There Ain’t no Party like a Communist Party

Yesterday’s look at why one person didn’t join the Party gives us a good starting point for looking at what the Party actually is, and how it fits into China’s government system.

I’ve asked many of my friends and students over the past few years why they joined the Party, the most common answer the students give is that being a party member will help them get a better job, which is true. The author of yesterday’s post has pretty much reached the pinnacle of his career since he is unwilling to join the party. Also, once a teacher is a Party member, they will almost never be at risk of losing their job.

Other students said their parents wanted them to join the Party. Several of them told me that their parents had never explained why they should join the Party, but they didn’t question their parent’s choice. One student though told me that her parents wanted her to join the party because it would help them to get out of trouble. While some of my Chinese friends have argued that this simply isn’t true, I have heard a number of news stories that make me think the student’s mother was right.

For me, when I imagine the Party I don’t think of the huge portrait of Mao that hangs from the Forbidden City, I don’t picture the children in their Red scarves walking to school, and I don’t think of the imposing buildings that sit like Soviet heirlooms on the main street of every city.

Instead, when I picture the Party, I remember the poster that hung in the stairwell on my way to my classroom in Yizhou. It was a picture of a hundred or so men and women all wearing white button up shirts and raising a fist above their heads. I was told it was a recruiting ad for the Party.

As I looked at the men and women in the picture it seemed strange to me, the way it must to my Chinese friend, that only a little more than 60 years ago joining the Party would have been a risky act. A choice that meant you were willing to die for an ideal. A choice that came with few bonuses and dozens of risks.

Today when I think of those fists raised in the air, it’s hard to see little more than the privilege and wealth that come with Party membership.

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