BEIJING — "Ever since I was a kid, I've always wanted to join the party..." Yanru, a 22-year-old university student studying at a well-known university in northern China, just became a CCP member last year. For her and her peers, joining the Chinese Communist Party is something that just seems natural: "It has led us to victories, fought back the foreign colonists, and built up the strong and prosperous new China today."

For Yanru, the purpose of joining the party is to serve the society, and to be useful for the country. "There is only one correct motive for joining the party, that is to serve the people with full hearts, and to eventually fully achieve communism," she wrote in her membership application letter.

But for others, being a party member is also a proof of excellence, a sign of elite status. Another young Chinese university student, Jieru, wants to join the party simply because she wants to become a civil servant. With young people becoming more focused on finding employment in the public sector, and the national civil servants admission exam becoming more competitive, all are aware of a tacit soft rule that CPC members have more chances of being selected for such posts.

In online forums, there are countless articles explaining the benefits of joining the party: a CPC membership would be an advantage when working in public administration and state enterprises. Some enterprises and institutions will list "Party members first" in their job postings, and some positions are deemed exclusive to the CPC.

Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with students at a primary school in Zhongyi — Photo: Xie Huanchi/Xinhua/ZUMA Wire

In a 2016 speech, President Xi Jinping declared that the Chinese state-owned enterprise system was "special" for the integration of the Party's leadership in corporations. According to a bank manager from southern China, there now exists an atmosphere in enterprises where everyone is actively joining the party without external motivation, which was gradually formed since Xi came to power. "Without party membership, you don't even dream of promotion."

But the party is also limiting membership admission under Xi, with its focus shifted to monitoring "the quality of membership." Following this initiative in 2013, newly admitted numbers in the party have been declining each year, meeting its lowest point in 2017 with 117,000 new members. Even so, in some universities, teachers have to motivate students to join the party in order to fulfill the "quotas and orders from above."

Nevertheless, it is no simple task to join the CPC. Apart from the strict examinations on political profile, academic performance and social engagements, candidates also need to take classes, while going through at least six months of waiting to pass on to the next selection steps. Loads of paperwork is also unavoidable, especially when some of the CPC branches' administrations are in chaos.

The irony is that, in reality, becoming a CPC member does not change one's life much. Qiuyuan, a university student, recalled that the only highlight was the admission ceremony, where 30-40 new members solemnly made the vow: "We are ready to sacrifice everything for the party and the people." Qiuyuan was shocked by the pledge: "Were they actually serious about this?"

Still, for most people, party membership only leads to more meetings and orientation activities, such as visiting "patriotic travel sites," and group meetings where members are encouraged to communicate and conduct "constructive critique." The latter is a response to Xi's initiative in 2016, "Criticism and self-critique are the medicine and care for our comrades… we need to name the problems, raise opinions and evaluate the harms."

Every effort is made to prevent students from dropping out of the party.

Another issue is the difficulty to pull out of the party. Theoretically, members have the freedom to quit; according to party protocols, ordinary citizens will not be expelled from the party, yet withdrawal is only granted under two circumstances: when a member voluntarily requests, or when a member "lacks revolutionary will, does not fulfill his/her obligations as a party member." But no specific guidelines were given. Official documents only suggest that withdrawal should not be announced to the public, and the party should not force the members to remain. Still, one university teacher confessed that in most cases, every effort is made to prevent students from dropping out of the party.

Still, being a party member is indeed different. Qiuyuan is beginning to sense the benefits in her career, as her housing aids and social benefits have been augmented. Under certain circumstances, party membership seems to be a trouble, especially in today's geopolitical conflicts: the Trump administration had forbidden current and former Communist Party members to immigrate to the U.S., and even their families are restricted in getting travel visas. As there are currently about 91.9 million CPC members in China, about 200 million Chinese are affected by this policy.

A group of children with red scarves and national flags pose for photos in Beijing Tiananmen Square under the party emblem — Photo: Sheldon Cooper/SOPA Images/ZUMA Wire

At the end of the day, young CPC members are just more or less as apolitical as most of the population in this country. "Every country has its own mode of administration, while public opinion is controlled for the stability of the country, not only in China," says Yanru. "Young people are easily incited, and we all think the CPC is pretty good anyway."

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