China's official news media have been conducting what analysts call a concerted campaign extolling the leadership of Chinese president and communist party chief Jiang Zemin. But the analysts disagree on the underlying goal of all the publicity - with some saying it may mean Mr. Jiang is resisting plans for him to leave office this year.
Every evening, China's official television network carries a video segment that highlights Chinese leader Jiang Zemin's contributions to communist party ideology. In this report, a man from China's far western Xinjiang region, an ethnic Uighur, praises Jiang Zemin's so-called "three represents" theory. The television reporter says village leaders are studying the theory to learn how to be better party cadres - to win the trust of the villagers and to help them improve their quality of life. Similar reports and commentaries are being carried in most official newspapers and magazines. As Mr. Jiang's explains it, the "three represents" theory means the party now represents China's advanced productive forces, advanced culture and the broad masses of the people.
Murray Scot Tanner, a professor of Chinese politics at Western Michigan University, says the communist party is using the theory to carve out a new role for itself in modern Chinese society.
"The Chinese communist party historically has always justified its role as ruling Chinese society by saying that it represented the workers and the peasants in Chinese society," Mr. Tanner explained, "Well, 22, 23 years of economic reform have brought forth a tremendously powerful new class of entrepreneurs, of people involved in modern technology, in trade and such. And the Chinese communist party is looking for an ideological justification for giving these people a more powerful position in the party and claiming that they can best represent this rising new class of money, power and technology in society."
Professor Tanner says the communist party is now embracing Chinese capitalists - people who once were considered the enemies of revolutionary China. He says the party is trying to co-opt this new class of Chinese in order to legitimize its continued rule.
"For close to 20 years now, the question that has been troubling a large number of communist party members has been just exactly what the communist party's role is supposed to be in a society that is increasingly outward looking, market oriented, and in which communist party committees in society play less and less obvious role propagating ideology and such," Mr. Tanner said. "The theory of the 'three represents' is supposed to renew the party's role as guiding Chinese society."
China specialist June Teufel Dreyer, at the University of Miami, says not all communist party leaders like the idea of incorporating capitalists into China's bastion of marxism. "If you are an orthodox hardline communist," Ms. Dreyer said, "this is either a terrible, terrible, terrible desecration of the true meaning of communism, or if you're on the other side of the issue, it's a way in which the communist party is adapting itself to the demands of the future."
And Professor Dreyer says she believes the "three represents" theory has been under debate at the Chinese leaders' seaside retreat at Beidaihe. Every summer, senior leaders gather at Beidaihe to relax and discuss policy and personnel questions. This year's retreat is especially important because it preceeds a communist party congress, when the party leadership is to change and when next year's government changes are to be decided.
Jiang Zemin holds three jobs - party general secretary, chairman of the central military commission and president of China. He is expected to turn over power to Vice President Hu Jintao. But some analysts say the media campaign is an indication that Mr. Jiang wants to keep at least one job - either the chairmanship of the military commission or maybe even the party leadership post.
Andrew Nathan, a political science professor at Columbia University, says, on the contrary, the media campaign is a signal that Jiang Zemin will leave office. Professor Nathan says he expects the party to incorporate the "three represents" theory into the party constitution - putting Jiang Zemin into history alongside China's legendary leaders.
"He's been the top guy in China for a long time, as was the case with Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping," Mr. Nathan said, "And both Mao and Deng's theories are alluded to in the party constitution, so for a person who's been the leader for such a long time, Jiang Zemin is getting ready, or the party is getting ready to give him a send-off where his thoughts will be recognized in the party constitution."
Whether Mr. Jiang's "three represents" theory is a bid to stay in power or an effort to augment his legacy in the history books may never be known. But Mr. Jiang's status will become clear at the party congress, held every five years, usually in September or October. Some reports have said the political maneuvering may delay this year's meeting until November.