.

After 90 years, China’s Communist Youth League is still going strong. Much has happened in that time. The nation has experienced political revolution, foreign invasion and a bloody civil war. It has experimented on a large scale with its economy, and its social structure, with devastating results. Then it reintegrated into global capitalism with astonishing success. And all along the Youth League has grown bigger and better organized. It seems to thrive on change, and always manages to find a curiously subtle way of militating against the pernicious influences thought to be imperilling the nation’s young people.

Today, however, its members face something of a moral dilemma: what to make of Apple’s iPad. The Xinhua news agency and People’s Daily, the two principal media outlets representing the views of the Communist Party, have run a series of editorials assailing the American company’s practices in China. They have uncovered the “Five Sins of Apple.” The top three would sound agreeably familiar to an American Christian if they were not joined to an ideology perceived to spurn religion: hypocrisy, indifference, and impurity. According to these articles, the “bright Apple Inc.” flouts the copyrights of Chinese authors even as the United States condemns China for not protecting foreign intellectual property; Apple is indifferent to the pollution its local manufacturers produce; and the company allows erotic content to be propagated on its devices in flagrant violation of China’s strict anti-pornography laws.

The Youth League jury, it seems, is still out—but not because it is torn between the iPad’s desirability and the evidence against Apple. Its members have become wary of such media campaigns sponsored by the government, recognizing their potential, or their intent, to divert public attention from more pressing domestic problems. If they approve their moral thrust, they also feel obliged to consider their message in full context, which includes the motives of their origination. After all, the league encourages it members to “seek the truth from all the facts.”

It is important to keep in mind that the Youth League, although overseen by the party, is a separate entity. The two are not necessarily one and the same. Not all Youth League members go on to join the party. In fact, more and more are becoming disillusioned with politics altogether, even though over a million still sign up each year. Many hope that membership will open up career prospects in the civil service. Others, however, simply wish to take part in charitable activities. Theirs is a benevolence born increasingly of personal beliefs that only happen to overlap with socialist ideology. In some cases these beliefs are informed by Confucian traditions, Buddhism or Christianity. The party acknowledges that the reasons for joining its “brother in revolution” are changing, but it maintains that this shift does not reflect a crisis of confidence in socialism. Instead, it says, it reflects its own evolving plurality and inclusiveness.

China’s Communist Youth League began life in Shanghai in 1920. It proclaimed itself as the Chinese Socialist Youth League at its inaugural national congress in Guangzhou in 1922, which was attended by Chen Duxiu, the first general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Chen, a school teacher who came to be regarded as China’s “Lenin” but was later expelled from the party, believed that young people could bring about intellectual, literary and cultural transformations that would reinvigorate the nation after decades of military defeats by various foreign colonial powers and the corruption of a new republican government. He felt that the Youth League should integrate with the party, but this would not happen until early in 1949 when the group was re-established as the New Democratic Youth League. The Youth League assumed its present name in 1957. Now boasting more than 80 million members between the ages of 14 and 24—roughly half enter before graduating from high school—it is intended to give young people in China the opportunity to express and develop their leadership potential. It does so by organizing youth-run activities that aim to build a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society. In some respects, one might say, it is similar to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, except that its core values are grounded in Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong’s thought, and Deng Xiaoping’s economic policies. Joining involves a rigorous selection process. This is partly because the league is considered a training ground for future cadres. Its national leaders often rise to the top echelons of party power. Members are encouraged to study law and social sciences, as well as other disciplines suitable to working in the poorer rural areas left behind by urban-led economic growth.

Party elders were jolted last October when a 2-year-old girl in Guangdong province was struck down by a van, only to be left on the street beneath the indifferent gaze of at least 18 bystanders before being run over a second time. The saddening incident brought into the open a phenomenon that has been building in China for a decade in tandem with wealth disparities: a declining sense of public compassion and civic spiritedness. The girl’s death prompted the Central Committee to initiate a media campaign promoting societal responsibility. It seemed like just the sort of cause that the Youth League would champion with unbridled enthusiasm. Many league directors, however, soon became tepid on the idea, seeing it as an attempt to turn attention away from emerging corruption scandals involving senior party officials, most conspicuously certain “Princelings,” the sons and daughters of current and former high officials and heroes of the revolution who use their positions or pedigrees to enrich themselves while demanding selfless deeds of the common person.

