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Career Boost or Emigration Problem? China’s Communist Party Keeps Growing Despite Doubts about Why

Membership in the Communist Party of China, once considered a true patriot’s badge of honor, now appears to be a resume-building affiliation for younger people and a problem for older members considering emigration to the United States.

But either way, the CPC keeps growing, with 98.04 million members at the end of 2022, according to its latest figures. That’s an increase of nearly 1.33 million, or 1.4%, from 2021.

It is growth not just for the sake of growth, according to the official China Daily, which framed the expansion as social progress. “The composition of Party membership has improved with higher levels of education and steady growth in the proportion of female members and those from ethnic minority groups,” it said.

The English-language daily newspaper reported that “to ensure the vitality of the Party” recruiting efforts since 2012 have focused on recruiting young people so that “each year over the past 10 years, about 80% of newly recruited Party members are age 35 or below.” That was the year Xi Jinping, who is now China’s leader, assumed the top party position of general secretary.

The China Daily coverage also noted that now 29.9% of party members are women, 7.6% are from ethnic groups other than the majority Han, and 54.7% have a college degree. The China Daily based its reporting on a party membership tally released on June 30.

At a conference that day, Xi stressed the party’s pivotal role “in building a modern socialist country in all respects and advancing the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts,” according to Xinhua, an official news outlet.

Jason Zhang, a former journalist and political affairs commentator based in Beijing, told VOA Mandarin in a phone interview that the authorities manipulate CPC membership numbers. He, like all others in this report, asked that his real name not be used to avoid attracting official attention.

“The number of 98 million is mapped by the party,” Zhang said. “They want to keep it under 100 million. It’s not ‘the more the merrier.'”

In a nation with a population of 1.4 billion, “if the membership goes beyond 100 million, that’s on a whole new level,” he said. “It’ll look like an ‘all nation’ party and draw criticism. I think they want to avoid a number that will make headlines.”

Zhang continued: “The party members, especially the young ones, are especially hypocritical. The ideological foundation of the Communist Party doesn’t hold up anymore. It’s a group of members who seek and share interests. Even they themselves admit they join the party for that ‘ticket,’ a ticket to get on the boat and grab opportunities.”

A sophomore at a university in Nanjing told VOA Mandarin that she recently submitted her application to join the party. She plans to go to graduate school after completing her undergraduate study and noted it’s easier to join the party as a young person.

“It’s relatively easy to join the party when you’re still an undergrad student, since it takes a few years to go through the whole process, and four years in university should be enough,” she said. “The party prefers nurturing the younger generation.”

She is frank about why she’s joining: a better future. “Like most of my fellow classmates, I’m applying so I’ll have more options careerwise. … We don’t love the party, we just do it out of practical purposes.” The jobless rate of 16- to 24-year-olds in urban areas rose to 21.3% last month, according to official figures.

Zhang thinks the application to join the party is a natural combination of personal ambition and hypocrisy. “If you aim to work for the government or stay in this system, if this is your career goal, then you don’t have a choice. You have to get that ticket, no matter if you like it or not.”

While members of the younger generation are seeking that ticket to enter the system, some in the older generation of party members are already thinking about “getting off the boat” when they consider emigrating to the United States.

A woman who has been a party member for more than 20 years is debating the best way to quit her membership. She worries her party membership could block her dream of emigrating to the U.S. to get her daughter away from the “brainwashing” of Chinese schools.

In December 2020, the Trump administration issued new rules to curtail travel to the United States by party members and their immediate families. The new policy requires Chinese visa recipients who belong to the party to enter the United States within one month of the travel document being issued.

Former President Donald Trump, who is running for reelection in 2024, said on June 24 he would “order my government to deny entry to all communists and all Marxists.”

Although that is campaign rhetoric, many Chinese parents worry their party membership may stand in the way of their children’s future if it involves emigrating to the U.S.

The woman trying to quit the party told VOA Mandarin that one of her friends tried to quit, only to be summoned by a local leader who attempted to dissuade him. Her friend refused, and a year later, the local party secretary told him he was “let go,” she said.

“If you really want to leave, you have to be fired,” she said. “You can’t just quit.”

She says she is a passive party member: “There’s nothing I do to get actively involved in any party-related affairs now, except I still have to pay a monthly membership contribution. I don’t join the social events they organize at all, and when they give me books like Xi Jinping’s ‘The Governance of China,’ I just take the book but never read it.”

She also sees the younger generation joining the CPC for financial gains. “Now that the economy is sluggish, many young people want to work for the government. … If two applicants of the same qualities apply for a government job, I’m sure the party member will be given the opportunity.”

Source : VOA News