Anarchism in China

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Anarchism in China was a strong intellectual force in the reform and revolutionary movements in the early 20th century. In the years before and just after the overthrow of the Qing dynasty Chinese anarchists insisted that a true revolution could not be political, replacing one government with another, but had to overthrow traditional culture and create new social practices, especially in the family. "Anarchism" was translated into Chinese as 無政府主義 (wúzhèngfǔ zhǔyì) literally, "the doctrine of no government."

Chinese students in Japan and France eagerly sought out anarchist doctrines to first understand their home country and then to change it. These groups relied on education to create a culture in which strong government would not be needed because men and women were humane in their relations with each other in the family and in society. Groups in Paris and Tokyo published journals and translations that were eagerly read in China and the Paris group organized the Work-Study Programs to bring students to France. The late 19th and early 20th century Nihilist movement and anarchist communism in Russia were a major influence. The use of assassination as a tool was promoted by groups like the Chinese Assassination Corps, similar to the suicidal terror attacks by Russian anti-czarist groups. By the 1920s, however, the Chinese Nationalist Party and the Chinese Communist Party offered organizational strength and political change which drained support from anarchists.


Chinese anarchism has its origins in philosophical Taoism, which first developed in ancient China during the Spring and Autumn Period and has been embraced by some anarchists as a source of anarchistic attitudes. The Taoist sages Lao Tzu and Zhuang Zhou whose philosophy was rather based on an "anti-polity" stance and rejection of any kind of involvement in political movements or organisations and developed a philosophy of "non-rule" in the Zhuang Zhou and Tao Te Ching, and many Taoists in response lived an anarchic lifestyle.[1] There is an ongoing debate whether exhorting rulers not to rule belongs to the sphere of anarchism.[2] A new generation of Taoist thinkers with anarchic leanings appeared during the chaotic Wei-Jin period. Taoist principles were more akin to philosophical anarchism, trying to delegitimate the state and question its morality. Taoism and neo-Taoism were pacifist schools of thought, in contrast with many of their Western anarchist counterparts some centuries later.[3]

Throughout its history, Chinese civilization has gone through a cycle of rise and decline marked by the continued centralization of power by ruling dynasties, collapse of centralized rule and then the eventual rise of a new dynasty.[4] In 1839, the Qing dynasty entered a period of decline, beginning with its defeat by foreign powers during the Opium Wars and continuing with a string of revolts and rebellions, which severely weakened the empire's centralized rule. Chinese dissidents started to flee abroad where, outside of the authority of the Qing dynasty, they were able to freely spread the revolutionary ideas of republicanism, nationalism, socialism and anarchism.

Beginnings of the reformist and revolutionary movements[edit]

Liang Qichao, an early Chinese nationalist and leader of the democratic reform movement.

During the Self-Strengthening Movement, Chinese intellectuals making direct contact with Europeans started to take an interest in the political and economic institutions of European powers.[5] A national consciousness and a sense of cosmopolitanism began to develop, advocating the transformation of China from an empire into a nation-state, in order to secure its future existence in the face of foreign aggression.[6] This rise in Chinese nationalism, which advocated for a form of popular sovereignty, was poorly received by the governing Confucianists, whose conservative desire to preserve the inherited institutions of the empire led them to oust many nationalists from office during the 1880s. This caused much of the nationalist movement to reconstitute itself around revolutionary republican ideals, calling for an end to Qing rule.[7]

Inspired by early Qing thinkers that condemned rulers who prioritized private interests over the public good,[8] the goal of the first generation of Chinese nationalists was to organically integrate Chinese society and the state, with reformers like Liang Qichao advocating for greater political participation through the institution of democracy.[9] Contrary to the nationalists' intentions, by probing the relationship between society and the state, they had raised the question of opposition between society and the state,[9] as well as the question of oppsition between individual autonomy and the political collective,[10] laying the foundations for the emergence of Chinese anarchist thought. These growing anarchic tendencies were even seen in Liang's own words, when he posed that his conception of nationalism "does not allow other people to infringe my freedom, nor does it let me impose on other people"[11] and advocated for the cultivation of autonomous individuals by removing all political and social restrictions from them.[10]

The collapse of the Self-Strengthening Movement because of the Chinese defeat in the First Sino-Japanese War gave rise to a number of new revolutionary nationalist organizations such as the Revive China Society, as well as organized political reform movements such as the Gongche Shangshu movement. From Hong Kong, the Revive China Society planned to launch an uprising in Guangzhou, but their plans were leaked and dozens of members were captured and executed by the Qing government. Meanwhile, the Guangxu Emperor had undertaken the Hundred Days' Reform, but this too was defeated in a coup d'état by the conservative faction led by Empress Dowager Cixi, who placed the reform-minded Guangxu Emperor under house arrest and ordered the public execution of the reform's chief advocates.

After the defeat of the Qing-backed Boxer Rebellion, the Qing government was finally forced to begin implementing reforms, in order to attempt to keep the dynasty in power. It was during this period that young Chinese radicals first became attracted to anarchism, inspired by the Russian nihilist movement to begin a revolutionary struggle for the overthrow of Qing rule.[12] A number of anti-Qing uprisings followed in their wake, but these were ultimately unsuccessful.

Chinese student movements[edit]

Doufu Factory Night School 1916

The Chinese anarchist presence appeared first in France and Japan when the sons of wealthy families went abroad for study after the failed Boxer Rebellion. By 1906 national and provincial programs sent between five and six hundred students to Europe and about 10,000 to Japan. Japan, especially Tokyo, was the most popular destination because of its geographic proximity to China, its relatively affordable cost, and certain affinities between the two cultures. The Japanese language use of Chinese characters made it somewhat easier to learn. In Europe, Paris was particularly popular. Living in the city was relatively cheap, the French government subsidized the students, and France was seen as the center of Western civilization.[13][page needed]

The Chinese government officials may also have wanted to get radical students out of the country. The most radical students went to Europe and the more moderate students to Japan. That policy was to prove remarkably short-sighted as these foreign-educated students would use the methods and ideologies of European socialism and anarchism to completely transform Chinese society. In both locations of study, anarchism quickly became the most dominant of the western ideologies adopted by the students. In 1906, within a few months of each other, two separate anarchist student groups would form, one in Tokyo and one in Paris. The different locations, and perhaps also the different inclinations of the students being sent to each location, would result in two very different kinds of anarchism.[13][page needed]

Paris group[edit]

Wu Zhihui, Zhang Jingzhang, and Li Shizeng, Leaders of the Xin Shijie Society

The so-called "Paris Group" gradually organized around the figures Zhang Renjie (also known as Zhang Jingzhang) and Li Shizeng, who arrived in Paris in 1902 as attaches to the Chinese embassy. They were soon joined by Wu Zhihui, an older and more intellectually rigorous figure and a radical critic of the Qing government. Wu introduced the group to his friend, Cai Yuanpei, who became a leader of the New Culture Movement,[14] and in the 《New Year's Dream》, which predicted the great changes in the world with the passage of time.[15] In 1906 Zhang, Li, and Wu founded the first Chinese anarchist organization, the World Society (世界社 Shijie she), sometimes translated as New World Society. In 1908, the World Society started a weekly journal, Xin Shiji 新世紀週報 (New Era or New Century; titled La Novaj Tempaj in Esperanto), to introduce Chinese students in France, Japan, and China to the history of European radicalism.[13][page needed] Other contributors included Wang Jingwei, Zhang Ji, and Chu Minyi, a student from Zhejiang who accompanied Zhang Renjie back from China and would be his assistant in the years to come.[16]

