China's parliament on Sunday approved a historic amendment to its constitution to provide a legal guarantee and level-playing field to private entrepreneurs, once considered the enemy of Communism but now key player in generating wealth in the world's fastest growing economy.
The draft amendment introduced by the ruling Communist Party at the National People's Congress (NPC), China's parliament, was approved by a overwhelming margin by the nearly 3,000 lawmakers on the last day of the 10-day annual session here.
The amendment marked the fourth time the constitution has been changed and was passed by a vote of 2,863 in favour and just 10 in opposition.
"Legal private property is not to be encroached upon," it says, embracing the most basic tenet of capitalism for the first time since the 1949 Chinese revolution.
The NPC adopted a resolution today, endorsing the government work report for 2003 presented on March five by Premier Wen Jiabao.
The State Council, or the Cabinet, headed by Wen, has made 19 amendments to the report after repeated deliberations of the views and proposals of lawmakers and government advisers.
The amendment on legalising private property indicates a sea-change in the ruling Communist Party's thinking, from the concept that 'it's shame to be rich' to a brand-new motto that 'it's a pride to get rich through hard work in a lawful way', diplomatic analysts said.
It is the first time in the history of new China that lawfully-obtained capital goods and invisible capital such as intellectual property right are put under the protection of the constitution, as is the same case with living materials and properties such as estate and ban deposits, the official Xinhua news agency commented.
By the end of November 2003, the number of China's private enterprises hit 2.97 million with registered capital exceeding 334.7 billion Yuan (40.5 billion US dollars).
The non-public sectors now contribute to half of China's national economic growth. In 2003, China's economy grew at an amazing rate of 9.1 per cent.
The parliament also enshrined human rights protection for the first time in the Chinese constitution.
"The state respects and protects human rights," says the new expression to be added to article 33 of chapter two of the existing constitution, which has undergone three overhauls since its promulgation in 1982.
The third amendment to the constitution elevated the theory of 'Three Represents' proposed by Jiang Zemin, the former President and Communist Party general secretary who invited capitalists into party, which has some 68 million members.
Before retiring as president last year and as general secretary of the CPC in 2002, Jiang launched the 'Three Represents' theory, which encouraged the party to represent entrepreneurs as well as the working class.
Last year Jiang's ideology was written into the Communist Party's constitution to enjoy an equal status as that of Marx-Leninism, Mao Zedong thought and Deng Xiaoping theory that guided China's Communist Party.
The amendment to enshrine the 'Three Represents' thought is an ideological breakthrough by the CPC that is leading the 1.3 billion people toward a well-off society along the road of what is described as 'socialist market economy', a leading official newspaper commented.
Human rights, private property and 'Three Represents' all embody the "people first" principle and represent their fundamental interests, the People's Daily said.
The codification of these in the fundamental law represents a shift away from the growth-focused strategy to a comprehensive approach to development that features the protection of human rights and private property lawfully acquired, guarantee of social justice and an overall, harmonious and sustainable development, it said.
China's current constitution was adopted in 1982 on the basis of the basic principle of the constitution passed in 1954.
Today's was the fourth amendment to the constitution adopted in 1982. The previous three amendments were made in 1988, 1993 and 1999, respectively.