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90-year-old China Communist Youth League races to modernize

05-04-2012 17:19 BJT

SHANGHAI, May 3 (Xinhua) -- Ten months after the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China (CPC), its reserve force, the China Communist Youth League (CCYL), is also marking nine decades since its creation in May.

The celebration comes as the feeder group races to modernize to match the pace of change in Chinese society and to continue attracting members. Youngsters now face multiple competing choices for their beliefs in a modern nation under communist rule that welcomes them to adhere to diverse religions, Confucius and other more contemporary pop-culture idols.

COMPETING BELIEFS

Official statistics show the CPC had more than 80 million members as of the end of 2010, 24.3 percent of them below the age of 35. That year, more than 2.5 million people under the age of 35 joined the Party, most of them from the youth league, which had about 78 million members.

"I joined the youth league aged 12, and applied for the Party aged 19 with no hesitation," says 28-year-old Zhu Lili, a party secretary of a private accounting firm in Shanghai, the country's economic hub and the birthplace of both the CPC and CCYL.

Born into rural poverty, Zhu appreciated Party policies that benefited her family, and was thus motivated to turn to communism herself. She has worked hard to develop the firm's party branch, seeing it expand from 10 members to over 30 in three years.

More than 90 percent of the CCYL Shanghai committee's members have been introduced to the Party, supplying a great deal of fresh blood for the CPC.

But youth league members do not necessarily need to join the Party -- as Yu Xiyi, a 20-year-old youth league member and a junior student in a Shanghai-based college, recognizes.

"I don't want to determine my belief too perfunctorily," explains Yu.

Yu's grandfather joined the Party in the 1930s and rests forever in a cemetery for revolutionary elites. He was a faithful communist, but felt regretful in his later years as neither his youngest son nor Yu had shown such dedication to his politics.

After over three decades of opening up and reform, various thought systems, ideologies and religions -- both traditional Chinese and from Western culture -- are thriving. Yu's world is facing pluralization.

Some of the Shanghai student's friends are Christians and their whole families go to church every Sunday. Some of them even have no interest in politics or religions, and instead worship pop stars.

"I respect my grandfather's belief, and also that of my friends. But I'm still seeking enough reasons to join the Party," Yu says.

AN EVER-EVOLVING ORGANIZATION

Society is changing, and so is the image of the youth league. At the historical site of the CCYL's central committee, exhibits introduce popular youth models. There are a few surprises. The famous figures profiled include 1960s altruism icon Lei Feng, but also Yao Ming, the world-famous basketball star, for example.

"I could never have imagined that," says 26-year-old software engineer Ge Chao of the mix while visiting the site with his father. Lei and Yao are the father's and son's idols, respectively.

Ge Chao, a member of the Party for more than eight years, believes Yao has many virtues that make him worthy of being placed on a pedestal, though he is not a Party member.

The basketballer has donated to benevolent causes, and has established a charity foundation with his name. He has recently vowed to protect bears from the controversial practice of extracting their bile for medical use. His deeds have encouraged many youths to take part in social work.

According to a survey conducted by the CCYL Shanghai committee, there are more than 200,000 such active youths in over 50,000 organizations in the city. Half of them are non-profit organizations, including an art interest group promoting Lei Feng through original rap music.

However, only about 500 organizations have regular, close contact with the youth league, and most have been established by young people with similar interests and have little to do with beliefs or ideologies.

"I like taking part in many activities regardless of whether they are organized by the youth league or other non-governmental organizations," said Yu, the college student, "but it depends on my interests and whether I can do it with my friends."

Huo Jintie, an official from the CCYL Shanghai committee, explains they have been making studies for eight years on strengthening ties with these groups outside the official system, saying we cannot simply differentiate them from the youth league.

"Ten years ago, many thought these social groups were contradictory to the youth league. But now these stereotypical ideas have weakened," notes Dr. Zheng Changzhong from the center for youth groups and civil society studies in Shanghai's Fudan University.

INTEGRATING DIFFERENT VALUES

Zheng says, as it is affiliated to the CPC, the CCYL's fundamental difference to other youth-focused organizations is that it pursues sustainable leadership and development of the political party. Integrating multiple values is the major difficulty the youth league now faces.

The challenge is caused by the great vicissitude of China's social structure in recent years, Zheng observes, in that the official system no longer has full unifying control over all aspects of society in the way it did before the 1980s.

"The Party and the youth league meant not only ideology, but also interests," Zheng adds.

But now, after three decades of opening up and economic development, more and more youths work outside the traditional socialist system -- the Party and government system and other state-sponsored institutions -- and in private or foreign companies. Ideology, where it still exists at all, has fewer ties with economic interests.

"Today's young adults only have work contracts as links with society, so the youth leagues should consider how to establish close contacts with them," proposes Zheng.

Zheng says the youth league should acknowledge the existence of plural values and various youth groups outside the official system, and build relations with them so as to enhance its discourse power among its target audience.

"We need to serve them rather than administer them. People inside and outside the traditional system can mix with hobbies and charity work," says CCYL official Huo.

"But in terms of ideological and cultural integration, we need further study," Huo adds.

Editor:Wang Lingfei |Source: Xinhua

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