What’s the Life of a Chinese Communist Party Member Like?

The life of a Chinese Communist Party member falls somewhere between having an all-consuming hobby to a full-on career. In 2015 Chinese Communist Party membership rose by 965,000 to 88.7 million. But how did those 965,000 people become members?

Criteria and intent: The applicant must be a Chinese national 18+ years of age. He must also be willing to implement the Communist Party’s decisions and pay membership fees on time. Members pay dues proportional to their after tax wages. Members making less than 3,000 yuan per month pay 0.5 percent of their income, those earning over 10,000 yuan pay 2 percent.

Application letter: An application must be filed to the applicant’s closest party committee or branch, with a letter explaining:

  • why he is applying for membership,
  • why he believes in the Communist Party, and
  • areas in which he feels he falls short of membership requirements.

Tests: Applicants then attend party courses where they learn about the Party’s constitution and must pass written tests on it.

Screening: Once they pass the test they submit more materials to the Party branch office, including personal information about themselves and their parents, past employment and parents’ political affiliations. If everything looks OK they’ll get probationary Party membership depending on

  • passing the screening,
  • being recommended by two party members, and
  • an interview meeting with the party branch officials and staff.

Probation: Probation lasts a minimum of a year, at the end of which the party branch  admits them, extends the probation or terminates their membership.

Admission: New members take an oath in front of the Party flag before officially joining the Party. The central committee and provincial party committees can also admit new members directly “under special circumstances”. The most notable of such “special circumstances” was the party membership of Rong Yiren, China’s vice-president from 1993 to 1998. It was revealed only after his death in 2005 that Rong, a renowned entrepreneur who was often referred to as a non-Party-member, was in fact a member. Deng Xiaoping apparently told Rong that concealing his membership was for the interest of the party and the country.

Before we get to the benefits of a Communist Party member’s life and find out what’s the Life of a Chinese Communist Party Member Like? Let’s first look at the application process.

What Happens Next: As you can tell by the academic requirements and the 12-month ordeal, CCP membership is reserved for China’s intellectual elite. It’s from that elite – its 87 million smartest people – that China’s leaders are selected.

To have a reasonable chance of joining you should graduate in the top 5% of your university class and, since only 20% of Chinese youth (whose average IQ is five points higher than ours to begin with) are admitted, you’ll need an IQ of around 125 to get an invitation. You’ll also need character references from two referees who will remain responsible to the Party for your good behavior as long as they live. How many non-relatives do you have who will go on the hook for you…for life?

Once you graduate you’ll be expected to ‘give back’: to spend rainy Sundays surveying people in your neighborhood about the new subway or air quality, and performing low level chores to demonstrate your sincerity. You’ll be asked to disclose – under oath – your finances and update your disclosure every 12 months. You’ll always be subject to much stricter supervision and held to much higher moral standards than your neighbors, too. (If you want to know what it’s like, read this).

If you’re lucky (or dishonest) you’ll derive financial and career benefits from your membership though, being smart, you could have done just as well without joining. Otherwise, the only benefit you’ll receive is…membership in the Communist Party of China. But before you dismiss that, consider that your Party membership makes you much more eligible as a marriage partner, more respected by envious friends, and your opinions muchmore influential because your opinion will be solicited before any legislation is enacted. You’ll be riding the coattails of a much-admired, hugely successful Party, and regarded by all who know you as one of the authors of their  prosperity. Not a bad benefits package when you think about it.

Of course, you could get a PhD and your boss could offer you a career acceleration – but there’s one little catch: you’ll start by spending five years in a poor village…in the Gobi Desert. That’s what happened to this man and here’s his story, from Sixth Tone:

The Gobi Diaries 1:                                                                                 Why the Communist Party Sent Me to the Desert

Heng Xiao

Hong Xiao, CCP cadre Heng Xiao is the pen name of a junior researcher in a Chinese state-funded institute. He was sent to a rural town in China as part of a one-year work placement program.

My adventure began with a phone call late one summer night. It was my boss, the deputy director of the state-funded institute of international studies. He had some unexpected news. The personnel department of our academy had selected me as a candidate for its Grassroots Service Program (GSP) in one of China’s most underdeveloped provinces, located some 1,500 miles from where I was living in Beijing. Before hanging up, he gravely informed me that all of my peers had refused to join the program — leaving me with little choice but to accept the offer.

What followed was an incredibly difficult decision for me. As a sophomore researcher, I had spent the past year doing staff work instead of academic research, and I feared I might have fallen behind my colleagues. After consulting my wife, we agreed that the call from my boss was to inform me of my participation in the program, not to ask my opinion on the matter. I reluctantly called back and accepted his offer. In hindsight, most of us — the 17 researchers who accepted GSP posts — wished we had never received that call.