Li wrote that the influences of the Paris group could be divided into 3 main fields: radical libertarianism and anarchism; Darwinism and Social Darwinism; and the classical Chinese philosophers. While the Paris group was more reluctant than their counterparts in Tokyo to equate the teachings of Lao Tzu or the ancient well-field system with the anarchist communism they advocated, Li describes the group as consisting of young men who had received excellent educations in the Chinese classical tradition. He admits that the old thinking influenced them. The clear trend with the Paris group, however, was to dismiss and even actively oppose any association of anarchism with traditional culture. [13][page needed] For the Paris group, as the historian Peter Zarrow puts it, "science was truth and truth was science."[17]

Tokyo group[edit]

The Tokyo group drew on the same influences but in a different order of preference. While the Paris group was enamored of western science and western civilization, leaders such as Liu Shifu rooted their anarchism in political traditions native to Asia. In practical terms this meant the Paris group studied Esperanto, advocated anarcho-syndicalism, and drew heavily upon the works of Mikhail Bakunin and Peter Kropotkin. [13][page needed] The Tokyo group advocated an agrarian society built around democratically run villages organized into a free federation for mutual aid and defense. They based their ideology on a fusion of Taoism, Buddhism, and the "well field system" of ancient China, and gave preference to Leo Tolstoy over Kropotkin. Liu Shipei and He Zhen, his wife, split from the programs of the Zhang Binglin and other Tokyo leaders and returned to Shanghai. When it became public that the couple had been informers working for the Manchu official Duanfang, they were shunned.[18]

The Paris and Tokyo also initially advocated assassination, perhaps an indicator of the lasting influences of nihilism, but by 1910 conversion to anarchism was typically accompanied by the renunciation of assassination as a tactic.[13][page needed]

Cooperation and differences[edit]

In the early 20th century the anarchist movement was largely a western movement and the Chinese students studying in Paris were enthusiastically supportive of anarchism because they saw it as the most forward-thinking of all the western ideologies, and thus the furthest removed from what they perceived as a Chinese culture moribund by tradition. This position would repeatedly place them at odds with the Tokyo group who saw much that was good in traditional culture, and even argued that because China had not embraced the illusion of liberal capitalist democracy, it might be easier for them to make the transition to anarchism than it would be for the Europeans.

These differences, however, do not mean that the two groups did not cooperate. Because of the decentralised political structure and emphasis on local economic and political self-determination advocated by both groups, they were able to come to a tacit understanding that after the revolution both systems could peacefully coexist. The conflict was essentially one of values, priorities, and (by implication) methods for achieving the revolution which both advocated. In particular, the conflict over what place, if any, traditional Chinese philosophies should play in influencing anarchist thoughts and actions. This was a major source of friction and debate between the two groups.

The tendency for the advocates of different anarchisms to disagree on issues but agree to cooperate is not unique to the Chinese anarchist experience. For this reason many political scientists describe anarchism as a movement of movements. The ideological diversity inherent in such a movement of movements has historically been one of its great strengths but has also repeatedly undermined attempts to shape it into a cohesive force for social change.

Anarchism and nationalism[edit]

In the first phase of the movement, anarchists of both schools were generally participants in the Nationalist movement, even though in theory they repudiated nationalism and nation-states. They were influenced by foreign movements such as The People's Will and pan-Slavic nationalists like The Black Hand. Even though anarchism and nihilism are distinct and separate ideologies, at that time the popular press in Europe and China generally conflated the two. At the International Conference of Rome for the Social Defense Against Anarchists, anarchism was defined "as any act that used violent means to destroy the organization of society". This association with political violence promoted an early interest in anarchism among some Chinese radicals.

Nationalist attacks[edit]

The first attacks on the growing anarchist movement in China came from nationalists who saw anarchism as a threat to a strong, unified, centralized modern nation that could stand up to Western imperialism. As one reader wrote in a letter to Xin Shiji (The New World), the anarchist newspaper published by the Paris group:

If you people know only how to cry emptily that "We want no government, no soldiers, no national boundaries, and no State" and that you are for universal harmony, justice, freedom, and equality, I fear that those who know only brute force and not justice will gather their armies to divide up our land and our people.[13][page needed]

Nationalists also argued that only by building a popular front could the revolutionary movement defeat the Manchus and the Qing Dynasty, and that in the long run if anarchism was to succeed it must be preceded by a Republican system that would make China secure.

Anarchist response[edit]

Li Shizeng

The response of the Xin Shiji editors, written by Li Shizeng, was threefold. First, the revolution that the anarchists advocated would be global, simultaneous, decentralized, and spontaneous. Thus, foreign imperialists would be too occupied with the revolutions in their home countries to bother invading or harassing China. Secondly, they argued that having a strong centralized coercive government had not prevented China's enemies from attacking her in the past anyway. Finally, there was the moral point that in the long run, tyranny is tyranny, regardless of whether it is native or foreign. Therefore, the only logical approach for people who want freedom must be to oppose all authority be it Manchu, Han, foreign, or native.

Critics then and later asked how the Chinese anarchists could expect a global spontaneous revolution to come about. Li and the Paris group assumed, as did many radicals of all stripes all over the globe at that time, that Revolution was something akin to a force of nature. Within the context of their thinking, Revolution would come because it was obviously needed, and their role was simply to prepare people for it and help them see the obvious necessity of social change. This perspective provides important insight into the fundamentally evolutionary nature of the movement, and explains the movement's focus on education instead of organization building.

Results of collaboration[edit]

Zhang Ji Minguo

The involvement of prominent Nationalist figures indicates the role of personal relationships in the Paris groups' organizing. The individuals who founded that group had come out of the Nationalist movement and remained strongly tied to it by a network of close personal friendships. Therefore, it was natural for them to attempt to include their friends in their organizing in the hopes of winning those friends (and the influence they possessed) over to the anarchist cause.

The actual result of such collaboration was that the anarchists, not the Nationalists, compromised their positions since doing so allowed them to gain access to power positions in the Nationalist government that they theoretically opposed. That same year Jing Meijiu and Zhang Ji (another anarchist affiliated with the Tokyo group) would both be elected to the Republican parliament. Shifu and the Guangzhou group declared that by doing so they were traitors to the cause and proved their lack of commitment to the movement, but both men continued to call themselves anarchists and were active in promoting anarchism clear up to the late 1920s.

As a counterpoint to such collaboration, however, there is evidence that many more anarchists could have joined the new Nationalist government and gained positions of power and privilege but refused to do so because doing so would have violated their principles. As Scalapino and Yu put it "there can be little doubt that many refused to play the kind of political role that was so desperately needed in a period when trained personnel were extremely scarce compared to the tasks at hand."

Strategic issues[edit]

Arif Dirlik argues that these problems were indicative of lingering ambiguity in the definition of anarchism. More accurately, the issue was one of strategy[citation needed]. These men considered themselves anarchists because they were working for the long-term abolition of capitalism, the state, and coercive authority in general. In their vision, anarchism was a very long-term goal and not something they expected to see realized in their lifetimes. Chiang, for instance, expected that it would take 3,000 years to bring about the revolution they dreamed of.

