THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELLED: Undogmatic Commitment: Youth Organizations and Elite Renewal in post-Mao China by Jérôme Doyon, University of Oxford

Issued: Thu, 06 Feb 2020 12:29:00 GMT



Since the beginning of the reform era in 1978, the decreasing importance of ideology and the alternative career options provided by a liberalized employment market have made the Chinese Party-State’s ability to attract recruits and maintain their commitment all the more puzzling. If ideology and material gain cannot fully account for it, what motivates young Chinese’s commitment to a long-term career in the party-state? This talk tackles this question by analyzing the first steps of political professionalization in the CCP’s youth organizations and unveiling the crucial role these institutions play in political recruitment. The Chinese party-state selects and cultivates recruits starting from the first years of college, to progressively incorporate them into its elite. Throughout this process the recruits are transformed by the organization, which eventually reinforces their political commitment. Contrary to studies approaching the Party-State as a unitary actor, I analyze the organization through the eyes of the actors who inhabit it, and put at the center of the analysis the mechanisms explaining the individual choice of becoming and remaining an official. I call this choice “undogmatic commitment” as it is based on the recruit’s ambition rather than ideological fervor.

My argument is two-fold. First, focusing on the first steps of political professionalization in post-Mao China, I argue that the progressive alteration of social ties and the growing attachment to their social role as future party-state leaders are crucial in explaining the officials’ long-term commitment to a political career. I also argue that from the party-state’s perspective, this commitment cultivation process is essential in a configuration in which ideology no longer structures the political system. Unique training and promotion opportunities are provided to the most committed recruits. Second, based on the study of individual trajectories and the multiples relationships the cadres develop throughout their career, I argue that they develop a diffuse allegiance to the party-state: they are embedded in complex networks made of hierarchical and horizontal ties, which render difficult the establishment of isolated  cohesive groups, or factions, that could organize against the party-state itself. Commitment to their career becomes a commitment to the survival of the regime. This paper therefore challenges the common narratives on both the meritocratic and factional features of the Chinese Party-State. The research is mixed methods, including the statistical analysis of career data and the qualitative study of young officials’ trajectories and their commitment formation.


Jérôme Doyon is a Departmental Lecturer at the School of Global and Area Studies, University of Oxford. His research focuses on Chinese domestic politics, in particular the Party-State apparatus, elite politics, political youth organizations, and the management of ethno-religious minorities. His current book project focuses on the professionalization of young Party-State officials.

The Scottish Centre for China Research Seminar Programme gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the MacFie Bequest. 

<< Events