Xi Jinping only wants the most devoted Chinese Communist Party members. His tough membership rules could backfire.
Since childhood, the 20-year-old student had wanted to join the longest-running and largest communist party in the world, having grown up hearing “red tales” of its revolutionary past from her family.
In recent years, as she embarked on the long journey to become a member of the Chinese Communist Party, she had balanced hours of lectures on party ideology with course work for her biology degree, and spent 30 minutes a day on a nationalist app reading articles and watching videos.
Her latest challenge was to impress local party members.
Hu, along with 12 other young hopefuls, presented a report on her family background and how her thoughts, studies and life had improved since receiving party training. Next, she fielded questions on her respective shortcomings — for Hu, gaps in her knowledge of party history and being too strict with team members — before being sent out of the room so the members could vote on their fate.
All of them were accepted.
“When they announced that I had become a probationary party member, I was very happy, but the atmosphere was so solemn you couldn’t show your happiness,” said Hu, who is not using her real name as she is not authorized to speak to media, of the June meeting in southern China, where she studies. “You had to appear calm and couldn’t even clap.”
Hu will now spend a year as a probationary member, meaning she must perform the duties of a full member without the right to vote in party elections. At the end of the year, her local branch will decide whether to admit her to the party, which has grown from just 53 members when it was founded 100 years ago to more than 95 million.
In the past, Hu could have been a fairly silent member of the party, with little involvement in its politics. Many members simply joined because their families told them to, or because they wanted a leg up in China’s highly competitive job market, and might not be fervent believers in party ideology.
But that is changing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, whose real power derives from his position as the head of the ruling Communist Party, has placed more emphasis on quality over quantity. He has demanded absolute loyalty from party members, launched an ideology drive to shore up their faith, and unleashed a crackdown on internal dissent. Members are bound by more stringent rules — and millions of cadres have been investigated for violating them in the past nine years since Xi took control of the party.
They are also joining at a time when the party is facing increased scrutiny overseas. The Chinese government has faced international opprobrium over its alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, crackdown on Hong Kong and military expansions in the South China Sea. Its foreign policy has grown increasingly assertive, straining already deteriorating relations with Western nations and some of its neighbors.
Those who still aspire to join face tighter rules and more requirements once they become members, as the party aims to weed out applicants joining for self-interested reasons, leaving only the most devoted members — like Hu.
What it takes to join?
Hu’s journey to become a party member began in September 2019 with a five-page, handwritten letter.
In it, she detailed why she wanted to join the party and how her actions aligned with its ideology. When the local branch released a list of potential names for membership, giving the public a chance to raise objections, she was on it.
After passing that hurdle in April last year, Hu began attending party lectures, which she was required to submit handwritten notes to ensure she was paying attention. Each day she spent half an hour on the Xuexiqiangguo app, which teaches Xi’s ideology and translates literally to “study the powerful nation” or — as a word play — “study Xi to empower the nation,” a sign of Xi’s growing personality cult.
Xi’s doctrine was written into the party’s constitution in 2017, making him only the third Chinese leader to have his eponymous political philosophy enshrined in its theoretical pantheon.
Every few months, Hu handed in a handwritten self-reflection report on how she had served the people and improved herself. Meanwhile, local branch members vetted her through her teachers, classmates, and even people she didn’t know very well.
“Every layer of evaluation and selection is very strict,” she said. “For every evaluation, the party branch will go to the masses to learn about how you are in real life, instead of merely listening to your own reports.”
It’s tough to gain admittance — about 12% of applicants nationwide were accepted in 2019, according to party data.