Anarchist loyalties or beliefs do not prevent the pursuit of national goals, even for those who formally reject nationalism.[19]

Understanding that, it becomes easier to see why anarchists would be tempted to campaign for and hold political office or collaborate with sympathetic elements in the government[citation needed], since doing so would help them achieve their long-term goals. This attitude is clearly distinct from the revolutionary anarchism of Kropotkin and Bakunin, or even of the Guangzhou group, which aimed for immediate revolution and the creation of an anarchist society in the immediate future.

This tendency to work for long-term revolution and focus on philosophy and theory instead of concrete organizing by some of the wealthier participants in the movement might have been rooted in class backgrounds. The split between wealthier philosophical anarchists, Marxists, or socialists, and working class revolutionaries can be a common feature of revolutionary movements.

Early growth of anarchism[edit]

Sun Yat Sen

The Paris group declared that education was the most important activity revolutionaries could be involved in, and that only through educating the people could anarchism be achieved. [See for example Wu Zhihui: "Education as Revolution," The New Era, September 1908][20] Accordingly, they geared their activities towards education instead of assassination or grass roots organizing (the other two forms of activism which they condoned in theory). To these ends the Paris group set up a variety of businesses, including a soy products factory, which employed worker-students from China who wanted an education abroad. The students worked part-time and studied part-time, thus gaining a European education for a fraction of what it would cost otherwise. Many also gained first-hand experience on what it might mean to live, work, and study in an anarchist society. This study-abroad program played a critical role in infusing anarchist language and ideas into the broader nationalist and revolutionary movements as hundreds of students participated in the program. The approach demonstrated that anarchist organizational models based on mutual aid and cooperation were viable alternatives to profit-driven capitalist ventures.

The Paris and Tokyo groups both rallied to the nationalist cause. Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui, and Zhang Renjie became early members of the Kuomintang and became close friends of Sun Yat-Sen. Sun received "considerable" economic assistance from Zhang. This collaboration was understandable given the emphasis by both the anarchists and the nationalists on the importance of Revolutionaries working together, and because of the eclecticism of Sun Yat-sen, who stated that "the end goal of the three peoples principles [was] communism and anarchism." Also, this view was shared by other Kuomintang ideologues.[21]

By the beginning of 1920, anarchism was the most radical trend in Chinese socialism, and it served the Kuomintang by the end of 1920. For early anarchists had established personal and political relationships with Kuomintang leaders, independent of their ideology. But the radical ideology of anarchism, in its peculiar formulation of social interests and conflicts, makes itself almost as easily an instrument of counterrevolution as it is of revolution.[22]

Anarchism as a mass movement[edit]

By 1911 anarchism had become the driving force behind popular mobilization and had moved beyond its initial association with relatively wealthy students studying abroad to become a genuine revolutionary movement among the people as a whole. There is some evidence that the grassroots workers movement which was developing at this time enjoyed a secondary influx of anarchist ideals as people who had been working in the United States were forced to return to China following the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. This act severely limited (but did not eliminate) the flow of Chinese workers to and from the United States.

Influence of U.S. anarchists[edit]


The United States is influenced in many ways by world anarchism. Johann Most, the German anarchist who came to the United States in 1882, was described as "the Most vilified social radical"of his time, a man whose profuse advocacy of social unrest and fascination with dramatic destruction eventually led Emma Goldman to denounce him as a recognized authoritarian.[23]

In the United States, anarchists had been almost alone in the labor movement in explicitly opposing racism against Asian and Mexican workers, and when Emma Goldman came to speak in San Francisco in the 1890s there were several thousand Chinese workers in attendance. Additionally, from 1908 on, many thousands of Chinese workers in North America - particularly those working in California and the Pacific North-West - became members of the Industrial Union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The Wobblies (as IWW members were called) were the first American labor union to oppose the institution of White supremacy in an organized and deliberate fashion and to actively recruit Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and migratory workers. Their defense of Chinese immigrants who were being subjected to systematic harassment and discrimination won them a large base of membership among Chinese workers, and widespread support among the Chinese community in North America.

The influence of Chinese IWW members returning to China has gone largely unstudied, but the strong anarchist participation in the Chinese union movement and the willing reception that they met may owe something to this earlier relationship between Chinese workers and anarchist Revolutionaries.

The film《Lady L》is not only influence of America, but also the anarchist perception of women. The protagonist begins her career as a humble but pure washerwoman in a brothel; she is exposed to the film's disgusting sexual misconduct, but she is just an innocent bystander, so she is not abandoned by society. Anarchist views of prostitution have undergone a sea change; to the misogynist Proudhon, the prostitute became "the model of any female liberator". But Emma Goldman argues that traffic in women is not a moral aberration, but a symbol of capitalist wage slavery.[24]

Nationalist revolution of 1911[edit]

Following the Nationalist revolution of 1911 and the victory of the Revolutionary Alliance, which counted several prominent anarchists as movement elders, anarchists throughout China had a bit more room to engage in organizing. At the same time, Nationalist rule was by no means a guarantee of freedom to organize for antiauthoritarians, and government persecution was ongoing. With Nationalist goals of overthrowing the Manchu Qing dynasty having been achieved, the main ideological opposition to anarchism came from self-described Socialists, including the Chinese Socialist Society (CSS) and the Left wing of the nationalist movement which – following Sun Yet-Sen's lead – called itself socialist. Jiang Kanghu, who founded the Chinese Socialist Society in 1911, had been a contributor to the New Era (one of the publications of the Paris Group), and included the abolition of the state, the traditional family structure, and Confucian culture as planks of his parties platform.'

The main source of conflict came because the CSS wanted to retain market relations but supplement them with a broad social safety net, since they felt that without any incentive mechanism people would not produce anything and the society would collapse. Other sources of friction had to do with the CSS's focus on building the revolution in China first, and using elected office as a tool to do so – both significant deviations from classical anarchism. Jiang did not call himself an anarchist, so his party was generally perceived as being outside the movement, despite the similarities. In 1912 Jiang's party split into two factions, the pure socialists, led by the anarchist Buddhist monk Tai Xu, and the remains of the party led by Jiang.

Liu Shifu, who would go on to be one of the most significant figures in the anarchist movement in mainland China founded a group in Guangzhou later that same year, with an explicitly anarchist-communist platform.

Pure Socialist[edit]

The Pure Socialists revised platform included the complete abolition of property and an anarchist-communist economic system. Shifu criticized them for retaining the name "Socialist" but their platform was clearly anarchist so the two groups generally considered each other comrades.[25] The emphasis on the importance of the Peasant struggle, which had been pioneered earlier by the Tokyo group, would also become a major subject of discussion and organizing among Chinese anarchists from both the Pure Socialists and the Guangzhou group in this period. It was anarchists who first pointed to the crucial role that the peasants must play in any serious revolutionary attempt in China, and anarchists were the first to engage in any serious attempts to organize the Peasants.[citation needed]

Guangzhou group[edit]

Liu Shifu, a member of the Guangzhou group.

