They read Marx, Lenin and Mao and formed student groups to discuss the progress of socialism. They investigated the treatment of the campus proletariat, including janitors, cooks and construction workers. They volunteered to help struggling rural families and dutifully recited the slogans of President Xi Jinping.

Then, after graduation, they attempted to put the party’s stated ideals into action, converging from across China last month on Huizhou, a city in the south, to organize labor unions at nearby factories and stage protests demanding greater protections for workers.

That’s when the party realized it had a problem.

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