Youth Work in China: A Case Study

By Ngan-Pun, Ngai | Social Work, January 1994 | Go to article overview

Youth Work in China: A Case Study


Ngan-Pun, Ngai, Social Work


The study of youth work in the People's Republic of China (PRC) is important. More than 20 percent of all human beings are Chinese, and the Chinese account for an even larger share of Third World citizens. Any claims to universality of a theory, skill, or occupation must confront the Chinese experience.

Canton is one of the PRC's most important windows on the outside world. It has experienced great Western impact. The Cantonese are affluent, at least by Chinese standards, and they enjoy many social and recreational activities. Canton's youth population--over 1.5 million, or about 26 percent of the city's total population--has been affected by the open door policy of the last 14 years. The Guangzhou Qing Nian Wen Hua Gong (referred to as "the Program") youth services center is one of the oldest youth programs in the PRC.

Youths' value systems; moral standards; ways of living; political thoughts; and concepts of human relationships, time, and welfare have changed greatly during the development of the emerging market economy (Cao, 1989). Because the PRC appears committed to this open door policy (Wang, 1989), it is likely that the Program will provide a model for similar projects in other cities in China. Other youth services centers, particularly those situated in the coastal open door cities, inevitably will experience the same process of development. Because this type of project is institutionalized by the government and the Communist Party of China (CPC) as a major vehicle for delivering services to young people, the Program provides a picture both of current youth work and of its possible future direction in the PRC. Yet the Program offers an optimal view of such services in the PRC, given that Canton is a wealthy city and a showcase for the implementation of the government's open door policy. This article is based on my years of direct contact with youth organizations in the PRC, site visits to the Program, in-depth discussions with local cadres and staff responsible for youth services, and observation of youth activities in Canton. It examines the Program's philosophy and goals, administration, and services in light of the problems caused by modernization in the PRC. The Program

The Program was initiated in the 1950s. Since the establishment of the present regime, these types of youth services have provided cultural and leisure activities for youths (Canton Qing Nian Wen Hua Gong, 1989). Youth services expanded after the trauma of the Cultural Revolution, the downfall of the Gang of Four, and the confirmation of the open door policy by the CPC in 1978.

Philosophy and Goals

The avowed goal of the Program is to develop a new generation of socialist youths with the distinctive qualities of the so-called Four Qualities of New Man--ideals, moral virtues, intelligence, and discipline (Chinese Communist Youth League Central Committee, 1986). The Program's purpose is to inspire young people to have ideals; to learn modern knowledge; to develop appropriate socialist values, attitudes, and patriotism; and to obey the law (Xie, 1989). Throughout, it is clear that the Program's dominant goals are political: to educate young people to be the supporters and followers of the socialist enterprise. Consequently, the Program is politically guided and administratively supervised by the CPC.

Related to its goals, the Program is organized to fulfill four specific programmatic functions: (1) to carry out political education, (2) to promote and enrich cultural activities among young people, (3) to organize the Communist Youth League's (CYL) cultural and recreational activities, and (4) to offer training for various types of talents among youths (Y. C. Li, 1990).

Youth work in the PRC is therefore closely related to ideological identity and national development; it is centered on Marxist thought and is developed throughout the Communist Revolution (Huang, 1988; Yang, 1990). The Program's charter defines it as the link between the CYL and youths. …

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