The main base of anarchist activity in mainland China during this phase was in Guangzhou, and the Paris and Tokyo groups continued to have significant influence. The Pure Socialists were also strongly involved, but because they were Buddhists as much as they were anarchists, were more concerned with promoting virtue and less focused on immediate revolution. By this time the Paris group had rendered their anarchism into a genuine philosophy that was more concerned with the place of the peaceful individual within society than with the day-to-day grind of government coercion against working people. Their tendency toward peace was somewhat surprising given the relatively wealthy backgrounds of most of the Paris group, but it would lead to increased friction between them and those comrades supportive of government coercion in Guangzhou.

The Guangzhou group is usually described as being "led" by Liu Shifu, and this is generally accurate insofar as we understand it as leadership by example since he was never granted any formal position or coercive authority by the group. Their most significant contributions at this stage were the foundation of "an alliance between intellectuals and workers" and their propaganda work which set out to differentiate anarchism from all the other socialisms that were gaining in popularity; and in so doing crystallized for the first time exactly what anarchism was.

Where the Paris group had preferred to outline their ideal in terms of negative freedoms, i.e., freedom from coercion, freedom from tradition, etc.; the Guangzhou group used positive assertions of rights and workers, women, peasants, and other oppressed groups to outline their vision of an anarchist society. Noticeably absent was any mention of ethnic minorities, since a basic part of their platform was the elimination of ethnic, racial, and national identities in favor of an internationalist identity that placed primary importance on loyalty to humanity as a whole, instead of to ones ethnic or racial group.

This position was formulated in response to the primacy placed on ethnicity by the Anti-Manchu movement, which sought to assert the illegitimacy of the Qing dynasty based in part on the fact that its members were part of an ethnic minority out of touch with the Han majority, a position which anarchists of all four major groups decried as racist and unbefitting a movement that claimed to be working for liberation. Their position, therefore, was that ethnicity-based organizing promoted Racism, and had no place in a Revolution that sought liberation for all of humanity.

In practical terms, the work of the movement at this stage was propaganda and organizing. Guangzhou anarchists founded a newspaper called Peoples Voice and began organizing workers, while in Taiyuan, in Shanxi province in the northwest, Jing Meijiu - who had converted to anarchism as part of the Tokyo group - founded an explicitly anarchafeminist worker-run factory/school to serve as a tool to help women simultaneously earn a living and receive an education.

Paris group influence[edit]

The similarity to the Paris group's "Diligent Work and Frugal Study" program is obvious. In 1912, members of the Paris group that had returned to China established the Promote Virtue Society whose leadership included prominent anarchists like Li Shizeng and Nationalists like Wang Jingwei.

The focus of that society, in keeping with the tendencies of the Paris group, was as much on virtuous and moral personal behavior as it was on Revolutionary praxis. Their rules for membership delineated different levels of commitment and discouraged members from eating meat and visiting prostitutes; and concretely forbade them from riding in Sedan chairs, taking concubines, or holding public office.

While it may be tempting to see such rules as superfluous, the evidence suggests we should take them seriously, since most of the anarchist organizations in China in this period included similar rules for their members. The goal was to create a cadre of Revolutionaries who would lead by example and help create a model for a new revolutionary culture. There are obvious parallels here to the traditional obligation for people involved in public life to set an example and promote virtue as well.

Diffusion of anarchist ideas[edit]

Since the 1890s, there have been many utopian stories spreading anarchist ideas, reflecting people's desire for a strong China, 《New Year's Dream》 is an excellent work of the utopian narrative tide initiated by CAI Yuanpei in Liang Qichao. 《New Year's Dream》 is not only a description of Cai Yuanpei's personal revolutionary trajectory, but also his unique contribution to anarchism. On the one hand, CAI Yuanpei gave a concise and complete description of anarchism in time and space, which endowed anarchism with a real-world revolution. On the other hand, as far as political practice is concerned, the story contains more complexity than many European anarchists expected.[26]

The practical implications of such a broad diffusion of anarchist ideas, the setting in which it took place, and Cai Yuanpei's thought experiment that is a fascinating blend of anarchism, cosmopolitanism, and social evolution[26] are both strong indicators of the strong fusion of pragmatism and idealism that typified the Paris group's activities. In any case, the increased contact with actual flesh-and-blood workers had a profound effect on their propaganda and theory, with labor issues suddenly becoming a much more prominent part of their platform.

Not only labor issues, but also language is a constant topic of discussion in the dissemination of anarchist ideas. After the death of the young Liu Shifu, the Anarchist movement in China went through a difficult period. Until the eve of the May 4th movement, Esperanto was still a problem that anarchism needed to solve. After Chen Duxiu founded the 《New Youth》, a new culture movement publication, in 1918, the flagship journal published controversial discussions about Esperanto, an international language that even some non-anarchists were fascinated by. Anarchists used the opportunity to unite around this common topic and gain new visibility through widely published journals. Thus, during this period, Esperanto, as a more equal means of communication, addressed the "linguistic disadvantage" of East Asia without having to choose a language that was attached to a particular country. Esperanto embodies the true internationalist ideal. Also, it represents modern in a rational sense, and gets rid of the inconsistencies of the typical historically accepted language.

A major liability that the movement had picked up along the way, however, was the extreme diffusion of anarchist idea to the point where it was becoming difficult to define exactly who was and who was not an anarchist. Liu Shifu set out to remedy that situation in a series of articles in Peoples Voice, which attacked Jiang Kanghu, Sun Yat-Sen, and the Pure Socialists.

The debates that ensued served for the first time to really crystallize what exactly was meant by anarchism in the broad sense. These articles were generally friendly in tone. The goal was to clearly differentiate between the different schools of thought that were available at that time. The letters directed at Sun Yet Sen and the Nationalists were aimed at exposing the ambiguities of their use of the word "socialism" to describe their goals, which were clearly not socialist according to any contemporary definition. The attacks on Jiang and the CSS sought to portray their vision of revolution and socialism as too narrow because it was focused on a single country, and to oppose their retention of market relations as part of their platform. The attack on the Pure Socialists was by far the mildest, with the main criticism being that if they were anarchists then they should call themselves anarchists and not socialists. Peoples Voice invited and printed responses from all parties, and their goal seems to have been the creation of an open and respectful debate among friends.

Counterrevolution and the rise of the Warlords[edit]

In March 1913, the KMT leader Song Jiaoren was assassinated by order of the Beiyang government.[27] In retaliation, Sun Yat-sen called for a Second Revolution to overthrow Yuan Shikai, organizing revolutionary forces of the southern provinces against the Beiyang government in an armed conflict, but the revolt was unsuccessful.[28] Yuan subsequently dissolved parliament, abolished the constitution and reorganized provincial governments, effectively transforming the Republic of China into a dictatorship.[29] The failure of the revolution forced Sun to flee to Japan, where he continued to receive support from Zhang Renjie, who was now making money on the Shanghai Stock Exchange.

Men of the Chinese Labour Corps load sacks of oats onto a lorry at Boulogne while supervised by a British officer.

