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China's Communists in party mood for 90th birthday
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) June 29, 2011

Connections grease entry to China's elite party
Beijing (AFP) June 29, 2011 - Membership in China's ruling Communist Party, which celebrates its 90th anniversary on Friday, is theoretically open to all -- but having the right connections or background is key to gaining the card.

Last year, more than 21 million people applied to join the world's biggest political party, but just over three million were accepted, senior CCP official Wang Qinfeng told journalists at a briefing last week.

"Party members are the vanguard soldiers of communist consciousness ... they diligently serve and work hard in a selfless way. They are the role models in every undertaking," Wang said.

More than half of the party's 80.27 million members as of end-2010 were 46 years or older and more than a quarter were over the age of 60, he said.

But the party has pushed to expand its membership beyond the traditional make-up of government functionaries, retirees, blue-collar workers and farmers.

In particular, talented youths have been targeted, many of whom view membership as a prerequisite for coveted civil service jobs.

Those under the age of 30 are almost always recruited by the China Youth League, a party-run organisation which has links to the nation's schools and youth-oriented groups.

Those who are not specifically recruited can apply for membership but need to be sponsored by a party member, so the success of the application depends on the quality of the sponsor's connections, one middle-aged member told AFP.

Applicants go through a strict and secretive vetting process by local party committees and must also undergo a trial period after being admitted, he said.

"A lot of youths want to join the party because it is a well-known fact that party membership is the way to advance your career," the party member said on condition of anonymity.

"But if you are overtly ambitious, the party will not want you, so most applicants carefully follow party principles and learn to spout the party line and ideals."

The party also actively recruits older professionals who have become prominent in their particular areas of expertise, including entrepreneurs, managers at state-owned firms, scientists, doctors and academics, he said.

Another way to get in is via family connections.

"The sons and daughters of top party leaders are almost always party members," the CCP member said.

"Once they get to the top, they can do whatever they want... it is easy to get their children into the party."

Founded by a few intellectuals 90 years ago, China's Communist Party now presides over the world's second-largest economy -- but this feat has come at a price that threatens its survival, analysts say.

The country is marking the CCP's 90th anniversary on Friday with a propaganda blitz that includes a star-studded patriotic film and huge media coverage, but experts warn the future is clouded for the one-party regime.

"Because it's not being managed in a democratic way, growth has carried a heavy price with environmental degradation, lack of healthcare and so forth," said James Seymour, adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

"Inherent weaknesses in the system mean that the party's not going to be there for centuries. Judging by the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party) and the Soviet Communist experience, they've got about another 10 years."

The CCP was created in July 1921 by a dozen intellectuals in Shanghai. It seized power in China in 1949 after defeating the Nationalists in a bloody civil war.

Mao Zedong, the first Communist leader of China, subsequently unleashed nearly 30 years of chaos on the country through policies that led to political purges, famine and social upheavals in which millions died.

When Deng Xiaoping took over after Mao's death in 1976, he launched a period of reforms and opening-up that saw the country's economy grow at a dizzying speed, lifting millions out of poverty.

But the party's small group of elite leaders continues to exercise an iron grip on the country's political system, controls the media, manages the world's largest military and decides how to keep the economy churning along.

Analysts say the lack of social and political changes to keep step with the economic reforms has sparked a litany of problems such as government abuses, illegal land seizures, a growing rich-poor divide and choking pollution.

Corruption within the party ranks is also a huge issue, and President Hu Jintao himself has acknowledged it presents a major threat to the CCP's legitimacy.

"Many people have a good opinion of top leaders, but they don't trust local governments and officials," Hu Xingdou, a professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology, told AFP.

"Local corruption has triggered fierce conflicts between officials and people, and ties between cadres and ordinary people are tense."

Chinese authorities are not letting these issues cloud anniversary celebrations -- newspapers are full of glowing editorials about the CCP, patriotic shows are given huge coverage and upbeat slogans dot city billboards.

One opinion piece in the official People's Daily said Tuesday the "vanguard" nature of the party had enabled it to "lead the people to launch revolution, construction and reform and write brilliant historical chapters".

An epic film that recounts the Communist Party's origins and features many of China's biggest stars -- "Beginning of the Great Revival" -- is expected to smash box-office records.

Authorities have told broadcasters to avoid airing dramas about crime, romance or espionage over the next three months and instead focus on patriotic programmes, according to state media.

This policy has been in place for months in the southwestern metropolis of Chongqing, where Communist Party chief Bo Xilai is evoking Mao by urging residents to sing "red songs" and sending cadres to work in the countryside.

Last week, a senior official told reporters that party membership had topped 80 million as of the end of 2010, with more than three million accepted last year.

But while some people have shown enthusiasm for the celebrations, others angrily report that they are being forced into activities against their will.

"I am not a party member and should have nothing to do with the 90th anniversary, but I have to practise singing after work," one Internet user said on China's Twitter-like service Sina Weibo.

Beijing Institute of Technology's Hu said that from a political standpoint, the Communist Party had not changed much over the years, adding a planned leadership change beginning in 2012 was likely to bring more of the same.

"It will just be a continuation of the policies of the previous generation of leaders. There may be a small adjustment, but no big turning point," Hu said.

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Key facts about China's Communist Party
Beijing (AFP) June 29, 2011 - The Communist Party of China (CCP) will celebrate its 90th anniversary on Friday. The following are key facts about the CCP:


More than 80 million members, making it the largest political party in the world. Growing numbers of youths and private entrepreneurs have joined the party in recent years.


Formally established in 1921 in Shanghai by delegates to the 1st Party Congress, which included a 27-year-old Mao Zedong.


China is ruled as a one-party state, with the CCP's leadership enshrined in the Chinese constitution.


President Hu Jintao, since 2002. His second term will end in 2012, at which point he is expected to step aside for a new generation of leaders.


The CCP has veered far from its roots in the Leninist concept of a vanguard party spearheading a proletarian revolution. Today it effectively promotes an ideology of capitalist development -- while retaining a closed political structure in which the party remains all-powerful.


1921: CCP formally established, setting out a Leninist vision of an elite party standing at the vanguard of a proletarian revolution based on China's vast masses.

1934-35: Party relocates revolutionary base from southeastern to northern China to escape Nationalist encirclement in a gruelling trek -- the "Long March" -- that sees Mao emerge as undisputed leader.

1949: CCP triumphantly takes power in Beijing after defeating Nationalists in a bloody civil war.

1966-76: Mao launches "Cultural Revolution" in bid to return party to its roots and reinforce his flagging power. China is plunged into chaos.

1978: After Mao's death in 1976, Deng Xiaoping begins party's shift away from Marxist economic ideology and towards acceptance of "market forces". China's economy begins its spectacular rise.

1989: Deng's reforms embolden students to demonstrate for democracy at Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Communist leaders call in the army to violently suppress the demonstrations on June 3-4.

2001: Party chairman Jiang Zemin promotes the recruitment of China's new business class into the party in a further move away from the CCP's roots.

2002: Hu replaces Jiang as party chief.

2009: China marks 60 years since the CCP took power.

2010: Vice President Xi Jinping is named vice-chairman of the influential Central Military Commission, which is widely seen as a step towards succeeding Hu.

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