Connections grease entry to China's elite party

BEIJING, June 29, 2011 (AFP) - Membership in China's ruling Communist Party, which celebrates its 90th anniversary on Friday, is theoretically open to all -- but having the right connections or background is key to gaining the card.

Last year, more than 21 million people applied to join the world's biggest political party, but just over three million were accepted, senior CCP official Wang Qinfeng told journalists at a briefing last week.

"Party members are the vanguard soldiers of communist consciousness ... they diligently serve and work hard in a selfless way. They are the role models in every undertaking," Wang said.

More than half of the party's 80.27 million members as of end-2010 were 46 years or older and more than a quarter were over the age of 60, he said.

But the party has pushed to expand its membership beyond the traditional make-up of government functionaries, retirees, blue-collar workers and farmers.

In particular, talented youths have been targeted, many of whom view membership as a prerequisite for coveted civil service jobs.

Those under the age of 30 are almost always recruited by the China Youth League, a party-run organisation which has links to the nation's schools and youth-oriented groups.

Those who are not specifically recruited can apply for membership but need to be sponsored by a party member, so the success of the application depends on the quality of the sponsor's connections, one middle-aged member told AFP.

Applicants go through a strict and secretive vetting process by local party committees and must also undergo a trial period after being admitted, he said.

"A lot of youths want to join the party because it is a well-known fact that party membership is the way to advance your career," the party member said on condition of anonymity.

"But if you are overtly ambitious, the party will not want you, so most applicants carefully follow party principles and learn to spout the party line and ideals."

The party also actively recruits older professionals who have become prominent in their particular areas of expertise, including entrepreneurs, managers at state-owned firms, scientists, doctors and academics, he said.

Another way to get in is via family connections.

"The sons and daughters of top party leaders are almost always party members," the CCP member said.

"Once they get to the top, they can do whatever they want... it is easy to get their children into the party."