An advocate for China argues the party’s capacity for renewal has kept it at the vanguard of the nation’s youth.
The Chinese public had long been accustomed to Western criticisms about their country on many issues, ranging from corruption to human rights. In fact, such criticisms often had a degree of sympathy or even support within the Chinese public, especially among commercial and intellectual elites. But with this current wave, the demonization of China by Western politicians and in the media has been widely perceived as extreme and as attempts to contain China’s further development.
Young people, in particular, see a portrayal of China in the West that doesn’t necessarily match their lives. And many are reacting with incredulity and anger. On the two primary issues that are drawing Western attacks on China, Xinjiang and Hong Kong, the vast majority of the Chinese public in general, and youth in particular, agree with Beijing. That’s why online boycotts are regularly called by young netizens against Western brands and personalities.
Indeed, Chinese youth are on course to be the strongest supporters within Chinese society of the party’s long held goal of pursuing China’s own development path. The latest data from the Edelman Trust Barometer show the Chinese public’s satisfaction with the government’s leadership has reached an astonishing 90 percent. A recent survey by University of California, San Diego show that support for the government jumped the most among younger respondents. In 2019, more than 80 percent of new party members were under the age of 35, totaling almost 1.9 million. Nearly 80 percent of college students express interest in joining the party.
All this perhaps comes as a surprise to Western readers. But with China’s young people so in synch with the raison d’etre—chu xin—of the party, the question is how the 100-year-old party can adapt to best serve (and lead) them. The party needs to steer the raw energy and aspirations of China’s young toward productive socialism and away from excessive populism, toward healthy patriotism, and away from narrow nationalism. If it can do this, it will deliver on the material and spiritual aspirations of China’s new generations and, as a result, stay in power for a long time to come. Success is not assured. But I wouldn’t bet against it.
This excerpt has been republished from an article written by Eric Li on Foreign Policy 2 July 2021. Click here to read the original article in its entirety.