The Educated Elite and the Communist Party’s Future

“I have no faith in the Party,” Ms. Liu ((This name, and all the other names in this piece, have been changed. Although some of the people I spoke with were willing to speak on the record, I saw no reason to put their names on the internet for a piece that’s ultimately just anecdotal anyway.)) told me. “I don’t believe in anything in the history textbooks. It’s all lies.”

This would hardly be remarkable, except that Ms. Liu is herself a Party member, and has been for several years. She is, in point of fact, the Party’s future: young, extremely bright, well-educated (Ms. Liu attended one of China’s top three universities and is now pursuing graduate study there), and politically-inclined (she has studied international relations extensively). But while she had good things to say about Marx and Engels — “good ideas,” she put it — she expressed little love for the Party, at least as it currently exists. Nor does she have any nostalgia for the CCP’s past. When our discussion moved to history, the first thing she mentioned was that she was disgusted by how Mao and other CCP leaders had allowed themselves extra rations in Yan’an because they were leaders.

Why even bother joining the Party, then? “Most people [today] join the Party because it will give you an edge in your future career,” Liu told me. “Few” believe in the Party ideals; Liu said that among young people in elite circles, the few who spouted dogma were often mocked and ostracized. Liu herself was forced to join by her mother, who felt it would be good for her career. “My mother wrote the whole application for me,” she said.

When I spoke with other young Party members at top ten universities, I heard similar stories. Ms. Zhang ((again, not her real name)), also a graduate student at an elite Chinese university and a Party member for two years, was nonplussed when I asked her if she believed in the Party ideology. “Actually, I’ve never thought about that before,” she said.

Ms. Zhang has more faith in the Party than Ms. Liu, but perhaps only because she is more optimistic. She does have faith, she said, “because the Party will be full of younger members like us, well-educated and more open-minded…if they join the Party, I believe the Party will get better, and more democratic.”

Ms. Zhang said that her social circle was very similar to Ms. Liu’s. “Almost everyone in my classes [is a Party member],” she said, but “actually we don’t have any kind of special feeling towards the Party. We’re not like the old generation who had passion about it. For us, [joining the Party] is more like a tradition. It doesn’t really change who we are.”

Why are young people joining the Party? To build connections and help get jobs: everyone I spoke with agreed on this. “Or to flow with the tide,” Ms. Zhang added. What is the future of a political party whose members aren’t interested in its politics? What is the future of a country controlled by such a party?

Ms. Zhang, for one, was optimistic about the future. In forty years when her generation is controlling the Party, she said, “It will be much better. More democratic, for sure.” And while she doesn’t see national elections or anything that drastic happening too soon, she did tell me that “more and more people I know are joining other parties. [The people I know joining other parties are] around 30 to 40 years old […] I think this happens because [some] people are more concerned with their political rights,” she said, “or because their own choice matters a lot.”

Of course, if you want to work within the government in any real capacity, you still need to be a Party member. Liu and Zhang both expressed the hopes that their membership would help them find positions in government if they chose that route (neither has decided on a career as of yet).

“Why we joined the Party is not important,” Zhang told me. “What matters is what we do after this. And that “what” is not something we learned from the Party, it comes from the whole educational system and our social influences.”

Note: In addition to changing the names of the people I quoted, I have also in some instances altered their words slightly to correct for grammar mistakes (as parts of both interviews were conducted in English).

New on ChinaGeeks

  • ChinaGeeks Chinese has a new post called “中国性别选择流产是否该得到遏制?” which is a translation of some of the discussion that occurred here and on CHINAYOUREN about sex-selective abortions in China.
  • Our Twitter access seems to be fluctuating at the moment; as a result, we haven’t been able to announce all of our recent posts in a timely fashion. Apologies! We think we have auto-posting set up now, so going forward it shouldn’t be an issue (we hope!).
Advertisements

0 thoughts on “The Educated Elite and the Communist Party’s Future”

  1. The feelings of Liu, Zhang, and others about party ideology will not lead to open discourse so long as the Party remains intolerant of free expression. These individuals aren’t challenging the CCP; they’re agreeing to keep quiet in return for membership’s advantages – which rather has the opposite effect.

    Like

  2. @ stuart: Agreed, for now. But they’re not in a position to do any challenging at the moment anyway — the Party elders aren’t about to change any policy on anything because some smartass twentysomethings want them to. The question is, in thirty or forty years, when these people have already GOT what they wanted personally out of their Party connections and they’re in leadership positions in the public and private sectors…what will change then?

    Like

  3. I think it’d be interesting to hear about people who’ve joined some of the minor parties, or even just hear about their activities.

