How can a weak organization be a path to power? The Chinese Communist Youth League (CYL) lacks autonomy and coherence yet it is seen as the cradle for one of the main factions within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). To understand this tension, I provide a novel account of the role played by the CYL in the recruitment of leading cadres since the 1980s. Against explanations based on factional struggles, I argue that the rise of CYL-affiliated cadres is a by-product of the organization's weakness. As the Party appoints CYL heads, CCP leaders, at various levels and at different points in time, have used the League to accelerate the promotion of their protégés. For years, there has been little incentive for Party bosses to dismantle this promotion path. However, in his bid to consolidate his power, Xi Jinping has weakened this channel so that it may not be used by potential rivals.