CPC members in the eyes of foreigners in China
by Xinhua Writers Bai Xu, Ren Liying and Wei Mengjia
Not many foreigners living in China have realized what an important and ubiquitous role members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) play in their daily lives. Party members do not wave flags nor shout slogans through megaphones, mostly they are ordinary people performing commonplace services in their communities.
For American teacher Elena Portillo, her local friendly CPC member is the smiling old woman who knocked on her door during COVID-19 lockdown to ask if she had everything she needed. To South African boxing coach Eduardo Santander, it is the middle-aged public servant he coaches on Wednesday evenings. For overseas students Merna Al Nasser and Hernandez Robaina Daylin, the CPC members could be security guards, taxi drivers, delivery workers or a faculty dean. You are almost as likely to find a CPC member mopping the office floor as sitting at the CEO's desk.
RESPONSIBILITY, NOT PRIVILEGE
American singer Mark Levine expressed his thoughts about the CPC in a song he composed and posted on his WeChat account for the 100th anniversary of the party: "Through a century of growth, the Party's always led, fighting with and for the people, under the flag that's red."
Levine, 73, teaches at Minzu University of China in Beijing. He was among the 70,000 people who gathered in Tiananmen Square on July 1 to witness the centenary of the CPC. He has lived in China since 2005.
"If I look at what I have been able to see during my years in China, it is almost miraculous ... They (the achievements) were made by the people of China, but they were made under the leadership and the teachings of the Communist Party," he told Xinhua.
Before coming to China, Levine volunteered in low-income communities in the United States for nearly 30 years. When he was a child, he was told his country was "the best in the world," but the poverty he saw with his own eyes made him think otherwise.
"I studied a lot of the history of workers both in the United States and in other countries, in an effort to bring about change to benefit them," he recalled.
His studies led him to China, and thereafter to the name of Zhou Enlai, first premier of the People's Republic of China, perhaps the first CPC member Levine knew as such.
In the 2000s, the Beijing Olympics boosted the demand for English teachers in China. Levine found a teaching job in Zhou's hometown, Huai'an in eastern China's Jiangsu Province, before moving to Beijing two years later. Levine said he saw "even more" development in China than what he had expected.
"Great progress had been made in education and medical care," he said. "We can see the tremendous accomplishment in the fight against COVID-19."
He then got to know some CPC members better. "They are supportive," he said. "People join the party because they realize it is not a privilege, it is a responsibility."
MORE THAN IDENTITY
Eduardo Santander was working in his gym in Shijiazhuang, capital of northern China's Hebei Province while Levine was at the ceremony. The 50-year-old coach has lived in China for 10 years and didn't think much about politics. One of his clients changed that.
"He wanted to learn boxing because he was under tremendous pressure at work," Santander recalled. The man was a public servant, who spoke freely of his income, which did not seem that high to Santander. He also talked about his work. From his remarks, he certainly appeared to be a very hard-working individual.
"He told me that they arranged COVID-19 tests for lots of people, and helped them with vaccinations," Santander said. "He and his colleagues always work overtime."
That was when Santander found out what it meant to be a CPC member: they do more, and are expected to do more, than other people. "During my decade, China has had big changes. People like this man must have contributed a lot," said the coach.
The observation is shared by 29-year-old Elena Portillo. She smiles when talking about the "lovely" woman in her community who is always cheerful and helpful.
"I thought party membership was only a political identity," she said. "But in China, such an identity means a lot. During the pandemic, she was stationed at the entrance of our community, taking temperatures and registering visitors. It was winter and she was stomping her feet in the cold wind."
"She will not earn any more money nor become famous for what she does," Portillo said. Party members are the people who can be relied upon to do the work which, overseas, generally falls to volunteers. "If there were more people like them, a country would be able to solve its problems more efficiently."
Rod Campbell, research director at Canberra's Australia Institute, spent two years at Gansu Agricultural University in northwest China. "All my colleagues were CPC members," he recalled. "I know lots of CPC members. They are normal Chinese people."
He sees misunderstandings in the Western media about rank-and-file CPC members. "The simplistic nature of reporting ... is problematic. It doesn't really represent how China works."
Overall, Campbell believes most people are supportive of the government.
"That is something widely misunderstood," he told Xinhua. "There is an attitude in the West that China should somehow be like us, and that Chinese people want, really deep down, a system like ours. It is not the case."
"CPC members are not rigid or controlled, as one might have thought," said Santander. Since he arrived in China from South Africa, he has not seen a single incident that could be considered an infringement of anyone's human rights, a preferred topic of Western media.
Politicians and media in the United States often see China as a competitor, so they want people to focus on the bad side of China. "Lots of false images are created," Levine said, prompting him to compose his song.
"Nobody was expecting COVID-19. Nobody was expecting the Wenchuan earthquake. But when problems arrived, the government under the party leadership can respond very wisely," he said, referring to the massive 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province.
Almost all the foreigners we talked to knew a few CPC members. Most know many, without knowing their Party affiliation. It is a badge worn proudly but also quietly.
On June 29, Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, presented the July 1 Medal, the highest honor of the party, to 29 CPC members. Among them were a community worker, teacher, welder, veteran, doctor, police officer and village official.
Noting that the awardees have been outstanding representatives of CPC members on all fronts, Xi said they embody Party members' staunch faith, fighting and dedicated spirit, integrity and devotion, and loyalty to the Party's fundamental tenet -- putting the people at the very center of their hearts, and wholeheartedly serving the people.
With a population of over 1.4 billion, China is home to more than 95 million CPC members, roughly one in 15 people.
If an emergency occurred in a subway carriage containing 300 people, you could expect around twenty of those in the car to be CPC members -- ready and able to help. They know they have taken on a special responsibility, and not just in times of crisis. It is a duty they perform daily to improve their communities and the lives of the people who inhabit them.
As the last line of Levine's song goes, "The future's very bright ahead, led by the CPC."