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A Collective of Their Own: Young Volunteers at the Fringes of the Party Realm

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image of European Journal of East Asian Studies

Based on fieldwork in an urban branch of the China Youth Volunteers' Association this article discusses how individual motivation for volunteering among young middle-class students plays a role in the internal reforming of one of the few officially authorised associations available for young people. Whereas Chinese volunteering was once a Party-driven effort supported by Maoist calls to 'Serve the people', contemporary Chinese volunteering is promoted with a focus on the volunteer's own experience and commitment. Interviews and participant observation demonstrate how young volunteers use the Party-linked Volunteers' Association not merely instrumentally to support their own personal ambitions, but also as a social space where the individual may find room to 'give and share beyond the family'. The analysis shows that volunteering is perceived differently by volunteers' families, the local media, the local community and the volunteers themselves. The article concludes that what attracts youth to the volunteer movement is the opportunity to be part of a collective where they can contribute to society while at the same time being recognised as individuals.

Affiliations: 1: University of Oslo;, Email:


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