For 80m the party pact rings true
The most sought-after club membership on the mainland turns out to be ... the Chinese Communist Party. Last year, according to the powerful Organisation Department, more than 20 million people applied to become members, but only three million were admitted. There are now a whopping 80 million card-carrying members.
Everywhere in the world, communist parties are in retreat or have already become extinct. But in China, the party - thanks to its transformation in the past three decades - has flourished. It has perfected the carrot-and-stick method. On the mainland there is every reason to join the party if you want a quick job promotion or a secure career path. And membership certainly helps you get into the right universities, network with powerful state-run enterprises and hobnob with bankers from the big, state-owned banks.
On the other hand, there is no material incentive to work against the party. If you do, you effectively become public enemies facing the prospect of long and indefinite official harassment, if not imprisonment. Only the most idealistic, principled or desperate people would want to be dissidents.
Among those most eager to join the party are university students and graduates. Who can blame them? Most of those who grew up in urban centres enjoy material well-being, at least compared with the deprivation their parents suffered. The party has offered a none-too-subtle social pact with the country: 'We are all there is to guarantee prosperity; without us, there will only be instability and chaos.'
But the party's very success may spell its eventual downfall. As people expect more and better things in their lives, they will also demand the freedom to enjoy them.