In the political oppression that followed, many anarchist groups were forced into exile. The Guangzhou group evacuated the city, fleeing first to Macao and then on to Shanghai, where Shifu established the Society of Anarcho-Communist Comrades.[30] A number of members of the Paris Group, including Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui and Wang Jingwei,[31] returned to France and relaunched the Diligent Work-Frugal Study Movement.[32] The outbreak of World War I had seen the establishment of the Chinese Labour Corps, in which the Entente Powers recruited hundreds of thousands of Chinese workers to their factories, to which the Paris Group responded by providing these migrant workers with education and training.[33]

In December 1915, Yuan Shikai declared himself Emperor of a new Empire of China. This was opposed by almost all the generals and officers in the Beiyang Army, with many of the Southern Provinces once again rebelling against the imperial government, beginning the National Protection War. By March 1916, the situation forced Yuan to abdicate and he died not long after. This implosion of the Beiyang government's centralized authority led to the beginning of the Warlord Era, during which the Beiyang Army fragmented into a number of regional military cliques that began to vie for control of the country.

In the aftermath, the leading KMT politician Chen Qimei was assassinated in Shanghai by the Fengtian warlord Zhang Zongchang, leading Zhang Renjie to take Chen's protégé Chiang Kai-shek under his wing, providing Chiang with financial assistance, personal advice and political backing.

Anarchism during the Third Revolution[edit]

Following the death of Yuan Shikai, a number of dissident political figures returned to China. Sun Yat-sen moved to Guangzhou, where he convened a military government with the intention of protecting provisional constitution and reuniting China, beginning the Third Revolution.

During this period, anarchists in Guangzhou initiated the Chinese syndicalist movement, organizing China's first trade unions among the city's barbers and tea-house clerks. The Guangzhou anarchists went on to lead China's first May Day celebrations, published the country's first workers' journal Labor and during the time of the Third Revolution came to have organized over forty trade unions in Guangzhou alone.[34] Anarcho-syndicalist activity even spread as far as Hunan and Shanghai, with anarchists spearheading the education of the working classes and insisting on workers' self-organization as the backbone of the labor movement.[35] Anarchism became a genuine popular movement in China as increasing numbers of people from peasants and factory workers to intellectuals and students became disillusioned with the national government and its inability to realize the peace and prosperity it had promised.

However, the First Constitutional Protection Movement was soon defeated by the Beiyang government and the Guangxi clique subsequently seized control of the military government in Guangzhou. Some of the Guangzhou anarchists subsequently fled to Fujian, under the protection of the anarchist military leader Chen Jiongming, who oversaw the propagation of anarchism in the city. Under Chen's leadership, Zhangzhou became a model anarchist city, where anarchists could operate publish their literature freely.[36] The large anarchist presence in the province led Fujian to become known as the "Soviet Russia of Southern China", with the city's anarchist publications serving as a major source of information on the progress of the Russian Revolution.[36]

New Culture Movement[edit]

Cai Yuanpei, one of the intellectual leaders of the New Culture Movement.

Meanwhile in North China, Cai Yuanpei had also returned and took a position as President of Peking University, where he resumed his support for the Diligent Work-Frugal Study Movement[37] and recruited famous thinkers such as the early Chinese communists Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao to teach at the university.[38] One of Li Dazhao's students was a young Mao Zedong who, initially influenced by the anarcho-communism of Peter Kropotkin, began to rapidly develop towards Marxism as part of Li's study group.[39][40] The Paris Group also began to establish feeder schools throughout North China,[41] obtaining financial support from the new Beiyang government in order to provide transport for students to France,[13][page needed] which attracted many new students to the program.[42]

From his position at Peking University, Cai Yuanpei became a leader of the New Culture Movement, which arose out of disillusionment with traditional Chinese culture after the restored Republican government had failed to address many of the country's problems.[43] Many of China's prominent scholars began to openly revolt against Confucianism, instead promoting a society based on individual freedom, complete with women's liberation from the patriarchy, democratic and egalitarian values, as well as a forward-looking orientation.[44]

New Youth magazine cover

Many of these discussions were published in Chen Duxiu's New Youth magazine, which became a leading forum for debate on the weaknesses present in the Republic of China.[45] The anarchist arguments for a Social Revolution that had originated a decade earlier with the original Paris group found broader acceptance in the New Culture Movement,[46] to which anarchists introduced the first visions of socialism in China.[47]

The movement itself was not specifically anarchist, but in its glorification of science and extreme disdain for Confucianism and traditional culture, the proliferation of anarchist thought during this period can be seen as a confirmation of the influence anarchists had on the movement from its foundation on. Anarchism, as a mass movement, was another manifestation of modernity and the most thorough criticism of empires and nation-states. At the same time, it was part of the process of modernization and globalization that swept the world before 1914.[48] However, anarchism at this time was externally positioned as a continuum between liberalism and state socialism.[49] The participants saw it as a conscious attempt to create a Chinese renaissance, and consciously sought to create and live the new culture that they espoused.[50]

The New Culture Movement saw a surge in anarchist activity, with anarchist groups such as the Truth Society playing an important role in the movement at Peking University.[34] Other pillars of the Chinese anarchist movement at the time included the Conscience Society in Guangzhou and the Masses Society in Nanjing, which later merged together with the Beijing-based Truth Society to establish the Evolution Society, a nation-wide anarchist umbrella organization.[34]

May Fourth Movement[edit]

Students in Beijing rallied during the May Fourth Movement.

In 1919, a wave of student protests broke out throughout the country in response to the Beiyang government's weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which had allowed the Empire of Japan to retain the territories in Shandong that it had captured from the German Empire. After student leaders of the demonstrations were arrested and imprisoned, Cai Yuanpei briefly resigned from his post as Dean of Peking University in protest, leading to a mass mobilization.[38] News from the Russian Revolution, which Chinese radicals initially viewed as an anarcho-communist revolution, brought with it a new-found interest in socialism.[51] Anarchists greatly benefited from the new interest in socialism, as anarchism was the most popular and widespread variant of socialism at the time.[52]

Students of Beijing Normal University after being detained by government during the May Fourth Movement.

The Beiyang government became increasingly concerned with the surge in anarchist activity and began to identify extremism closely with anarchism, counterintuitively giving more publicity to the anarchist movement.[53] Anarchist societies began to spring up across China and anarchist ideas became central to Chinese radicalism, with the New Life Movement bringing anarchist principles into everyday life,[52] through the creation of agrarian communes. According to Zhou Zuoren, a leading figure in the movement, the main goal of these new villages was conceived as being the promotion of labor, which anarchists of the time held to be the foundation of future society.[54] The anarchist conceptions of mutual aid and education were also fundamental aspects in these experiments to reorganize social life.[55] Anarchists of the May Fourth Movement refused to distinguished between means and ends, holding that the process of revolution lay in the creation of the future society in the present.[56] However, these communal experiments quickly failed, with the groups involved falling victim to financial difficulties, as the situation had made economic enterprise and employment more difficult.[54] But these short-lived communal experiments still provided inspiration for China's left-leaning intellectuals, who saw them as the beginning of a new era in human society.[54]

The newfound interest in socialism brought on by the movement also brought with it a surge in Marxism.[52] It was at this time that the first Bolsheviks started organizing in China and began contacting anarchist groups for aid and support. The anarchists, unaware that Bolsheviks had taken control in the Soviets and would suppress anarchism, helped them set up communist study groups – many of which were originally majority anarchist – and introduced Bolshevism into the Chinese labor and student movements.[57][58] Chen Duxiu, a vocal opponent of anarchism,[59] became more interested in Marxism during this period and went on to found the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).[60] The CCP was itself founded on the basis of student associations that had been inspired by anarchism during the May Fourth Movement, particularly by the principles of mutual aid and the practice of labor that had been foundational to the organization of collective living in rural areas. Some of the student activists that had arrived at Communism through their association with anarchism included the agrarian movement pioneer Peng Pai and the future CCP leader Mao Zedong.[61]

Second Constitutional Protection Movement[edit]

Chen Jiongming, an anarchist military leader of the Kuomintang in Guangdong, later an opponent of Sun Yat-sen and advocate of federalism.

