like it's a bad thing. But the money-worshipping China is a gargantuan improvement on the Mao-worshipping version.

Not that communism is entirely dead. The party remains in firm control of the government, and many enterprises are partly state-owned. Party committees operate in corporate workplaces, where they play the odd role of celebrating those who diligently serve the interests of shareholders.

Touring an auto plant near Shanghai that is part of a joint venture of General Motors and SAIC Motor, I saw more than one employee recognition poster adorned with a smiling face alongside a hammer-and-sickle -- signifying that the worker is a card-carrying Communist.

What that means is hard to figure. One Chinese woman, hearing of my strong aversion to Marxist-Leninist ideology, introduced me to her husband, whom she attested is "very anti-communist" and who proceeded to express his discontent with the government.

He seems to have no trouble reconciling these views with his membership in the party. Even Communists no longer put much stock in communism.

Today, it's the consumer who rules, and it's buying and selling that dominates economic life. Mao's visage still dominates Beijing's Tiananmen Square, but his people seem to have more in common with Calvin Coolidge. At the Expo Central China, it's clear that the business of China is business.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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