When Hu Jintao gave the keynote speech at a rally in Beijing to mark the Youth League’s 90th anniversary in May, he called on the organization to rejuvenate itself at the grassroots. The Youth League is considered Hu’s power base. He was a member of its national secretariat in the early 1980s, as well as chairman of its sister organization, the All-China Youth Federation. In 1994 he became the Youth League’s general secretary. His ascent through its ranks honed his leadership abilities and established the support he would need to become general secretary of the party’s Central Committee in 2002 and the country’s president in 2003. The Youth League is also an umbilical cord nourishing a younger generation on a particular interpretation of what it means to follow “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The presence of former Youth League executives on the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s inner sanctum, has led to two so-called “Youth League factions.” The first was headed by Hu Yaobang, the party’s general secretary in 1981-87, and the second by Hu Jintao. The Youth League has produced some of Hu Jintao’s strongest allies, including Li Keqiang, who came up through its ranks under Hu Yaobang’s wing, then went on to become the youngest governor of Henan province and vice premier. Hu Jintao wanted to establish Li as his successor at the party’s 17th National Congress in 2007, but his nomination was blocked by an apparent alliance between the Princelings and the “Shanghai clique,” a group of Politburo officials raised up through the Shanghai municipal administration under the patronage of former president Jiang Zemin.

Xi Jinping, the son of a Long March hero purged from the party during the Cultural Revolution, is now expected to become president later this year, though many observers are left wondering what role he may have played in ousting a fellow Princeling, the disgraced mayor of Chongqing, Bo Xilai. The extent of Bo’s corruption came to light when his wife, Gu Kailai, allegedly murdered a British businessman after he threatened to reveal how she had concealed hundreds of millions of dollars offshore. Bo and his family were not simply corrupt, though. A Maoist hardliner, Bo evidently had ambitions to overtake Xi’s influence and become China’s next president himself. Xi assented to the decision to purge Bo, and Hu reciprocated by appointing in his place another affiliate of the Shanghai clique, Zhang Dejiang, as Chongqing’s top official. Both Hu and Xi seem to feel that China’s political stability depends on achieving a balance of power between the two competing factions.

Nevertheless, Hu’s Youth League faction is expected to dominate the next Politburo. In October, the party’s 18th National Congress will convene in Beijing to select members of the Politburo and its Standing Committee. Already, in July, the 31 provincial People’s Congresses elected their party secretaries, and seven of these have come up through the Youth League. Of the 402 newly elected Provincial Party Standing Committee members, 148 are former Youth Leaguers. Many are slated to receive key provincial appointments, while some will be groomed for ministerial and other senior roles in the party’s central apparatus.

Looking beyond the confusing web of political infighting and jockeying for position, there looms the shadow of a bigger problem. The rivalries between the populist Youth League and elitist coalitions, between reformers and neo-Maoists, between institutional interests and individual ambitions, belong to a deepening economic and social crisis. China’s reform and development model of the past thirty years may be nearing its natural limits. China’s growth has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty, but it has also given rise to new class divisions that threaten to further erode the legitimacy of the communist regime. The Princelings, aligned predominantly with China’s eastern cities and coastal areas—where urban privilege and prosperity go hand in hand with high finance, real estate speculation, and global trade that exploits low-paid migrant workers—have become heirs to a sense of entitlement. The Youth League considers this something akin to an undesirable aristocracy, in which rulers are sanctioned by birth and wealth, rather than a genuinely proletariat-led government. Many now ask if it is even possible to speak of “communism” or “socialism” when the offspring of those who promised to balance societal wealth are allowed to consolidate it to their own account.

As for the “bright Apple Inc.,” it may have taken sides in this drama already. People’s Daily also sniped at the iPad’s quality and cost. The devise purportedly does not hold up well in China’s harsh rural conditions and is priced for excessive profit. Apple reportedly called these criticisms irrelevant because it caters to affluent, urban middle-class consumers who need not fret about dust from the fields getting into their iPads. People’s Daily played up the glibness of this reply, no doubt aiming to rouse the Youth League’s ire. It is not clear that it succeeded, but it has at least distinguished Apple from Hewlett-Packard. In 2010 HP followed in Walt Disney’s footsteps by partnering with the Youth League to build brand recognition in China. It helped to expand IT connectivity into rural areas, a strategy it hopes will pay future dividends.