In 1920, the anarchist military leader Chen Jiongming launched an attack on the Guangxi clique, which had taken over the Constitutional Protection Junta in Guangzhou. Chen recaptured Guangdong for the KMT and even went on to occupy Guangxi, seeing the ultimate dissolution of the Guangxi clique. Chen subsequently invited Sun Yat-sen to return to Guangzhou, where a parliament was reconvened and a new government was established, beginning the Second Constitutional Protection Movement. But as the government was unrecognized and lacking in numbers, Chen invited anarchists, communists and federalists to join the movement, to the chagrin of Sun. Chen also became instrumental in organizing the labour movement of South China, securing workers with the right to collective bargaining. During the Guangzhou seamen's strike, Chen helped to settle the strike, with the employers capitulating to the demands of wage increases.[62]

Sun Yat-sen proposed to forcibly unify China under centralized one-party rule, whereas Chen Jiongming opposed this idea, instead advocating for the establishment of a multi-party federal China through the implementation of inter-provincial autonomy. This split hit its apex when Li Yuanhong was reinstated as President of China, with Chen Jiongming declaring the success of the constitutional protection movement and calling for Sun Yat-sen to step down. When Sun refused, Chen organized a military revolt against the Guangzhou government, forcing Sun Yat-sen to flee once again to Shanghai. But Tang Jiyao eventually retook Guangzhou for the KMT, forcing Chen to flee himself, first to Huizhou then to Hong Kong. Sun Yat-sen himself returned to Guangzhou, where he re-established the military government.

Anarchists in the First United Front[edit]

By 1923, Sun Yat-sen was beginning to put into practice his plans for the military conquest of North China. In order to speed up the process, he signed an agreement to cooperate with the Soviet Union, and subsequently formed an alliance with the newly established Chinese Communist Party (CCP), establishing the First United Front.[63] In his lectures on the Three Principles of the People, Sun even began to downplay the differences between the differences between the socialist ideology of the Kuomintang and that of the anarchists and communists, going as far as to state that the ultimate goal of the Three Principles was the establishment of anarchist communism. To Sun, the principle of People's Livelihood was the realization of communism, clarifying that he advocated the methods proposed by Proudhon and Bakunin, while considering that Marxism was not "real communism".[64]

Chen Duxiu, the first leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

While these statements accelerated the Chinese anarchist effort to appropriate the Three Principles, it also opened the door for the appropriation of anarchism by the Kuomintang. Anarchists saw their loyalties divided and their anarchist goals subordinated to that of the party.[64] The Central Supervisory Committee of the KMT even came under the influence of veteran anarchists, such as the Paris anarchists Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui and Zhang Renjie, who fiercely criticized the KMT's alliance with the CCP.[65] Wu argued that the anarchist involvement in the KMT was necessary to counter the warlords and justified his support for the party due to its commitment to revolution, pointing to Peter Kropotkin's support for the Entente in World War I as an example of anarchists supporting progressive causes that were not their own.[66] But few anarchists looked favorably on this collaboration with the KMT,[67] with some even calling the party counter-revolutionary[67] and criticizing what they saw as opportunism among the KMT anarchists,[68] ultimately causing a division within the anarchist movement which led to the beginning of its downfall.[64]

With the exception of in Guangzhou, the Chinese anarchist movement largely lost ground to the Communist Party.[35] When it was suggested that the Communist Party headquarters be moved from Shanghai to Sun's base in Guangzhou, Chen Duxiu responded by saying "Anarchists are all over this place, spreading slanderous rumors about us. How can we move to Guangzhou?"[59] The tension with communists was increased by anarchist criticisms of the Soviet Union. Reports from disillusioned anarchists had a big impact, such as Emma Goldman, who had many friends in China, and the wife of Kropotkin, who circulated first-hand reports of the failures of Bolshevism.[69] By this time, more than seventy Chinese anarchist publications were in active distribution, both inside and outside of mainland China,[70] which became increasingly focused on the criticism of Bolshevism and the Soviet Union.[70] In their critiques of Bolshevism, anarchists even went as far as to reject class conflict as a means of resolving class oppression, regarding it as a selfish way of perpetuating the same social relations under a different guise, holding instead that the abolition of authority was the means of achieving a classless society.[71] Expressions of anarchism also beginning to take on a more radical and violent character, influenced by the theory of propaganda of the deed. The Manifesto of Hunan anarchists even included a declaration that "one bomb is better than a thousand books."[55]

Succession crisis[edit]

With the death of Sun Yat-sen in March 1925, a power struggle emerged within the Kuomintang, with the left-wing Wang Jingwei, the centrist Chiang Kai-shek and the right-wing Hu Hanmin all vying for control of the party apparatus. Suspected of having assassinated the KMT chairman Liao Zhongkai for supporting the continuation of the United Front, Hu Hanmin was arrested and exiled by Wang and Chiang, which resulted in the right-wing faction of the KMT losing power. Meanwhile, the Yunnan clique had revolted against the KMT's acting executive, claiming Tang Jiyao to be the rightful leader of the KMT. But Tang's forces were routed by the New Guangxi clique and he fled to San Francisco, where Tang joined together with Chen Jiongming to found the Public Interest Party, a political party that advocated for federalism and multi-party democracy.

May Thirtieth Movement[edit]

A propaganda poster depicting a westerner and a Chinese warlord torturing a protestor in the aftermath of the May Thirtieth Movement in China.

On 30 May 1925, Chinese students gathered at the Shanghai International Settlement and held a demonstration against foreign intervention in China.[72] Supported by the KMT, they called for a boycott of foreign goods and an end to the Settlement. The British-operated Shanghai Municipal Police opened fire on the crowd of demonstrators, killing at least nine. This incident sparked outrage throughout China, which culminated in a strike in Guangdong and proved a fertile recruiting ground for the CCP.[73] The aftermath of the May Thirtieth Movement brought on a massive surge in the influence of the Communist Party, growing from having about one thousand members to over fifty thousand and establishing their supremacy over the Chinese labor movement, displacing the existing anarcho-syndicalist leadership.[74] As well as the loss of their influence in the labor movement, anarchists were also losing influence among the youth, who were becoming increasingly attracted to nationalism.[75]

In the self-criticism that the anarchist movement undertook in the ensuing years, anarchists identified their failings in their inability to organize a national revolutionary movement, instead having largely focused on local struggles, as well as their refusal to engage in non-anarchist revolutionary activity.[75] This led many anarchists, who had previously been critical of anarchist collaboration with the Kuomintang, to raise questions on whether or not to participate in the party.[76] Some anarchists such as Ba Jin were opposed to direct collaboration with the revolutionary parties, but instead obliged anarchists to participate in the popular revolution itself and guide people toward anarchism.[76] Others were willing to collaborate with the KMT, on the condition that they retain their anarchist identity and push the party towards anarchist revolutionary goals, which was a perspective encouraged by the Paris anarchists.[77]

Rise of the Kuomintang and the decline of anarchism[edit]

The rising power of the left-wing brought increased tensions within the United Front as Chiang Kai-shek began to consolidate power in preparation for the Northern Expedition. The former leaders of the Paris anarchist group Zhang Renjie, Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui and Cai Yuanpei had become known as the Four Elders of the Kuomintang, holding strong influence over the party and supporting Chiang Kai-shek's candidacy for the leadership. The Four Elders took a hardline stance against the communists as well as the left-wing of the KMT, who perceived their activities as threatening an anarchist takeover of the party.[65]

Division of the United Front[edit]

The rival leaders of the Kuomintang, the left-wing Wang Jingwei and the right-wing Chiang Kai-shek in 1926.

