Core features of mobility regimes are obscured by models common in comparative research. Party patronage in China is apparent only in the timing of career events. Elites are chosen from among party members, but only some are eventually chosen. Those who join the party while young enter a career path that includes sponsorship for adult education and more likely promotion. While the party's preference for youth from "red" classes has yielded to one for prior education, party sponsorship endures. Because patronage blurs distinctions between politics and merit, it confounds interpretations of returns to individual attributes.