HKFP Voices Politics & Protest

China is turning its once powerful Communist Youth League into an online campaign machine

By Oiwan Lam

The ruling Communist Party of China is set to massively divest and reform its once-powerful Communist Youth League. The youth organisation’s annual budget is being cut by 50%, from RMB 624 million yuan (94 million US dollars) to RMB 306 million yuan (46 million US dollars).

The reform plan, outlined by the Communist Party of China (CPC) on August 2, is based on an internet-focused strategy to turn the bureaucratic organisation into an online campaign movement that “reinforces youth belief in the CPC and pumps vigour into the cause of national rejuvenation.”

Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping. Photo: iYouPort.

Since the 1980s, the Communist Youth League served as a launching pad for China’s political elite. Key government positions at the central and provincial levels are often filled by the league’s members and alumni, known as tuanpai or the “league faction.”

Under President Xi Jinping the tuanpai have increasingly been marginalised. President Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao and his former chief of staff Ling Jihua were top tuanpai. Ling was caught in a corruption scandal, and recently jailed for life. His downfall raised scrutiny of the tuanpai and the Communist Youth League (CYL).

The reform comes after the CPC Central Commission for Discipline Inspection launched a damning corruption investigation into the League and published a statement earlier this year criticising the League for its undesirable work methods, including “formalism, unnecessary bureaucracy, aristocracy [or nepotism] and a focus on entertainment.”

communist youth league

The Communist Youth League. Photo: Baidu Wenku.

The League has approximately 89 million members between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight. Half of its members are students. Members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) often start building their career in high school as officers of the Communist Youth League. Students with family members in the party or the government are more likely to be recruited as committee members or in the League’s important positions at an early age. These positions make them more likely to receive scholarship opportunities and professional recommendations from the League.

The transformation of the CYL from a brick and mortar bureaucracy into an online campaigning organisation did not happen overnight. In 2015, leaked emails revealed that the League was trying to recruit 20% of its members as online “youth civilization volunteers” to spread positive energy and “purify” the internet. Under the reform plan, the League will continue to strengthen its “internet engineering” and turn the organisation into “internet plus CYL.” The term “internet plus” is a policy buzzword in China these days.

Reaction to the reform has been quite varied. Some see the reform as an attempt to marginalise the League, but others see it as an opportunity for the League to extend its influence. China Digital Times published some comments from China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo. This commenter believed it was about time that the “tiny pink,” –a term that refers to members or supporters of the league– were reined in:

“The whole point is to reduce permanent manpower and increase temporary workforces. Some people will lose their rice bowls. That’s why some people are jumping up and down these days.

The key is downsizing the personnel structure, the direct promotion channel has been cancelled and members of the League is no longer a reserved cadre club. It has been downgraded to ‘mass organisation.’ (Do you understand, tiny pink?)

First, the Central Committee inspection team criticised the League’s central committee for being aristocratic and catering to entertainment. Followed by budget cut and now downsizing the organisation. Yet some see the word ‘Internet plus’ as a supportive gesture…

The best reform is to abolish the organisation! The CYL and its tiny pinks are like a religious cult. It keeps bullying around and gives out labels. They are so terrible and I am glad that I haven’t been surrounded by these kind of folks. Everyone should keep away from them.

Finally the tiny pinks know why the media outlets are not siding with them. They believe the media outlets are controlled by the capitalists, the reality is that they have been abandoned by their father [the Party].”






But fans of CYL insist the Party’s Central Committee is still supportive:

“To strengthen the development of CYL in the virtual space and recruit more youth into the CYL, this is a supportive gesture, not repressive.

The reform proposal mentions a full implementation of internet plus CYL. It is a signal showing that the Central Committee has assigned an important role to the CYL and supportive of their work.”



communist youth league

The Communist Youth League. Photo: Stand News.

What exactly is ‘internet plus CYL?’ Bai Xin wrote a commentary on iYouPort, an independent online news outlet, on the digital strategy in the future organisation of the league’s civilisation volunteers:

“The document entitled ‘The Construction of Youth Credit System 2016-2020’ published jointly by the Central Committee of the CYL, National Development and Reform Committee and Central Bank has laid out the initial framework for the current reform plan. It plans to recruit 20 million youths into a volunteer system which is integrated into a credit system – the credit will be evaluated according to their voluntary work (such as their participation in online attack or off-line assembly). The credit will be awarded with bonus, such as access to start-up funding, airfare discount.”

The writer further predicted that the transformation of the League from a bureaucratic organisation into an online campaign organisation mediated through the credit system will eventual give rise to a form of authoritarian populism centring around the party leader Xi Jinping:

“In China’s future political stage, a more aggressive youth movement organisation will enter the scene, it is an institutionalised army of tiny pinks who plead loyalty only to Xi.”

China is turning its once powerful Communist Youth League into an online campaign machine