Rushing to join: China’s Party membership does not necessarily mean better job prospects

Rushing to join: China’s Party membership does not necessarily mean better job prospects

Feb 22nd 2014 | BEIJING | From the print edition

UNIVERSITIES in China are home to a strange mix of political emotions. To the Communist Party’s deep concern, many young lecturers have little enthusiasm for Marx, whose ideas are still officially supposed to “guide” intellectual life on campuses. Many students, by contrast, are desperate to join the Communist Party; recruitment levels are at an all-time high. Ideology plays little part.


In 1989, after the Chinese army crushed student-led protests in Tiananmen Square, enthusiasm on campus for joining the party plunged, as did the party’s eagerness to recruit there. In the following year only 26,000 swore the oath of admission: to keep the party’s secrets, spend a lifetime fighting for communism and “never betray the party”. That was one-quarter of the number who had joined three years earlier and a mere 2% of total recruitment. But the days of anger and recrimination have been forgotten. In 2010 more than 1.2m students joined, about 40% of the total (see chart).

The rise is partly the result of a surging overall number of students. In 1989 there were only about 2m of them in tertiary education. By 2010 the number had risen more than tenfold thanks to a huge expansion in admissions to universities and technical colleges since the beginning of the century. Recruitment to the party has outpaced this growth, however. In 1997 just over 4% of undergraduates were party members. Within a decade the proportion had doubled. In some colleges more than 80% of upper-year students now apply for membership, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). “In some classes nearly every student submits an application letter,” it said.

This has little to do with communist zeal. The interest in membership is a byproduct of the expansion of college enrolment, which has created a glut of graduates in the job market. Public-sector employers usually prefer party members and often require membership for better positions. Demand for government-linked jobs has been growing thanks to the relatively generous benefits and security they offer.

CASS says it is not necessarily the case, however, that party members have better employment prospects. In a survey of graduates from 12 universities, it found the employment rate within two months of graduation was 85% for non-members and about 80% for members. At elite universities the proportions were roughly even, while at ordinary ones non-members appeared to fare far better (82% versus 73%). Only at vocational colleges did the party members appear to have an advantage, with 96% of them gaining work within two months, compared with 90% of non-members. The report did not say how academic performance might have affected these outcomes. In theory, party members are supposed to get at least average grades.

In competition for jobs at state-owned enterprises (SOEs), which are among the most coveted of all, a lack of party membership appears to be no bar. More than 21% of non-members surveyed got work at SOEs, compared with just under 20% of party members. That could be a recognition by SOEs that ability trumps political loyalty for entry-level jobs. But meritocracy extends only so far: the party still keeps the top slots for its own.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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