About
Paul Nash
:
Toronto-based Correspondent Paul Nash is a frequent China commentator and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor at Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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China’s Communist Youth League 90 Years On

September 6, 2012

After 90 years, China’s Communist Youth League is still going strong. Much has happened in that time. The nation has experienced political revolution, foreign invasion and a bloody civil war. It has experimented on a large scale with its economy, and its social structure, with devastating results. Then it reintegrated into global capitalism with astonishing success. And all along the Youth League has grown bigger and better organized. It seems to thrive on change, and always manages to find a curiously subtle way of militating against the pernicious influences thought to be imperilling the nation’s young people.

Today, however, its members face something of a moral dilemma: what to make of Apple’s iPad. The Xinhua news agency and People’s Daily, the two principal media outlets representing the views of the Communist Party, have run a series of editorials assailing the American company’s practices in China. They have uncovered the “Five Sins of Apple.” The top three would sound agreeably familiar to an American Christian if they were not joined to an ideology perceived to spurn religion: hypocrisy, indifference, and impurity. According to these articles, the “bright Apple Inc.” flouts the copyrights of Chinese authors even as the United States condemns China for not protecting foreign intellectual property; Apple is indifferent to the pollution its local manufacturers produce; and the company allows erotic content to be propagated on its devices in flagrant violation of China’s strict anti-pornography laws.

The Youth League jury, it seems, is still out—but not because it is torn between the iPad’s desirability and the evidence against Apple. Its members have become wary of such media campaigns sponsored by the government, recognizing their potential, or their intent, to divert public attention from more pressing domestic problems. If they approve their moral thrust, they also feel obliged to consider their message in full context, which includes the motives of their origination. After all, the league encourages it members to “seek the truth from all the facts.”

It is important to keep in mind that the Youth League, although overseen by the party, is a separate entity. The two are not necessarily one and the same. Not all Youth League members go on to join the party. In fact, more and more are becoming disillusioned with politics altogether, even though over a million still sign up each year. Many hope that membership will open up career prospects in the civil service. Others, however, simply wish to take part in charitable activities. Theirs is a benevolence born increasingly of personal beliefs that only happen to overlap with socialist ideology. In some cases these beliefs are informed by Confucian traditions, Buddhism or Christianity. The party acknowledges that the reasons for joining its “brother in revolution” are changing, but it maintains that this shift does not reflect a crisis of confidence in socialism. Instead, it says, it reflects its own evolving plurality and inclusiveness.

China’s Communist Youth League began life in Shanghai in 1920. It proclaimed itself as the Chinese Socialist Youth League at its inaugural national congress in Guangzhou in 1922, which was attended by Chen Duxiu, the first general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Chen, a school teacher who came to be regarded as China’s “Lenin” but was later expelled from the party, believed that young people could bring about intellectual, literary and cultural transformations that would reinvigorate the nation after decades of military defeats by various foreign colonial powers and the corruption of a new republican government. He felt that the Youth League should integrate with the party, but this would not happen until early in 1949 when the group was re-established as the New Democratic Youth League. The Youth League assumed its present name in 1957. Now boasting more than 80 million members between the ages of 14 and 24—roughly half enter before graduating from high school—it is intended to give young people in China the opportunity to express and develop their leadership potential. It does so by organizing youth-run activities that aim to build a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society. In some respects, one might say, it is similar to the Boy and Girl Scouts of America, except that its core values are grounded in Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong’s thought, and Deng Xiaoping’s economic policies. Joining involves a rigorous selection process. This is partly because the league is considered a training ground for future cadres. Its national leaders often rise to the top echelons of party power. Members are encouraged to study law and social sciences, as well as other disciplines suitable to working in the poorer rural areas left behind by urban-led economic growth.

Party elders were jolted last October when a 2-year-old girl in Guangdong province was struck down by a van, only to be left on the street beneath the indifferent gaze of at least 18 bystanders before being run over a second time. The saddening incident brought into the open a phenomenon that has been building in China for a decade in tandem with wealth disparities: a declining sense of public compassion and civic spiritedness. The girl’s death prompted the Central Committee to initiate a media campaign promoting societal responsibility. It seemed like just the sort of cause that the Youth League would champion with unbridled enthusiasm. Many league directors, however, soon became tepid on the idea, seeing it as an attempt to turn attention away from emerging corruption scandals involving senior party officials, most conspicuously certain “Princelings,” the sons and daughters of current and former high officials and heroes of the revolution who use their positions or pedigrees to enrich themselves while demanding selfless deeds of the common person.

