There are nearly 90 million members of the Communist Party of China, making it one of the largest political parties in the world. While it may be easy to see the CPC as a monolithic body, it’s actually a complex organization that has changed a great deal in its 96 years.
When it first formed in 1921, there were only about 50 members — made up mainly of students and intellectuals. Today, the party’s membership exceeds the population of Germany.
From its humble beginnings, membership grew. When the CPC won China’s civil war in 1949, it became the country’s dominant party. Over the years, the party’s makeup changed along with the country.
In the late 1970s, China opened its economy. This encouraged more Chinese to enter private enterprise.
The party also paved the way for more scientists and technicians to join the CPC.
In 2001 the party said it should accept “outstanding elements from other sectors of society who have subscribed to the the party’s program,” such as “entrepreneurs and technical personnel”.
Today the CPC attracts people from all walks of life. Members include business tycoons, writers, movie stars, farmers, factory workers, and academics.
Nearly 46 percent of current party members had a junior college degree or higher.
More than a quarter are women.
And around 7 percent are ethnic minorities.
Since 2013, the party also began recruiting fewer and higher-quality applicants. And the overwhelming majority of new members are younger. Last year, 82 percent of new members were under the age of 35.
So why do people want to join the party today?
Many say it’s social. They know a party member and have shared values. It can also help career advancement. And for many, it’s a chance to serve their country.