While communist movements in most parts of the world have long lost their appeal to the majority, the Communist Party of China says its membership now exceeds 80 million, almost matching the population of Germany.
The number of party members reached 80.27 million last year, Wang Qinfeng , deputy head of its Organisation Department, said in Beijing yesterday in the run-up to its 90th anniversary next week.
The party recruited 3.075 million new members and received more than 21.017 million registered applications last year, he said.
Some 32,000 left the party, most of them expelled. Wang did not give reasons for the expulsions but it has long been used as a penalty for misconduct and corruption by cadres.
The party has been striving to recruit young members to shed its ageing image. Last year, 43.87 million party members were aged 46 and above, accounting for 54.7 per cent of its membership. Its 14.85 million retirees outnumbered the 6.99 million industrial workers and 6.81 million government officials.
However, most new recruits are not joining for ideological reasons, but to take advantage of the greater convenience party membership affords them.
Zhao Buzhen , a 29-year-old professional who has applied for membership, said yesterday he wanted to join because it would be good for his career.
University campuses are a key recruiting ground for party members. Professor Hu Xingdou , from the Beijing Institute of Technology, said party membership used to be used as a reward for young people who excelled at university.
While membership brings convenience, party membership also has negative connotations in a system where official corruption is rife. An article in the Southern Weekly on Thursday said student cadres from Shanghai Jiao Tong University decided to launch a campaign to ask students to make their party membership public after jokes circulated on the internet saying that that many were too ashamed to admit that they were members.
Only 18.03 million, or 22.5 per cent, of the party members are women; ethnic minorities make up 5.4 million, or 6.6 per cent. The largest group is farmers, who number 24.4 million.