The big league: the communist youth wing where rising stars once took flight
The Communist Youth League, which is undergoing sweeping reforms after being criticised as “aristocratic” and “losing touch with the masses”, was once the leading recruitment channel for top Communist Party officials.
But with the nationwide anti-corruption campaign implicating several high-profile officials with strong backgrounds in the league, and a party congress on the horizon, the body’s status as a fast track to power is set to change.
Since its official establishment 94 years ago, the “league faction” has been associated with party leaders, especially since the 1980s.
The league was created in Shanghai in 1920 to help prepare for the establishment of the Communist Party a year later. Since its official establishment in 1922, the league has undergone name changes but its status as the party’s reserve and auxiliary force has remained unchallenged.
According to its constitution, league members are recruited from age 14 to 28, when they automatically leave unless they hold positions in the organisation. By 2014, it had 88 million members.
Candidates usually apply in writing and swear an oath to follow its rules on joining. Organised along similar lines to the party, it is not uncommon for every class from middle school to university to have a youth league branch with its own secretary.
League officials, however, are elected or appointed, and can be older than 28. Hu Yaobang was 37 when chosen by chairman Mao Zedong to be league secretary in 1952.
The league did not play a significant role in politics until 1982, when Hu became party secretary. Hu, a reformer whose forced resignation from the party in 1987 and death two years later triggered the Tiananmen student movement, was considered the first league faction leader.
Hu Jintao became league secretary in 1982 and party chief and president in 2003. Hu was chosen by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping to head the “fourth generation” leadership for 10 years.
Other alumni in the present leadership include Premier Li Keqiang and Vice-President Li Yuanchao. Both are former league secretaries.
But the league’s fortunes have changed since the anti-corruption campaign waged by president Xi Jinping implicated several senior officials with league backgrounds, including Ling Jihua, Hu Jintao’s former top aide, in 2014.
The league has been attacked by the official Beijing Daily as a group of “ambitious aristocrats” lacking the calibre to lead the country.
The paper cited as examples such fallen officials as former Guangzhou party boss Wan Qingliang, former Inner Mongolian vice-chairman Pan Yiyang, former Nanning party secretary Yu Yuanhui, and Zhang Lebin, former deputy director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.