Theses Doctoral

Rejuvenating Communism: The Communist Youth League as a Political Promotion Channel in Post-Mao China

Doyon, Jerome

How does the Chinese Party-State renew its political elite and maintain its cohesion in the post-Mao era? This is a key question to understand the evolution of China’s political system and still the explanations one can find in the literature are far from satisfactory. Overall, the literature on transformation of the Chinese political elite focuses on the broad outcomes, the fact that since the 1980s officials tend to be younger and more educated, but it falls short in unveiling the mechanisms at play. It gives a limited answer to the elite renewal issue as it leaves politics aside. By focusing on educational levels and technical skills it forgets about the importance of political commitment.
I approach these questions through a unique account of the role played by the Chinese Communist Youth League (CYL) in terms of cadres’ recruitment and promotion since the 1980s. Using biographical data and a snowball sample of 92 interviewees I reconstructed the trajectories of CYL cadres. Beyond my focus on the central organization of the CYL in Beijing, I compared the situation of the CYL in the capital cities of two very different provinces and in four universities. Through this mixed methods approach, I could assess the evolution of the CYL as a path to power in post-Mao China. My main findings are as follows:
First, due to post-Cultural Revolution politics and the need for leaders at the time to recruit loyal young cadres, a “sponsored mobility” system was developed to renew the Party-State’s elite. College students are recruited and trained through the Party’s youth organizations. They are put then on a unique promotion path, which includes specific opportunities and trainings, and which leads them to leadership position in the Party-State. This contrasts with what happened in the Soviet case in particular. Under Khrushchev (1953-1964), the Soviet elite was renewed through the cooptation of professionals with technical skills rather than by recruiting young cadres who spent their whole career in the Party-State.
Second, through the various steps of the sponsored mobility process, the young recruits develop a specific social role as future officials and transform their social circles. As a result, they cultivate a political commitment to their career in the Party-State and to the survival of the regime. Third, the decentralized nature of the Party-State and its youth organizations make it difficult for the young recruits to establish cohesive groups which could organize against the Party-State itself.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Nathan, Andrew J.
Mengin, Francoise
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 11, 2017