The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has revealed plans to expand the work of its Young Pioneers children's organization to Hong Kong, Macau, and the democratic island of Taiwan, as well as further "cultivating" the nation's children at home.
In a document published on the front page of CCP mouthpiece the People's Daily on Thursday, the CCP Central Committee said the work of the Young Pioneers was a "strategic" and "fundamental" part of its rule.
Since its founding in October 1949, the Young Pioneers "has united, educated, and led generations of children to follow and obey the party," the document said.
It called on CCP organizations to "strengthen exchanges and cooperation with Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan children’s organizations and institutions to enhance the national, ethnic and cultural identity of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan children."
The order comes as authorities in Hong Kong are getting ready to repurpose a secondary-school critical thinking program currently known as Liberal Studies to deliver classes on patriotism, "national security," and the mainland Chinese political system, in which the CCP controls every aspect of life.
The document also calls for outreach programs in "countries around the world, especially countries involved in the Belt and Road [infrastructure plan]."
Under the plan, CCP committees at all levels of government will be made answerable to higher levels of government for their leadership of the Young Pioneers, and held responsible for the progress of local branches.
"Central and local governments at all levels have designated a comrade responsible for liaising with the Young Pioneers to carry out this work," it said, mandating a annual work report.
Youth work committees will also be mandatory in all primary and secondary schools, it said.
Targeting children a priority
According to the state-run China Daily, political work targeting children has been a priority of CCP general secretary Xi Jinping since he took power in 2012.
The order to boost the work of the Young Pioneers comes as the ruling party approaches the 100th anniversary of its founding this year, as well as the 20th Party Congress in Beijing.
"This national organization acts like a big school, where its members "develop their character and all kinds of skills, as well as their love for party, motherland, and the people," the China Daily quoted Xi as saying in a recent message to the Young Pioneers.
Chengdu-based rights activist Huang Xiaomin said the renewed focus on youth work follows a decade during which the Young Pioneers became less of a political organization and more of a national youth club.
"There is a sense that the Young Pioneers have grown unreliable [as a political organization] and can't be trusted with important work," Huang said.
"They have suddenly woken up to the fact that they can't miss out on this opportunity [to engage in political education of the nation's children]."
'I would never let them join'
A resident of Taiyuan in the northern province of Shanxi, who gave only a surname Wang, said she was angry after reading the document, because the CCP has yet to solve some of the most fundamental problems facing China's 1.4 billion people.
"There is something ridiculous about discussing ideology when 1.4 billion people in this country are facing all of the same problems as the rest of the world right now," Wang said. "Are they planning to stay in power for another 100 years?" she said.
"If I had a child in school I would never let them join the Young Pioneers," she said.
Anhui-based scholar Sun Bin said the emphasis on the Young Pioneers seems a little outdated, as if Xi wants to walk the country back in time.
"After 40 years of westernization and the economic miracle, they are walking backwards on the question of political reform," Sun said.
"These measures are an attempt to prevent gradual change and creeping reforms," he said.
The Hong Kong government recently revealed to the education sector its plans to re-purpose Liberal Studies in the city's schools, skewing it towards the patriotic indoctrination favored by Beijing.
The decade-old Liberal Studies program, blamed by China for a string of mass, pro-democracy and anti-government protests in Hong Kong in recent years, will now be repurposed as a vehicle for China's brand of "patriotic education," a proposal shelved following mass protests in 2009, according to a 45-page circular sent to schools in recent days.
The Education Bureau plans to "optimize" the program around four core subjects, under which topics will include "national security" and "national identity," as well as material relating to China's recent achievements.
There is also a module on "Chinese culture and modern life," which requires students to complete a project on some aspect of life in mainland China.
Hong Kong saw the setting up of a CCP-backed "National Pioneers" children's organization similar to the Young Pioneers, whose members wear a yellow rather than a red neck-scarf, in 2007.
Reported by Qiao Long and Gigi Lee for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.