It’s May 4th again, anniversary of the eponymous uprising of China’s young turks against the humiliatingly unfair terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and so the Communist Youth League (in association, of course, with the All-China Youth Federation) has announced the recipients of China’s 15th Annual May Fourth Youth Medal (pictured below).
The Communist Youth League 共青团, whose antecedents date back almost to the original May Fourth Movement in 1919, has long been a springboard for the Communist Party’s top-flight leaders - President Hu Jintao himself was First Secretary during the mid-1980s - and the leadership has a close hand in the choice of recipients. The fact that the medal is a recent innovation, tapping into and directing China’s youthful energy, is significant.
While the May Fourth Youth Medal is ostensibly awarded to people who’ve embodied the spirit of patriotic etc etc, selflessly served the blah blah, and been courageously innovative in yaddah yaddah, it’s interesting to see just how this year’s winners are not just a carefully crafted representation of ethnicity and gender but also an aspirational list of the fields which China’s highly technocratic leadership (President Hu, for example, is an engineer by training) wants to see more of.
Of the 25 medal-winners, seven are female (not ideal, but better than many international awards) and five are from some of China’s largest or politically more sensitive ethnic minorities - the Hui and the Uighurs (both Muslim), the Tibetan Qiang, the Mongols and the Manchu. The more intriguing choices are...
A senior engineer in the State Cryptography Administration (control of the internet domestically and cyber-warfare overseas spring to mind) and the assistant head of a PSB criminal investigation unit in Shanghai (where six policemen were recently murdered by a man who’d been beaten up by their colleagues). In military terms, we have a captain in the People’s Armed Police in Xinjiang (which violently put down what amounted to an attempt to overthrow Chinese rule not long ago), the captain of an optical surveying unit of the PLA, and the commander of a PLA guided-missile battalion.
Then there’s a primary-school teacher in Guizhou (one of China’s very poorest provinces, where education for many rural children is a real problem), and a Tibetan-minority businessman who lost his family in the 2008 Beichuan earthquake.
In the science and industry corner we have a researcher into electrical discharge, an assistant-director of the National Flight Testing Research Institute and an aluminium-alloy worker at a Tangshan carriageworks (aircraft, railways and metallurgy being boom industries in China), a quality tester at a textiles mill in Ningbo (Zhejiang produces textiles for world markets, and quality control has long been an issue for foreign buyers), and the head of Harbin Industrial University Intelligent Control and Systems Research Institute. As for the arts, always a popular choice in a country that emphasizes such signifiers of ethnic pride, we have a performer at the Beijing Dance Academy and the Mongol vice-president of the Inner Mongolian Opera
After such an aspirational wish-list of achievements and ideas, it seems almost patronising to the restive Muslim natives of Xinjiang, then, that the only Uighur on the list is a farmer from a village outside Korla. Still, better than nothing...