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China Is Turning Its Once Powerful Communist Youth League Into an Online Campaign Machine

Image from independent online news outlet iYouPort.

Image from independent online news outlet iYouPort. Non-commercial use.

The ruling Communist Party of China is set to massively divest and reform its once powerful Communist Youth League. The youth organization's annual budget is being cut by 50%, from RMB 624 million yuan (94 million US dollars) to RMB 306 million yuan (46 million US dollars).

The reform plan, outlined by the Communist Party of China (CPC) on August 2, is based on an internet-focused strategy to turn the bureaucratic organization into an online campaign movement that “reinforces youth belief in the CPC and pumps vigor into the cause of national rejuvenation.”

Since the 1980s, the Communist Youth League served as a launching pad for China’s political elite. Key government positions at the central and provincial levels are often filled by the league's members and alumni, known as tuanpai or the “league faction”.

Under President Xi Jinping the tuanpai have increasingly been marginalized. President Xi's predecessor Hu Jintao and his former chief of staff Ling Jihua were top tuanpai. Jihua was caught in a corruption scandal, and, recently, jailed for life. Ling Jihua's downfall raised scrutiny over the tuanpai and the Communist Youth League.

The reform comes after the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection launched a damning corruption investigation into the league and published a statement earlier this year. It criticized the league for its undesirable work methods, including “formalism, unnecessary bureaucracy, aristocracy [or nepotism] and a focus on entertainment”.

The League has approximately 89 million members between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight. Half of its members are students. Members of the CPC often start building their career in high school as officers of the Communist Youth League. Students with family members in the party or the government are more likely to be recruited as committee members or in the league's important positions at an early age. These positions make them more likely to receive scholarship opportunities and professional recommendations from the League.

The transformation of the League from a brick and mortar bureaucracy into an online campaigning organization did not happen overnight. In 2015, leaked emails revealed that the League was trying to recruit 20% of its members into online ‘youth civilization volunteers‘ to spread positive energy and “purify” the internet. Under the reform plan, the League will continue to strengthen its “internet engineering” and turn the organization into “internet plus Communist Youth League”. The term “internet plus” is a policy buzzword in China these days.

Reactions to the reform has been quite varied. Some see the reform as an attempt to marginalize the League, but others see it as an opportunity for the league to extend its influence. China Digital Times published some comments from China's Twitter-like platform Weibo. This commenters believe it was about time that the “tiny pink”, a term that refers to members or supporters of the league, were reined in:

原来是要增加临时工减少正式工,有些人的饭碗保不住了,怪不得最近上串下跳闹得不亦乐乎

给大家画个重点:人事缩编、体系内直升通道取消、不再是后备干部团体、沦为群众组织(小粉红明白了吗)

先是中央巡视组批评团中央贵族化娱乐化,然后是削减经费,现在又要求精简机构,但居然还有人抓住一个“网”字,就觉得中央在力挺团中央……

解散最好!共青团和他粉丝小粉红现在越来越像邪教、邪教徒,每天喊打喊杀,到处扣帽子写大字报,太可怕了,还好生活中身边没这种恶心人,有多远躲多远!

现在小粉红知道为啥前段时间没有媒体挺团,还扯啥资本控制媒体,其实是你爹不要你了。

The whole point is to reduce permanent manpower and increase temporary workforces. Some people will lose their rice bowls. That's why some people are jumping up and down these days.

The key is downsizing the personnel structure, the direct promotion channel has been cancelled and members of the league is no longer a reserved cadre club. It has been downgraded to “mass organization”. (Do you understand, tiny pink?)

First, the Central Committee inspection team criticized the League's central committee for being aristocratic and catering to entertainment. Followed by budget cut and now downsizing the organization. Yet some see the word “Internet plus” as a supportive gesture…

The best reform is to abolish the organization! The Communist Youth League and its tiny pinks are like a religious cult. It keeps bullying around and gives out labels. They are so terrible and I am glad that I haven't been surrounded by these kind of folks. Everyone should keep away from them.

Finally the tiny pinks know why the media outlets are not siding with them. They believe the media outlets are controlled by the capitalists, the reality is that they have been abandoned by their father [the party].

But fans of League insist the party's Central Committee is still supportive:

大力发展网上共青团,吸纳更多的有志青年加入共青团。这不是中央在压共青团,这是在抬啊

改革方案中提,及的“大力实施‘网上共青团’工程”,是中央将加大支持共青团、对其委以重任的信号。

To strengthen the development of Communist Youth League in the virtual space and recruit more youth into the League, this is a supportive gesture, not repressive.

The reform proposal mentions a full implementation of internet plus Communist Youth League. It is a signal showing that the Central Committee has assigned an important role to the League and supportive of their work.

What exactly is “internet plus Communist Youth League”? Bai Xin wrote a commentary on iYouPort, an independent online news outlet, on the digital strategy in the future organization of the league's civilization volunteers:

2016年7月13日团中央联合发改委和央行发布的《青年信用体系建设规划(2016-2020)》,算是《方案》的先期文件,要求将两千万青年纳入志愿者体系,并且纳入信用体系,根据志愿工作(如参加小粉红的网络攻击或线下集合)评定、增减青年的信用积分,并与创业优惠、乃至机票优惠等奖惩挂钩。

The document, entitled “The Construction of Youth Credit System 2016-2020″ and published jointly by the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League, the National Development and Reform Committee and the Central Bank, has laid out the initial framework for the current reform plan. It plans to recruit 20 million youth into a volunteer system which is integrated into a credit system — the credit will be evaluated according to their voluntary work (such as their participation in online attacks or off-line assemblies). The credit will be awarded with a bonus, such as access to start-up funding, airfare discount.

The writer further predicted that the transformation of the League from a bureaucratic organization into an online campaign organization mediated through the credit system will eventual give rise to a form of authoritarian populism centering around party leader Xi Jinping:

在未来的中国政治舞台上,一个更效忠习个人、更活跃、也更具政治进攻性的青年运动组织俨然形成,也就是一个建制化的“小粉红”军团。

In China's future political stage, a more aggressive youth movement organization will enter the scene, it is an institutionalized army of tiny pinks who plead loyalty only to Xi.

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