Hu Yaobang

Faction a good training ground for future leaders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 May, 2012, 12:00am


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The Communist Youth League, the Communist Party's youth recruitment and training apparatus, has become a key power base within the party since the 1980s, competing with the princeling faction representing the offspring of former party leaders.

Founded in Shanghai and other cities in August 1920 as the Socialist Youth League to prepare for the formal establishment of the party a year later, it held its first national congress in Guangzhou on May 4, 1922. Despite the party coming to power in 1949, the league was never given the chance to play any significant role in Chinese politics for decades. But that all changed when reformist leader Hu Yaobang , a former league secretary, became party chief in 1982.

Hu is described as the leader of the first generation of the league faction because he promoted many followers with league backgrounds, including Hu Qili , Li Ruihuan , Xian Nan, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao , to important positions in the party's leadership during the early stage of the mainland's economic reforms.

But Hu Yaobang was forced to step down in 1987 because of his sympathies for liberal-leaning intellectuals and students, who started organising protests from 1986 to 1989.

His death in April 1989 became a rallying point for pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, leading to the army's crackdown on June 4, 1989.

The crackdown was a setback for the league faction, with three top officials with league backgrounds dismissed - party head Zhao Ziyang , Politburo Standing Committee member Hu Qili, and United Front Work Department head Yan Mingfu. However, the faction has recovered since then, with Hu Jintao becoming party general secretary and state president and Wen Jiabao becoming premier.

The league remains the party's most reliable recruitment organisation, with its constitution stressing that all members must obey party orders absolutely and without question. It recruits members from among outstanding high school students aged between 14 and 18, and they can remain members until they turn 28.

Being a league member is an important step for a young person wanting to go on to party membership.

In 1992, then-paramount leader Deng Xiaoping chose Hu Jintao, a former league secretary, to head the fourth generation leadership because of his non-controversial record and loyalty and concerns that then-president Jiang Zemin would prefer a successor from his own Shanghai faction.

Compared with the Shanghai and princelings factions, officials with league backgrounds, known collectively as tuanpai, are regarded as being more loyal to the party and more diverse, with most coming from common backgrounds.

Like other factions, the tuanpai have traditionally sought to promote like-minded followers to consolidate their power base.

Hu Jintao has promoted former league officials such as Liu Yandong , Li Yuanchao, Wang Yang , Li Keqiang and other young cadres to the central leadership.

Hu Jintao's heir apparent, Xi Jinping , a member of the princeling faction, will find his power balanced by the league faction, which is likely to occupy at least five of the nine seats on the party's supreme Politburo Standing Committee in the next decade.