The GSP also has a Chinese name: guazhiGuazhi literally means “to hang your position,” in the way one hangs a coat, and it is a common phrase among China’s state-sponsored entities, including research institutes like the one I was part of. It involves temporarily moving to a new position for at least a year, while your old job is guaranteed upon your return. At the time it was common practice for young China Communist Party (CCP) members to take on this responsibility at some point. This temporary job sometimes has no relation at all to the cadre’s previous field of work. For example, it would not be unusual for a researcher on U.S. foreign policy to be asked to manage rural development in the Gobi Desert.

The guazhi program is based on the traditional Chinese belief that different experiences lead to true knowledge and make a man competent. In its most radical form during the Cultural Revolution, this traditional belief was manifested as the “Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside” movement. During the Cultural Revolution, universities and colleges in China were closed, and urban youth were sent to poor, remote rural areas to, in the words of Mao Zedong, “learn from ordinary people.” Although this is far removed from the modern-day GSP, the intention behind the two is similar: namely, a notion that the most thorough education comes from diversified experiences.

Never try to be a specialist. If you become an expert on any subject, you can never be a leader. Leaders know nothing deeply. Instead, it suits them to know a little about everything.

– Heng Xiao, CCP cadre

This is a belief that is still widely upheld in modern-day China. My roommate in university once told me: “Never try to be a specialist. If you become an expert on any subject, you can never be a leader. Leaders know nothing deeply. Instead, it suits them to know a little about everything.” The government prefers officials who have had experiences in different fields of work, believing them to be more competent and reliable. Thus, there are two main purposes for guazhi: to provide fresh men and women with hands-on training experience, and to indicate that a promotion is coming.

I was hesitant, but I knew deep down that the GSP was a worthwhile undertaking. However, although I accepted the offer in late July and was scheduled to depart in September, there was no further news until a detailed schedule was sent to me in the last week of November. Suddenly, the academy’s personnel department summoned all of the candidates to a sleek, white meeting room and notified us that we would be leaving in five days. We must have seemed dispirited, because the personnel officials first offered us carrots for encouragement, but then brandished sticks as a warning when we didn’t perk up.

The personnel officials promised us that when we returned from our isolated locations we would enjoy priority rights in executive promotion, in academic title evaluation, even in the distribution of academy-owned apartments in Beijing. However, they also warned us that if we refused to go at the last moment or performed poorly in our new job, the academy might not renew our contracts at the end of our three-year terms. We were told that the living conditions in the rural towns where we’d be living would be much better than we might be anticipating, and we were assured that we would all have a personal office and a fully-furnished bedroom. After much encouragement, we began feeling that we might not actually have anything to worry about after all.

Local officials were waiting for us at the airport when we landed at our destination on Dec. 1. After a short rest and a dinner full of animated speeches, we — the 17 exhausted researchers — were dispatched to our new homes by town officials. Upon getting in the car, I was told that I would be working almost 13 miles from the urban area.

During our drive along the rugged country road, I had a good talk with one of my future colleagues, the vice-secretary of the town’s CCP committee. At one point, he asked me a strange question: “Secretary, where will you live in the city? Will the municipal government rent you an apartment?” It seemed that my future colleagues did not even know I was required to live where I worked. I began to realize that there would be no bedroom, no bathroom, and no nice furniture waiting for me.

It was immediately apparent upon arriving at the town hall that I had been right in my premonitions, which did not make me happy at all. There was no breakfast or dinner provided, and I wasn’t allowed to cook in the office. There was no hot water and no heating at night, despite temperatures of minus 20 degrees Celsius. I later reflected that, compared with the other problems, the outdoor toilet I had noticed upon entering was the least of my worries. But on the plus side, my office was bright…continues here.

Part Two of Gobi Diaries continues:

“Still, I had ended up with a better deal than many others in the program. Because of my tenure with the Communist Party — I had been a member since my undergraduate studies — I was appointed to one of the town’s three vice-secretarial posts. For an ordinary person in the position directly below mine — deputy town chief — it would take at least 10 years to be promoted to vice-secretary.

A regular government employee without any prominent background or outstanding performance would have to serve for 25 years to move from party committee member — the lowest level of the town governing committee — to the secretary of the town. And this was assuming that they were promoted at every possible opportunity.

I inspected my living accommodations and examined the photos on the desk of my colleagues. After a while one of the other vice-secretaries appeared and offered to show me around the town…” Read more…


Written by Godfree
Visiting China and studying it since 1967. Interested in its culture, politics, education and economy.