On 20 March 1926, Chiang Kai-shek launched the Canton Coup, purging hardline communists who opposed the proposed Northern Expedition. In an attempt to balance the need for communist assistance with his concerns about growing communist influence,[78][79] After Zhang Renjie counseled Chiang against identifying himself too closely with the right,[80] Chiang negotiated the removal of hardline members of the KMT's right-wing faction from their posts in compensation for the purged leftists. Soviet aid to the KMT government continued, as did co-operation with the CCP, holding together the United Front long enough to lay the groundwork for the Northern Expedition.[81]

The first phase of the expedition began in July 1926, capturing the provinces of Hunan, Hubei and Henan from the forces of Wu Peifu, and the provinces of Fujian, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangsu from the forces of Sun Chuanfang, eliminating the Zhili clique in the process. The headquarters of the nationalist government subsequently moved from Guangzhou to Wuhan, while Communist-led trade unions began establishing parallel structures in the areas that had been captured by the National Revolutionary Army.[82] Independent peasant rebels also began to take control of large swaths of land and started to govern themselves, which in response alienated much of the KMT's military leadership, who were generally opposed to peasant self-rule.[83]

The Wuhan government, which was controlled by Wang Jingwei's leftist faction of the KMT, aided by the CCP,[84][85] as well as widespread grassroots support,[86] transformed Wuhan into "a seedbed for revolution",[84] while portraying themselves as the sole legitimate leadership of the KMT.[87] Controlling much of Hunan, Hubei, Guangdong and Jiangxi,[88] the Wuhan government began challenging Chiang's authority,[86] nominally stripping him of much of his military authority, though refrained from deposing him as commander-in-chief. The CCP also became an equal partner in the Wuhan government, sharing power with the KMT leftists.[86] In response to these developments, Chiang started to rally anti-communist elements in the KMT and NRA around him.[89]

KMT troops rounding up communist prisoners for execution.

When the Northern Expedition arrived in Nanjing, a series of anti-foreigner riots broke out in the city, with the ensuing chaos bringing the expedition's advance to a halt as Chiang blamed the Communists for instigating the incident.[90] In April 1927, the Four Elders determined that the actions of the CCP were counter-revolutionary and urged Chiang Kai-shek to initiate a purge of the leftists, culminating in the Shanghai massacre,[91] during which thousands of communists were arrested and killed, effectively ending the First United Front.[92] Despite this causing a split between Chiang's right-wing government in Najing and Wang Jingwei's left-wing government in Wuhan,[93] further unrest between the two parties and Soviet interference in the Wuhan government caused Wang to himself initiate a purge of communists from his own ranks.[94] The Wuhan government subsequently re-unified with the Nationalist government in Nanjing,[95] on the condition that Chiang resigned from his post.[96][97] However, following the suppression of a number of communist uprisings in Nanchang, Hunan and Guangzhou, Chiang Kai-shek retook power from Wang Jingwei, who went into exile in Europe.[98]

The National Labor University[edit]

In the aftermath of the Shanghai Massacre, the Four Elders convinced several prominent anarcho-syndicalists in the Shanghai labor movement to join them in the KMT, bringing together a significant anarchist presence within the party.[99] One of the projects these anarchists proposed was the establishment of a workers' university, which would train and educate a new kind of "worker-intellectual" in order to transform the nation as a whole. The KMT anarchists also published a new periodical called Revolution Weekly, to propagate anarchist ideas that were appropriate for continued collaboration between anarchists and the KMT, taking the Three Principles of the People as a means to achieve the goal of anarchism.[100]

In late 1927, the National Labor University was established in Shanghai, with the goal of realizing the anarchist ideal of combining labor with education, by turning "schools into fields and factories, fields and factories into schools." The anarchists believed that this would be a means to peacefully abolish class distinctions and achieve a social revolution, bringing China further towards anarchism.[101] Faculty at the university criticized contemporary Chinese education for its emphasis on reading "dead books", advocating instead for a "living education" which came through the practice of labor.[102]

The formation of the university was overseen by Cai Yuanpei, who had experience as head of Peking University and was busy supervising the broader restructuring of the education system in the Republic of China,[101] with Yi Pei Chi being appointed as the university's president.[103] It was decided that the university would follow the model of public education, with students recruited from working-class backgrounds, in order to end the monopolization of education by the rich. Initially an institution of higher education, elementary and middle schools were eventually added to the University, transforming it into a truly comprehensive educational institution. The University comprised an Industrial Labor College, an Agricultural Labor College and a Social Sciences College, along with a library that held an inventory of over forty thousand books.[104]

Students generally attended classes in the morning, while doing manual labor in the fields and factories during the afternoon. Industrial Labor students worked on machines or setting type in print shops, Agricultural Labor students worked the fields or on irrigation, successfully cultivating tomatoes and cauliflower, while Social Sciences students conducted surveys on social problems and labor strikes in nearby villages.[105] Students were also encouraged to engage in a variety of extracurricular activities, with each college having its own theater group, such that classwork and manual labor did not preclude their leisure time.[106]

However, the number of students that enrolled did not meet the planned numbers, due in part to the university's de-emphasis of strictly academic work, the stigma still attached to manual labor and the effort to recruit students from working class backgrounds.[106] The Nationalist government was also increasingly replacing the decentralized socialist education system of Cai Yuanpei with a centralized education system.[106] Access to resources were curtailed and the Labor University eventually ceased operations altogether, due to the conditions created by the January 28 incident.[107]

Suppression of the anarchist movement[edit]

The Second phase of the Northern Expedition finally forced the dissolution of the Beiyang government, with the Northeast Flag Replacement marking the achievement of the Nationalist government's supremacy over the Republic of China. Chiang Kai-shek subsequently centralized authority under the Kuomintang, quickly transforming the country into a one-party state and resolving to terminate mass movements, which he concluded were no longer necessary now that a revolutionary party held state power.[67] In particular, the continuing existence of the anarchist movement presented a clear and present threat to the authoritarian rule of the KMT, which resolved to undertake the suppression of anarchism in China.[67]

When the KMT initiated a second wave of repression against the few remaining mass movements, anarchists left the organization en masse and were forced underground as hostilities between the KMT and CCP – both of whom were hostile towards anti-authoritarians – escalated. Previously sympathetic to the KMT, articles in the anarchist periodical Revolution Weekly began to question the party's revolutionary credentials, citing its murder of striking workers in Shanghai and the prevalence of warlords in the KMT's ranks, leading it to conclude that there had been a continuation of collusion between capitalists and the new regime. Anarchists argued that the revolution had been a solely political revolution and that the KMT had abandoned its previously held promises of social revolution, holding instead that the revolution's success rested in the proliferation of the KMT in power and labeling any people that called for freedom or the improvement of their own lives as "counterrevolutionaries".[108]

The Four Elders were among the targets of criticism by anarchists, identifying Wu Zhihui in particular as an enabler of Chiang Kai-shek and calling for the KMT anarchists to resign their posts and cease their activities within the party and the government. The left-wing faction of the KMT was blamed for the attacks on the Four Elders and, as the criticisms of the party continued, Revolution Weekly was proscribed throughout China and shut down in September 1929. In its final issue, an editorial stated that anarchists "had survived the Communists and the Northern Expedition" but "finally succumbed to the Kuomintang, which had promised free speech to all."[109] Anarchists themselves started to be hunted down by the authorities, charged with conspiring to take over the party or even being labelled as communists.[110] By the end of the 1920s, the anarchists, betrayed by the Kuomintang in their struggle against Marxism, exhausted their utility and slowly disappeared as a force in the Chinese revolutionary movement.