    Like

  4. Interesting post Custer, but were all your interviewees students at domestic universities? It’d be interesting to hear from politically-minded haigui (particularly the offspring of CCP big-hitters), aren’t they more likely to be the ones with real power in 30 to 40 years? Yes, they’re a relatively small group, but it’s not ridiculous to suggest that they could be fast-tracked into key party roles.

    Like

  5. @ Dave: Agreed!

    @ Alex: Yes, although some of them had been abroad and studied abroad at some point during their undergrad or postgrad years. I didn’t talk to anyone who did all 4 years (or more) outside of China, though; that would be interesting.

    Like

  6. I think there are many CCP members like them are idealists who are disillusioned of how the government work when most upper echelon of CCP are more like pragmatists. Then again, you can only look at the governments in other Asian countries like in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong and their Parliament sessions are more like a circus rather a bunch of people who are trying to get things done.

    Like

  7. @Dave
    Minor parties have very very little presence in universities, almost like zero. I am sure some of my peers even don’t know their existences. I am a party member myself and I attended one of the top 3 universities mentioned above, there was once a yearly congregation on a department level, all of party members (both students and faculty) were required to get there and flash our ID cards, then, I noticed that all my professors (except two) are party members, FYI, we have 51 in total. As for the two, one of them is a Cornell graduate and now is holding a position in Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference(CPPCC), a puppet organization snuggling up against CCP. The other is like, completely unattached. Look at this make-up, CCP totally rules. Let’s assume there is a curious, politically-minded student who aims to be a member of a minor party or anything like that, where is his access, who is there he should talk to? Talk to his mentor(fudaoyuan)? No way…….

    Like

  8. Similar thing were said ten years ago, and people reported similar sentiments during the 80’s, but this has not led to any great changes in CCP policies as of yet, in fact no real change since 1979-1992.

    Like

  9. putz_ster: “You can only look at the governments in other Asian countries like in South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and Hong Kong and their Parliament sessions are more like a circus rather a bunch of people who are trying to get things done.”

    The only difference between China and the nations (yes, I’m including Taiwan) putz_ster lists here is that, in the P.R.C., the “circus” takes place behind closed doors. Anyone who believes that “consensus building” in China is not the most brutal of contact sports has his head firmly lodged well up his own ass. Such comments (though par for the course where putz_ster is concerned) remind me of the saying, “Autocracies are best at hiding their problems; democracies are best at revealing them.”

    Like

  10. Looks like moronus maximus Gan Lu couldn’t make an argument and decides to talk about me instead. What an idiot. I think you got saying backwards, “Democracies are best at complaining about their problems, while Authcracies are best at fixing their problems.

    Like

  11. “Similar thing were said ten years ago, and people reported similar sentiments during the 80′s, but this has not led to any great changes in CCP policies as of yet, in fact no real change since 1979-1992.”

    That’s for two reasons:

    1.) because the “70’s” generation you’re referring to still is not in any of the top positions, that wont happen until 2020 something.

    2.) chinese culture itself is high oppressive, but what we are seeing now in the developed urban cities is a major cultural shift away from this “old” way of thinking, of which many CCP policies and attitudes are fundementally derived from, and that is something that didn’t happen 10+ years ago.

    So it will still be a couple decades.

    Like

  12. As usual, it´s difficult to know how many people think this way and how many have different ideas.

    I have talked with many universities students that are members of the Party and they somehow believe in it. They basically say: “the Party has made China developed, now the country is much wealthier because of them and we are among the most powerful countries in the world. Have you seen the Olympics?”.

    They don´t believe in Communism or Marxism, but many of them still think supporting the Party is the best way to develop the country. They are happy with the direction the country is going, so they are happy with the Party.

    Like

  13. The July 12 issue of China Newsweek contains a fairly lengthy article discussing the issue. Predictably, the party leaders interviewed claim that only a small minority of party members lack faith, but what’s interesting is how that lack of faith is framed. There are those members in the majority who believe in the party and what it stands for (whether historically and in the abstract, or as it is today), and then there are those who join up under false pretenses — they are angling for official positions or want to take advantage of public funds for their own use (and this is paired with outright corruption in two quotations). Apart from the initial CNN question quoted at the beginning of the article (which refers to furthering a career), the article doesn’t really bring up the issue of the status of party members in society, and how party membership itself may bring benefits both tangible and intangible that have nothing to do with conviction.

    Like

  14. Similar thing were said ten years ago, and people reported similar sentiments during the 80′s, but this has not led to any great changes in CCP policies as of yet, in fact no real change since 1979-1992.

