China

China's 85 Million-Strong Communist Party Wants to Slim Down


High school students dressed in uniforms carry red flags onto a bus after they performed a ceremonial post guarding of Young Pioneers, a youth group under Chinese Communist Party, around the Monument to People's Heroes on Tiananmen Square on May 29

Photograph by Alexander F. Yuan/AP Photo

High school students dressed in uniforms carry red flags onto a bus after they performed a ceremonial post guarding of Young Pioneers, a youth group under Chinese Communist Party, around the Monument to People's Heroes on Tiananmen Square on May 29

Amid a sweeping crackdown on official corruption, Beijing has announced it’s time to start emphasizing quality over quantity in the Chinese Communist Party, the world’s largest political organization.

No more signing up recruits willy-nilly is the new message: Local governments need to be “prudent” and act in a “balanced” manner when seeking to enlist party members, announced the Party Central Committee’s Organization Department on Wednesday.

The announcement followed the release of updated enrollment rules a day earlier—the previous regulations had been largely unchanged for 24 years. “Many new circumstances and new problems have emerged in the enlistment of new members, rendering the old version no longer suitable,” reported the official Xinhua News Agency on June 11. (Basic requirements include being at least 18 years of age, abiding by the Party Constitution, and carrying out party decisions, as well as paying membership dues.)

Since the party’s founding in 1921 with only some 50 members, the CPC has bulked up big time, growing by 2.5 million in 2012 to reach a total membership of more than 85 million as of the end of that year. That makes it the largest political party in the world (The oldest political party is usually said to be the U.S. Democratic Party, founded in the 1790s.)

With the party’s commanding position running China’s government and economy, young people have long seen membership as a ticket to success, whether in finding a job or getting promoted. (China has eight other officially approved parties, including the China Revolutionary Committee of the Kuomintang, Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party, and the Jiusan Society, but they attract far fewer to join.)

In recent years, the Communist Party has also become an avenue to wealth, with official graft soaring. More than 180,000 party officials were punished for corruption and abuse of power last year, according to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the party’s watchdog. “Some Party organs are not strict with enlisting members and the quality of members who are recruited needs improvement,” said a statement released after the meeting.

Public anger has been growing with officials who “commit serious discipline violations,” the party’s euphemism for corrupt behavior among its ranks. And rampant graft among cadres is now seen as one of the largest sources of instability in China.

“Preventing the Party from being corrupted in its long-term rule of the country is a major political mission. And we must do it right,” said top leader Xi Jinping in January, speaking before the party’s watchdog. “The anticorruption situation remains grim and complicated, the unhealthy influence of the corruption problem is malignant and needs to be solved quickly,” he warned.

Dexter_roberts
Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief. Follow him on Twitter @dtiffroberts.

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