When Hu Jintao gave the keynote speech at a rally in Beijing to mark the Youth League’s 90th anniversary in May, he called on the organization to rejuvenate itself at the grassroots. The Youth League is considered Hu’s power base. He was a member of its national secretariat in the early 1980s, as well as chairman of its sister organization, the All-China Youth Federation. In 1994 he became the Youth League’s general secretary. His ascent through its ranks honed his leadership abilities and established the support he would need to become general secretary of the party’s Central Committee in 2002 and the country’s president in 2003. The Youth League is also an umbilical cord nourishing a younger generation on a particular interpretation of what it means to follow “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The presence of former Youth League executives on the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s inner sanctum, has led to two so-called “Youth League factions.” The first was headed by Hu Yaobang, the party’s general secretary in 1981-87, and the second by Hu Jintao. The Youth League has produced some of Hu Jintao’s strongest allies, including Li Keqiang, who came up through its ranks under Hu Yaobang’s wing, then went on to become the youngest governor of Henan province and vice premier. Hu Jintao wanted to establish Li as his successor at the party’s 17th National Congress in 2007, but his nomination was blocked by an apparent alliance between the Princelings and the “Shanghai clique,” a group of Politburo officials raised up through the Shanghai municipal administration under the patronage of former president Jiang Zemin.

Xi Jinping, the son of a Long March hero purged from the party during the Cultural Revolution, is now expected to become president later this year, though many observers are left wondering what role he may have played in ousting a fellow Princeling, the disgraced mayor of Chongqing, Bo Xilai. The extent of Bo’s corruption came to light when his wife, Gu Kailai, allegedly murdered a British businessman after he threatened to reveal how she had concealed hundreds of millions of dollars offshore. Bo and his family were not simply corrupt, though. A Maoist hardliner, Bo evidently had ambitions to overtake Xi’s influence and become China’s next president himself. Xi assented to the decision to purge Bo, and Hu reciprocated by appointing in his place another affiliate of the Shanghai clique, Zhang Dejiang, as Chongqing’s top official. Both Hu and Xi seem to feel that China’s political stability depends on achieving a balance of power between the two competing factions.

Nevertheless, Hu’s Youth League faction is expected to dominate the next Politburo. In October, the party’s 18th National Congress will convene in Beijing to select members of the Politburo and its Standing Committee. Already, in July, the 31 provincial People’s Congresses elected their party secretaries, and seven of these have come up through the Youth League. Of the 402 newly elected Provincial Party Standing Committee members, 148 are former Youth Leaguers. Many are slated to receive key provincial appointments, while some will be groomed for ministerial and other senior roles in the party’s central apparatus.

Looking beyond the confusing web of political infighting and jockeying for position, there looms the shadow of a bigger problem. The rivalries between the populist Youth League and elitist coalitions, between reformers and neo-Maoists, between institutional interests and individual ambitions, belong to a deepening economic and social crisis. China’s reform and development model of the past thirty years may be nearing its natural limits. China’s growth has lifted hundreds of millions from poverty, but it has also given rise to new class divisions that threaten to further erode the legitimacy of the communist regime. The Princelings, aligned predominantly with China’s eastern cities and coastal areas—where urban privilege and prosperity go hand in hand with high finance, real estate speculation, and global trade that exploits low-paid migrant workers—have become heirs to a sense of entitlement. The Youth League considers this something akin to an undesirable aristocracy, in which rulers are sanctioned by birth and wealth, rather than a genuinely proletariat-led government. Many now ask if it is even possible to speak of “communism” or “socialism” when the offspring of those who promised to balance societal wealth are allowed to consolidate it to their own account.

As for the “bright Apple Inc.,” it may have taken sides in this drama already. People’s Daily also sniped at the iPad’s quality and cost. The devise purportedly does not hold up well in China’s harsh rural conditions and is priced for excessive profit. Apple reportedly called these criticisms irrelevant because it caters to affluent, urban middle-class consumers who need not fret about dust from the fields getting into their iPads. People’s Daily played up the glibness of this reply, no doubt aiming to rouse the Youth League’s ire. It is not clear that it succeeded, but it has at least distinguished Apple from Hewlett-Packard. In 2010 HP followed in Walt Disney’s footsteps by partnering with the Youth League to build brand recognition in China. It helped to expand IT connectivity into rural areas, a strategy it hopes will pay future dividends.

About
Paul Nash
:
Toronto-based Correspondent Paul Nash is a frequent China commentator and serves as a Senior Contributing Editor at Diplomatic Courier.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.