    ——————————
    Do a little math. It’s the same groups of people ruling the country since 1992.

    It will be another 20 years before even the post-80s move into critical positions. It’s their parents who’re in charge now. Or maybe not, China is usually ruled by people in their 60s and 70s. Their grandparents perhaps.

    So yeah. Wait another 30 years – that is, unless Israel and/or America attacks Iran/Yemen/Pakistan/Syria/Jordan/Saudi Arabia/Turkey/Oman/Bahrain, in which case we’re all gonna die).

    Like

  15. It amazes me to watch people comment as though change is initiated by those who wield power. Their primary concern is with maintaining power for themselves and their kind. Change shall come from below as soon as the authoritarian economic model hits hurdles due to flaws within any single party rule. The CCP changes people more than a few people can change it.

    Like

  16. “democracies are best at revealing them.”

    Mainly through their incredible incompetence, yes. But in America these problems are called “classified information”.

    Like

  17. pug_ster: The parliamentary sessions of the nations you mentioned are but a phase which each and every parliament must go through and will grow out of. But circus or non-circus is better than no circus after all.

    Like

  18. Quote-
    They don´t believe in Communism or Marxism, but many of them still think supporting the Party is the best way to develop the country. They are happy with the direction the country is going, so they are happy with the Party.

    Agreed. Communism is something that we, common citizens, and even communists themselves don’t believe in nowadays. It’s just a good will which we have realised can’t come true. So actually, communists are just a bunch of people who, in the name of communism, lead this country in a capitalistic way, economically speaking, and rule this country in a dictatorial way, politically speaking. That’s an unbelievably evil combination. But to be honest, we haven’t found anyone or any group of people who could provide us with absolute freedom and democracy, while keeping up the economic growth at the same time. And therefore, we are a lot more tolerant towards CCP than others might think.

    Like

  19. And if you insist on trying to find somebody else (or any group)who can provide absolute [sic} freedom and democracy, you shall certainly never get them. I hope, Phoebe, you reread what you wrote and begin to recognize the nature of your dilemma.

    Like

  20. to Potomacker:

    And what might that be? Either we shouldn’t depend on others to solve our problems, or there is no such thing as absolute freedom and democracy?

    Like

  21. Phoebe, I want to make this as plain and simple as I can. Nobody and no group is ever going to come along and give common citizens a participatory democracy. It has never happened that way and it never will. The citizens of a nation get democracy as soon as they want it strongly enough.
    Do you even understand what democracy means? That, I hope, answered the first half of your query. As to the second, no, absolute freedom seems to be a concept that is an abstraction and I cannot respond to unless you explain what it means for you.

    Like

  22. “But to be honest, we haven’t found anyone or any group of people who could provide us with absolute freedom and democracy, while keeping up the economic growth at the same time. And therefore, we are a lot more tolerant towards CCP than others might think.”

    And yet western countries were able to do it very successfully. While China was wallowing in its Cultural Revolution the US was sending people to the moon. If anything the party actually delayed economic development with absurd economic policies.

    Like

  23. outcast, your out of context. the US can send man to the moon, cuz was developed industralised already . the correct comparison are other developing c0untries that have dictatorships .

    ‘gan lu’ , the R O C is a nation , all right . But your agenda is towards a separation or seccession .

    Like

  24. Quote-
    And yet western countries were able to do it very successfully. While China was wallowing in its Cultural Revolution the US was sending people to the moon. If anything the party actually delayed economic development with absurd economic policies.

    The US? Yeah, the first important thing to learn from the US is to pretend we have two parties, just like they do, and then borrow money from other countries when economic crisis approaches.

    Like

  25. to Potomacker:

    So you are in favor of anarchy?

    ps: I don’t think any country in the world right now can be regarded as a democratic country, even the self-bragging US, who seems to have fair elections, and blah blah blah. As long as there is a government, politics serves for a selective few. It does so in China, it does so in the US, and it does so in any corner of the world. Just my humble opinion.

    Like

  26. @PhoebeFromChina

    honestly tho, is it such a big difference to have one party like in China or two as in the US. What about parliamentary goverments, like in Europe, in which you have dozens of parties competing to form part of a multi-party coalition. Surely they must be more democratic.

    But in the final analysis, does it really matter under which reign you are disciplined. Feudalism, Capitalism, Monarchy, Rationality (!)… Only those in power care for morality and ethics.

    Like

  27. @Potomacker
    the moment when people are willing to live democratically (utopian as it is), the nation state as we know it will stop to exist

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s