China’s demographic crisis is reaching into the ranks of the Communist Party

Not enough young blood.
Not enough young blood.
Image: Reuters/Aly Song
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China is getting older. So is the Chinese Communist Party.

Beyond the broad societal effects of a demographic decline—including a shrinking workforce and an unstable pension system—the CCP also has to grapple with the reality of its rapidly aging membership. How is the party to keep up revolutionary fervor when its cadres are aging faster than new blood can be recruited?

Get working, old cadres

To that end, the CCP this week released a set of guidelines on “strengthening Party building work for retired officials.”

Recognizing that the ranks of its retired cadres will swell rapidly in the coming years, the CCP now aims to make the most of what it dubs the “valuable wealth” of the party and the state. In particular, it wants to ensure that retired cadres stay loyal and “continue to listen to the Party and follow the Party.”

The elder cadres probably shouldn’t expect too quiet of a retirement, either: the guidelines call for “organizing and guiding retired cadres to make new contributions” to the party.

It won’t be an easy task. Already, CCP membership is significantly older than the national population. While nearly 20% of China is now aged 60 and above, about a quarter of party cadres now fall into that age group. Meanwhile, the share of young cadres among party membership has shrunk over the past decade.

As a CCP official put it to state media (link in Chinese):“With the increasing number of retired cadres and party organizations nationwide, the task of party building work for retired cadres is getting heavier and more demanding.”

Retirement age, pensions, and childcare

A graying CCP is just one facet of China’s broader demographic crisis.

Beijing, which for years enforced a one-child policy, now wants couples to have up to three. The Chinese people aren’t so keen. A state-financed “fertility fund” that lowers the cost of raising children could help. But marriages are at a decades-low, and a more feminist nation is pushing back against the state’s reproductive goals. There’s also the problem of China’s underfunded pension system.

Meanwhile, the idea of raising China’s problematic retirement age isn’t being readily embraced. And even if it were, allowing people to retire later could discourage younger women from having children. That’s because young couples would find it harder to get childcare help from their parents and in-laws, who would  now be working for more years.

It’s a knotty problem—and one that won’t be solved by pulling elderly party cadres out of retirement.