History of China's youth league inspires succeeding young generations
By Lu Yan  ·  2022-05-16  ·   Source: NO.20 MAY 19, 2022
Yao Zheng (center right) volunteers at a COVID-19 nucleic acid testing site at Nankai University, Tianjin, in January (COURTESY PHOTO)

Since March, Zhou Jiyuan has been volunteering in Haizhu District of Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, to assist residents taking COVID-19 nucleic acid tests. Leveraging his ability to speak five languages other than standard Chinese, namely English, French, German, Japanese and Hungarian, plus Guangzhou's local dialect, Cantonese, he has helped many people from different nationalities to complete the procedure without trouble in this international city with around 117,000 expats.

"I enjoy being a volunteer and serving people in need. I think it's a good thing to do for my city," the 28-year-old said.

The hope of the country rests on the youth, President Xi Jinping said on May 10 at a ceremony marking the centenary of the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) in Beijing.

Xi said for the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the country, youth are the most worthy of love and expectation, adding that young people are like saplings that thrive on the earth, and one day will grow into towering trees.

Guidance and leadership

One hundred years ago, the CPC organized a youth league which was first known as the Chinese Socialist Youth League and New Democratic Youth League of China. It was born against the background of a national awakening and a call for the rise of the nation.

The Opium War of 1840 plunged China into the darkness of domestic turmoil and foreign aggression. Dedicated patriots, including the young, tried every means possible to seek the nation's salvation.

The 1911 Revolution, which was led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen, overthrew the corrupt Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), put an end to the country's more than 2,000 years of dynastic rule, and ushered in an era of modern national democratic revolution in China, inspiring the exploration for the country's rejuvenation.

The May Fourth Movement was the younger generation's major endeavor in the process. It was a patriotic campaign initiated in universities in 1919 by young Chinese opposing the government's response to the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty treated China unfairly and undermined the country's sovereignty in the aftermath of World War I. The movement triggered a national campaign to overthrow the old society and promote new ideas, including science and democracy. It gave birth to the May Fourth Spirit, referring to patriotism, progress, democracy and science, with patriotism at the core. China's Youth Day, which falls on May 4 every year, was established to commemorate the movement.

On May 5, 1922, over 1,500 young pioneers and representatives from various fields across the country gathered in Dongyuan, in the heart of Guangzhou, where they made history in their first national congress, and the youth league was established, ushering in a new chapter in the Chinese youth movement under the leadership of the CPC, which was established in the previous year. Thereafter, the organization changed its name several times and in 1957 finalized it as the CYLC.

"The city had a relatively liberal environment at the time, politically and ideologically. Labor movements here were vibrant as well. Under the influence of democratic social ideas, the Party decided to hold the youth league's national congress here," Zhang Li, a professor at the Party School of the CPC Guangdong Provincial Committee, told China Global Television Network.

Seventeen delegations from across China attended the congress, the first large-scale meeting for the youth, and devoted themselves to discussions centered on youth development, revolutionary progress and how to fight imperialism and the warlords of the time in China.

"The first Labor Congress was held at the same time in Guangzhou, so the impact of the youth league congress expanded not only among young people, but the working class in China," Zhang added.

With the continuing growth of the league, its members contributed their ideas and passion in a century that saw many rounds of national movements. For example, in 1935, a patriotic student movement broke out in Peking (now Beijing), calling for and laying a foundation for national efforts to oppose Japanese imperialist aggression, in response to the Japanese army's attempts to invade additional areas of China while the then ruling Kuomintang exercised a policy of nonresistance. This was known as December Ninth Movement.

"Both history and reality have shown that the CYLC is truly the vanguard of China's youth movement," said Xi, who is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

Where the young shine

He Junke, First Secretary of the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the CYLC, said that, since its establishment, the league has always united the nation's youth. "Young patriotic members can always be found on the front line of poverty alleviation, scientific and technological innovation, COVID-19 prevention and control and disaster relief," He said.

As of late 2021, the CYLC had over 73.7 million members nationwide, according to statistics released by the league's central committee in May. Youth league membership can be applied for from the age of 14, and expires on turning 28. However, this upper age limit does not apply to officials running the league.

Up to 43.81 million members are students and the rest are in enterprises, public institutions, urban and rural communities, social organizations and other fields. By the end of last year, the league had 3.68 million branches across the country.

Yao Zheng is a member of the league. Currently a graduate student at Nankai University in Tianjin and once president of the university's student union, Yao has been in charge of many activities held by the school's CYLC branch.

Like Zhou, Yao also joined the volunteer activities related to pandemic prevention and control on campus, along with several schoolmates. Once, when he was entering nucleic acid testing information into the computer, the system collapsed. Yao worked for 31 hours to ensure the information was registered on time.

"I wasn't tired at all, but felt full of energy and had a sense of accomplishment after it was done," the 24-year-old told Beijing Review. "I will always step in when I'm needed, especially during such difficult times."

The CYLC branch and the campus also hold a wide range of activities for students to participate in, from seminars and discussions on various topics such as university development and the improvement of students' lives, to volunteer programs where they can be teachers in remote and poor regions.

"The CYLC plays a guiding role for us younger generation, providing a platform for us to get together, make the fullest use of our talents and strengths, and help us realize our goals while contributing to national development," Yao said.

"It's important for today's youth to acquire a deeper understanding of our society, our people, and the whole world. Then they can build their own values. In the 1920s, the pioneering young people learned and practiced new ideas to save the country. Today we have diverse ways to learn more about the world, so young people are able to take the initiative to break the ground and search for truth," Zhang said.

(Print Edition Title: A Youthful Tide)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

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