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100 Years: How the Communist Party Dominates China

What you need to know about the party.
by Reuters
Just now
Performers take part in a show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China at the National Stadium in Beijing, China June 28, 2021. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
Photo/s: REUTERS/Thomas Peter

China's ruling Communist Party celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding on July 1.

Here's what you need to know about the party.

What are the origins of the party?

The Communist Party of China (CCP) was founded in 1921, holding its first congress in Shanghai, with the help of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, during a turbulent period after the country had a decade earlier cast off 2,000 years of dynastic rule.

Its founders took inspiration from Marxism, after seeing how other political models had failed in China.

What was Mao's role in the founding?

At the initial congress, Mao Zedong was the representative for Hunan province. He rose to become the commander of the Red Army in 1935, and became the founding leader of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Who makes up the party?

The CCP's ranks have risen roughly in line with China's population, totaling 95.2 million members as of this month, or 6.7% of the Chinese population.

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Initially founded as a party for peasants and workers, the CCP has become increasingly diverse. In 1982, it shifted its focus to recruiting university students, and in 2002 began to welcome private entrepreneurs.

Men dominate the party, with women making up only 28.8% of members. All seven members of top party leadership are men.

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More than half the members have tertiary-level education.

Ethnic minorities make up 7.5% of members, slightly less than their share in China's population.

Party members are required to be secular atheists, renouncing religions including Buddhism and Taoism, which have been present in Chinese society for centuries.

China's Communist Party is the second-largest political party in the world, but is half the size of India's Bharatiya Janata Party.

Why 'communist party' when China has a market economy?

Despite its name, the CCP has stopped actively working towards Marx's utopian concept of communism that includes common ownership of the means of production and abolition of social classes and state.

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In 1978, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping initiated "reform and opening up" measures that laid the groundwork for an expanding market economy, leading to a re-interpretation of the party's ideology to "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

However, the CCP retains a Leninist model of authoritarianism and firmly guards its one-party rule.

How does one join the party?

Chinese youth are exposed to party political life as young as age seven when they enter primary school, and students with good grades and behaviour are chosen by teachers to join the Young Pioneers, who don red neckerchiefs to set themselves apart and are given leadership roles to manage other students.

The same process repeats in high school, where good students join the Youth League, the teenage wing of the party.

Application to join the party proper is a laborious process that typically begins in university and lasts two to three years. The process has several stages, culminating in an oath-swearing in front of the party's hammer-and-sickle flag. 

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What does it mean to join the party?

Party membership confers prestige in official circles and undertakings.

Membership is helpful for career advancement in government and China's sprawling public sector, where jobs are considered more secure.

Party members are also expected to step up when duty calls - more so than non-party citizens. During the early COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, healthcare workers and community workers who were party members were among the first to be activated.

Party members are also subject to disciplinary rules that were tightened under Xi. Since 2012 when Xi came to power, more than 1.4 million officials have been punished for corruption or lavish spending.

How powerful is the party in China?

The party is the most powerful and consequential body in China.

It controls the National People's Congress, the country's rubber-stamp parliament, and can dictate the laws it wants to pass or amend. Chinese courts and law enforcement agencies report to the party.

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The heads of state media outlets such as Xinhua news agency are senior officials in the party's Propaganda Department.

The military is directly under the command of Xi, who also holds the titles of general secretary of the CCP and chairman of the party's Central Military Commission.

The party is everywhere. Every major institution in China, from government ministries and universities to private companies, is expected to form a party branch if three or more members are employed there.

Are there membership cards?

No, but members must pay dues, set at 0.5% to 2% of income.

Under Xi, the party has encouraged party members to wear the party badge to show their affiliation.

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