Communist Party Membership Is Still the Ultimate Resume Booster

How China maintains interest in its ruling party, even as communism itself fades away.
china communist party.jpg
Delegates leave the Great Hall of the People after the closing session of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in Beijing on November 14, 2012. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Zhang Xi'en, professor from the School of Politics and Public Administration at Shandong University, recently suggested that the Chinese Communist Party (CPP) should limit the number of its incumbent party members to 30 million and maintain a "moderate scale" of 51 million members in the future. Professor Zhang deemed this necessary because:

Various people, speculators included, have attempted to make personal gains in the name of being a ruling party member. They swarm into the Party, rapidly expanding its scale, and bringing tremendous danger to the Party.

The CCP, the largest political party in the world, had over 82 million party members as of 2011, 2.33 million more than in the previous year. It takes up around 6% of the total population of mainland China, and the total number is increasing by an average of one million people each year.

Despite a complex application process, some Chinese are quite eager to join the CCP. In large part, it is not because they believe in communist tenets, which China's period of economic liberalization has largely abandoned. It's not even because they have faith in the CCP itself, which seeks to project an image of technocratic competence but is often beset with corruption scandals. Instead, they join because becoming a Party member is a resume booster that can get a Chinese citizen promoted more rapidly, especially within government or state-owned-enterprises.

It is therefore no wonder that Mr. Zhang is not alone in his calls. As its people's faith in the Party declines, China's reformists have gone so far as to question the correctness of Maoism, the foundational dogma of the CCP. In response, conservatives have stood up to remind Party members to maintain the "purity" and "quality" of the CCP.

Liu Yazhou, who sits on the political committee at the National Defense University of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, is a well-known supporter of communist orthodoxy who has also appealed for holding fast to the scared "Party spirit":

We must admit that starting in 1990, the term 'Party spirit' has been used more and more frequently by some people, but the quality of these two words has been steadily deteriorating...The Party spirit to its members should be what God is to Christians.

The system, still very much alive

The CCP does have its bulwarks against a widespread erosion of Party faith: a top-to-bottom superstructure to cultivate potential members, often casually referred to as a "brainwashing" system. The bond between a Chinese person and the CPP happens long before one even realizes it, often starting in primary school.

Most Chinese children aged six to fourteen are members of the Young Pioneers of China, which is run by the Communist Youth League. On joining the Young Pioneers, children are asked to vow:

I love the Communist Party of China, the motherland, and the people; I will study well and keep myself fit, preparing to contribute my efforts to the cause of communism.

This seems like classic "brainwashing," but its ability to transform children into young communists is limited. Most of those "pioneers" do not understand precisely what they have joined; they only know they must wear a hong ling jin (red scarf) once they become a young pioneer. Many of them strive for membership only out of a sense of pride and fear of being left apart from the crowd.

Lotus Yuen is a Beijing-based writer and editorial intern at Ifeng.com. She has written for Southern Metropolis Daily, New Business Magazine, and Hong Kong Independent Media.

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