Youth League Reforms Precede Leadership Transition

At the in 2017, five of the seven current Politburo members are expected to retire—leaving only and Li Keqiang in their current positions. In the run-up to the meetings, Xi appears to be positioning groups aligned with him and sidelining others, while consolidating his power within the Party. The , a traditional training ground for top leaders including former President , is undergoing reforms which may weaken its influence. Earlier, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection had criticized the league for being “aristocratic.” From Megha Rajagopalan at Reuters:

China’s Communist Youth League Central Committee will carry out reforms including stamping out corruption and adhering to “strict political discipline”, according to a report published on the website of the country’s top anti-graft body.

[…] Cadres have been punished for offences from embezzlement and using their positions to seek favors as well as smaller offences such as misusing shared vehicles, according to the anti-graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. [Source]

In addition, the university affiliated with the League may stop accepting undergraduate students. From Bloomberg:

The league’s university may put an end to undergraduate admissions, according to a person familiar with the discussions, who asked not to be identified because the decision — a response to guidance from senior officials — is not final. That would leave it with post-graduate and training programs for up-and-coming cadres.

Such a move would send a message to younger people about an organization that’s been a traditional springboard for leadership posts but was not the route to power for Xi. It could reverberate through a twice-a-decade reshuffle at next year’s party congress, when several prominent league alumni will be in the running for positions in the party’s uppermost echelons.

The China Youth University of Political Studies in Beijing was set up in 1985 when former President Hu Jintao headed the league. While Hu used the league to groom proteges such as Premier Li Keqiang, Xi has ordered its members to get more in touch with the masses.

“The Youth League has been a shortcut for young party hotshots to climb the career ladder,” said Zhang Ming, a political science professor at Renmin University in Beijing. “They’re surrounded by this halo that they’d be powerful leaders one day. Clearly Xi is not happy about that.” [Source]

Under Xi Jinping, the Youth League has taken a leading role in guiding online public opinion by recruiting college students and others to promote the Party line online. A recent effort was a video homage to the “volunteer fifty centers,” or Internet users who volunteer to defend the Party’s interests online. The league has also initiated a video series modeled on TED talks as part of an effort to “spread party principles and socialist values in a language and format that the country’s young generation can understand,” according to a report on Sixth Tone by Owen Churchill and Fu Danni:

According to the most recent data available, as of 2014 the Youth League enjoyed a membership of over 88 million 14- to 28-year-olds. Yet with its lax admission standards and a perceived lack of real function, it has for some time been treated as little more than an embellishment on the résumés of students seeking to get ahead in the employment market.

The Youth League sought to change that when, on April 5, it announced through its public account on messaging app WeChat that it would be raising admission requirements for prospective members, in a bid to “uphold standards, control scope, increase quality, and better the function [of the Youth League].” Just months before, the Youth League had come under fire by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection — the party’s top disciplinary body — for failing to carry out political reform and innovation in any meaningful way.

Wu Dezu, head of new media at the Youth League’s publicity department, believes that further answers to reigniting interest in party ideology may lie in digital media. “The minds of young people today are extremely active, but at the same time they experience ideological confusion,” Wu told Sixth Tone. “We want to use the Internet itself to provide education in ideology for young people.” [Source]

Last month, prominent Peking University law professor He Weifang publicly questioned the Communist Youth League’s status as a publicly funded organization.