For a 90-year-old, China’s Communist Party is hanging with a young crowd.
The organization that has ruled China since Mao Zedong’s forces won a civil war in 1949 added 1.24 million university students as members last year, an 8.2 percent increase from 2009. Founded 90 years ago today to build a socialist Utopia for the laboring classes, the party has become a ticket to elite jobs in government and state-owned businesses that offer security, power and a path to wealth.
“I joined because it’ll help when looking for jobs,” said Ling, a 24-year-old student at Beijing’s Renmin University who declined to be identified by her full name because of concern that she faces retribution from the government. “Getting a government job is so hard, but if I got an offer I’d definitely jump for it. My second choice would be state-owned companies.”
She isn’t alone. China Mobile Ltd. and PetroChina Co. are among the biggest companies in an expanding state sector that is the preferred career route for graduates, according to a survey of 200,000 students published last week by chinahr.com, an online recruitment website started in 1997 that counts almost 25 million registered job seekers. Of the 50 most-favored employers, only 10 are foreign companies, it said.
“Young people do sign up for material reasons,” said Willy Lam Wo-lap, an adjunct professor of history at Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The party’s all about loyalty. Although it’s never made explicit, being a member is certainly a plus for pursuing careers in government or the state sector.”
Thirty-one percent of the 80.3 million signed-up members of the Communist Party at the end of last year were officials or worked for government agencies or companies, according to the Organization Department, the party unit that vets candidates for posts from university presidents to provincial political bosses.
Of the more than 21 million people who applied to join the party last year, 85 percent were rejected.
“For most Chinese students it would be cool” to join the party “because they belong to an elite group,” said Shirley, 24, a mainland Chinese student studying at Hong Kong Baptist University who declined to give her full name because of fear of persecution and who said she has no interest in being a member. “Power is the biggest motivation. In the government there will be a lot of connections between power and money.”
The government’s stake in state-owned enterprises was valued at 6.29 trillion yuan ($973 billion) at the end of 2009, the latest data available. The holdings in companies like Beijing-based China Mobile, the world’s biggest phone company by subscribers, and PetroChina, the No. 2 oil company, jumped from 5.43 trillion yuan a year earlier.
“We have great responsibilities on our shoulders,” Chinese President Hu Jintao said in an anniversary speech today in Beijing. He urged party members to “keep in mind their historic missions, remain modest and prudent, guard against arrogance and rashness, and maintain the style of plain living and hard struggle.”
The market share of the state-owned economy is expanding, said Lu Ting, a Hong Kong-based economist for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
This “could have negative impacts on China’s growth rate in the long run” by discouraging entrepreneurship and reducing competition, and increasing “crony capitalism,” he said.
Graft among party members may undermine social stability, Premier Wen Jiabao told the State Council at a March meeting, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
At this year’s March gathering of the National People’s Congress, China’s legislature, Wen pledged to narrow the wealth gap by reining in property prices and inflation that have squeezed the poor, even as the number of billionaires swells. Data compiled by Hurun, a Shanghai-based group that tracks China’s rich, indicate there were at least 38 NPC delegates with assets of greater value than those of the wealthiest U.S. congressman.
To mark the party’s birthday, a 15-meter (50-foot) high hammer and sickle has been erected in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, while banners bearing slogans like “Adherence to the Leadership of the Party” festoon bridges.
It wasn’t for about four decades after the party’s founding that Mao’s famous book of quotations, known as The Little Red Book, was published. Among his sayings: “The socialist system will eventually replace the capitalist system; this is an objective law independent of man’s will.”
In a bid to appeal to younger people, Chow Yun-fat and Andy Lau are among actors starring in “Beginning of the Great Revival,” which charts the party’s foundation in 1921.
At the Shanghai IFC Palace Cinema, demand for “Great Revival” has eclipsed that for the four other films showing, including DreamWorks Animation’s “Kung Fu Panda 2.”
“Ticket sales are very hot,” said Sheng Quan, the cinema’s manager. “About 70 percent to 80 percent of seats were block-booked by companies several weeks ago.”
Mao Xiao, 32, who works at Shenzhen-based Ping An Insurance (Group) Co., said the movie’s stars were the main lure. “I also think it will improve my understanding of our country’s past,” she said. “I joined when I was 18, and now we can see China’s made great progress under the party’s leadership.”
The age profile of the Communist Party is getting younger. At the end of last year, 24.3 percent were under 35, from 23.7 percent in 2009.
Young people are “joining because of their love for and faith in the party,” said Zhang Zuying, vice director of the School of Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “Having said that, times have changed and they have different views on practical issues.”