When China’s Communist Youth League celebrated its 90th birthday, it employed a tactic unavailable to President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) when he used the organization to propel his career: a microblog promotion.
Kids were urged to post “micro-stories” online in May, sharing cherished moments in the Communist Youth League, with the best submissions to be compiled in a book. “The little badge I got still looks so shiny to me now,” one entry read.
The promotion was part of an outreach to the country’s 538 million Internet users that’s seen the youth wing take stakes in online gaming companies. Underlying the campaign: angst in China’s Communist Party months before a once-in-a-decade leadership handover that it’s increasingly out of step with the nation’s status as the world’s No. 2 economy.
“One of the critical weaknesses of the party is that today it attracts people who are unlikely to make the party stronger as a political organization,” said Pei Minxin, a government professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. “They want to take advantage of the party without actually contributing to the party’s well-being.”
The youth wing decades ago fueled the careers of Hu, 69, who is forecast to start handing over his titles to Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平), 59, later this year, and of Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), who turns 57 this month and is targeted as the next premier.
Now, the Communist Youth League is an investor in online entertainment. It partnered with Chinese gaming firm PowerNet Technology in 2005 to develop a game in which players repel Japanese invaders during World War II, harking back to one of the most celebrated chapters in party history.
The Youth League’s investment arm owns a stake in PowerNet subsidiary Shenzhen Zhongqingbaowang Network Technology Co., known as Shenzhen ZQ, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Rather than as a source of ideological inspiration, China’s young have flocked to the party as a networking tool and resume builder in an economy dominated by state-owned enterprises.
“The reality here is we have to focus on our own career path,” said Brook, a 23-year-old party member who refused to give her Chinese name for fear of punishment from the government. “Ten to 20 years ago people really wanted to join. Now it’s not ‘We want to,’ but ‘We have to.’”
Membership numbers bear out Brook’s impression: in 2011, the party expanded 2.9 percent to 82.6 million people. One in four were under the age of 35, up 0.7 percentage points from 2011, according to data released on state-run Xinhua News Agency June 30. Demand to get in was high, with an 85 percent rejection rate, according to the figures.
Numbers aside, the leadership has signaled concern that ideological commitment among the younger generations is lagging behind, endangering the long-term prospects of Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) party.
Looking to blunt western influences, the party outlawed shows such as the American Idol-inspired singing competition Super Girls and banned western programs from appearing between 7pm and 10pm in February. At the same time, it’s produced its own entertainment appealing to kids.
Shenzhen ZQ made Defend the Diaoyu Islands, in which players must defend against invading armies of sumo wrestlers, ninjas and rifle-toting soldiers. China and Japan dispute sovereignty of the islands, which are known as the Senkaku in Japanese. Apple Inc’s App Store, which bans racist games, has pulled the item.