In 1972, then 18-year-old Sun Farong was a worker with the Chang'an Automobile Group based in Chongqing Municipality. Although she worked for an automotive company, she functioned more as a tailor. She cut the steel into various shapes, repeatedly performing these simple and boring tasks. At the time, her favorite book was Quiet Flows the Don by Russian writer and 1965 Nobel Laureate Mikhail Sholokhov, which chronicled the early days of the socialist revolution in Russia.
This year, serving as the head of the Chongqing City Bar Association and a professional lawyer with 15 years of experience, Sun was elected a delegate to the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Among the 2,217 delegates to the 17th National Party Congress held from October 15-21, Sun is one of the three lawyer delegates and one of the 18 delegates from the "new social stratum," which has caught the attention of the public.
Evolution of a concept
Chen Xiqing, deputy head of the United Front Work Department of the CPC Central Committee, believes the formation and development of the new social stratum is the result of the adjustment of China's basic economic system, economic structure and industrial structure along with the deepening of China's reform and opening-up efforts. "It is commonly known that before reform and opening-up, Chinese society was composed of two classes (the working class and peasant class) and one social stratum (the intellectual stratum)," Chen said.
The concept of a "new social stratum" first emerged in former Party leader and the then Chinese president Jiang Zemin's speech to mark the 80th anniversary of the founding of the CPC in 2001.
He said that since reform and opening-up began in the late 1970s, a "new social stratum" had emerged and many of its members have contributed greatly to society through honest work and lawful business.
This new concept was elaborated at the 16th National Party Congress held in 2002. It was defined that people from this new social stratum are all builders of socialism with Chinese characteristics. At the congress, the CPC amended the Party Constitution and for the first time allowed "advanced members from other social stratum" to apply for membership in the CPC. Moreover, the Party Constitution also defined the responsibility of Party organizations in non-public sectors.
According to the report to the 16th National Party Congress, the new social stratum evolved from the developing socialist market economy after reform and opening-up. 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.
But a clearer definition of the "new social stratum" did not come until July 2006 when the CPC Department of the United Front issued an opinion that put six categories of people under the term's canopy. These people are parts of new economic organizations and new social organizations, namely, start-up personnel and technical personnel in private technology firms, managers employed by foreign companies, individual business people, private entrepreneurs, employees in intermediary agencies and free professionals.
It is estimated that more than 150 million people in China fall into this broad category. They control or manage total capital assets of 10 trillion yuan. They contribute, directly or indirectly, nearly one third of the nation's tax revenue, and attract over half of the newly added labor force.
Coming to limelight
A decision by the Sixth Plenary Session of the 16th CPC Central Committee in October 2006 further required that delegates to the 17th National Party Congress must be advanced members of the Party. Meanwhile, new rules required the selection of "a certain number" of Party members from the new economic and social organizations to the 17th National Party Congress.
The Chongqing City Bar Association, headed by Sun Farong, is made up of 3,236 professional lawyers, and is considered a typical new social organization. Sun joined the Communist Party 31 years ago. She quit her job as a partner of a law firm and gave up the annual salary of over 1 million yuan to head the association from April 2005.
"From my point of view, a lawyer's responsibility is to speak for the public and safeguard the legitimate rights of the people," said Sun. All member lawyers are devoted to providing legal aid to the people. The association has set up centers to protect children and farmworkers' rights. The association formed a legal consultation group of over 1,000 lawyers to take turns providing free legal consultation to the public. "As a delegate to the National Party Congress, my job is to transfer the voices from the grass-roots to the Party Congress," said Sun.
According to the 21st Century Business Herald, 18 members from new economic organizations attended the 17th National Party Congress. Zhou Haijiang, President of Hongdou Group in Jiangsu Province, is one of them. It was reported that three delegates came from the private sector in Jiangsu, one of the most affluent provinces in China.