Nevertheless, some anarchists continued to collaborate with the Kuomintang, although they were now being sidelined by Chiang Kai-shek. Zhang Renjie took a position as governor of Zhejiang, where he oversaw a number of public infrastructure projects,[91] before they were eventually sold to private firms,[111] after which he broke with Chiang and resigned,[112] later retiring from politics altogether.[113] Despite initially denying any government office, Wu Zhihui was eventually elected to the National Assembly, where he helped to draft a new constitution and administered the oath of office to Chiang.[32] Cai Yuanpei took a more combative approach, founding the China League for Civil Rights which openly criticized Chiang's government for abuse of power and political repression, though he soon retired from public view after the league's co-founder was murdered in front of the organization's offices in Shanghai.[114]

China at war[edit]

Members of Korean Anarchist Federation in 1928.

Despite centralizing power over the Yangtze Delta region, the Nationalist government did not hold complete control over China, as a number of regional warlords still remained. In the wake of the assassination of the Fengtian warlord Zhang Zuolin, a power vacuum left behind in Manchuria presented an opportunity for the numerous Korean anarchists that were organized in the region.[115] The Korean People's Association in Manchuria (KPAM) subsequently established an autonomous anarchist zone in Mudanjiang, organized along anarcho-communist lines around the principles of individual freedom and mutual aid. However, the Korean anarchists soon fell victim to attacks by the Empire of Japan, culminating in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, which dissolved the KPAM and established a puppet state known as Manchukuo. From Hong Kong, Chen Jiongming responded to the invasion by attacking Chiang Kai-shek's regime for its appeasement policy and organizing boycotts of Japanese products.

The Empire of Japan continued to conquer more and more regions of China, including Shanghai in 1932 and Rehe in 1933, while also setting up zones of influence throughout North China, establishing puppet states in the Hebei, Chahar and Mengjiang. Despite attempts by volunteers to resist the Japanese incursions in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, by 1937 the Empire of Japan had launched a full-scale invasion of China, beginning the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The Nationalist government had previously been engaging in a number of encirclement campaigns, in an attempt to isolate and destroy the Chinese Soviet Republic, rather than focusing on the threat posed by the Empire of Japan. But following the Xi'an Incident, during which Chiang Kai-shek was detained by two of his subordinates, the Second United Front was established to resist the Japanese invasion. The CCP and KMT fought together in the Battle of Taiyuan and the Battle of Wuhan, losing both to the Empire of Japan, but the two operated largely independently of eachother, with the communists favoring guerrilla warfare over conventional battles. In January 1941, a clash between the two parties known as the New Fourth Army incident brought the Second United Front to an end, after which they resumed hostilities.

Hideki Tojo and Wang Jingwei meet in 1942.

When a number of attempts to form a series of anti-Chiang Kai-shek governments were suppressed, Wang Jingwei went into exile in Europe, where he began to form relations with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, marking a shift to the far-right for the once left-wing KMT leader. As Chiang began to argue for a rapprochement with the Soviet Union, Wang argued for bringing China into an alliance with the Axis Powers. After an assassination attempt by the KMT, Wang fled to Japanese-held territory, where he negotiated the establishment of a Reorganized National Government under his control. Among the figures in the collaborationist government were the Chief of the Education Yuan Jiang Kanghu, the founder of the Socialist Party, and the Foreign Minister Chu Minyi, who had met Wang when they were both members of the Paris anarchist group. In a massive reversal of his previously held views, Wang blamed communism, anarchism and internationalism for the decadence of Modern China, arguing for the necessity of promoting Confucianism in a return to traditional values.[116]

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Allies began to support the Republic of China against the Empire of Japan, turning the tide of the war. Eventually the surrender of Japan saw China recover all the territories that it had lost to the Empire of Japan since the Treaty of Shimonoseki, including Taiwan. After the war, the Chinese Communist Revolution commenced, during which the CCP took control of mainland China and established the People's Republic of China, forcing the leadership of the KMT to retreat to Taiwan. After 1949, there were few visible signs of anarchist activity in neighboring countries or among overseas Chinese, and the post-revolutionary revival of interest in anarchism was short-lived.[117]

Anarchism in the People's Republic[edit]

A collective meal in the canteen of a people's commune.

At the advent of the Chinese Communist Revolution, many Chinese anarchists fled abroad to Hong Kong or Taiwan, with some even going as far as France or the United States, although others also chose to remain in mainland China.[118] One of those that remained was the anarchist writer Ba Jin, who was obliged to join the China Writers Association, saw his works censored to remove any mentions of anarchism and largely ceased writing. During the Anti-Rightist Campaign, Ba Jin denounced writers that were accused of right-wing deviationism.[119]

With the beginning of the Great Leap Forward, the people's communes were established with the intention of "performing the functions of state power" and taking on a vital role in the transition from socialism to communism, being treated as the first step in the "withering away of the state". This promise of an end to statism was particularly appealing to many Chinese peasants, who were attracted to the communes by their aspirations of freedom from state officials and party bureaucrats.[120] According to Maurice Meisner, "[h]ad the people's communes actually developed in the manner Maoists originally envisioned, centralized political power in China would have been fundamentally undermined."[121] However, after a series of party meetings, bureaucratic authority was reasserted over the rural cadres and centralized state control of the communes was established, reintroducing private ownership and resolving to distribute resources based on work output rather than individual needs.[122] The subsequent bureaucratic mismanagement, combined with other factors, led to tens of millions dying in the Great Chinese Famine from 1959 to 1961.[123]

Anarchic tendencies within the Cultural Revolution[edit]

A public appearance of Mao Zedong and Lin Biao among Red Guards, in Beijing, during the Cultural Revolution.

During the Cultural Revolution, a number of anarchistic tendencies began to spread throughout China, advocating for a popular "revolution from below" in opposition to the bureaucratic tendencies of the Communist Party and inspired by the Maoist slogan "Dare to rebel".[124] In the early months of the revolution, the city of Shanghai was targeted by Maoists for the seizure of power from local communist party officials. On 5 January 1967, the "Worker's Headquarters" issued a call for the unity of Shanghai's workers, students, intellectuals and cadres, deposed the city's officials and established the Shanghai People's Commune.[125] After Yao Wenyuan, Zhang Chunqiao and Wang Hongwen took power as the leaders of the commune, various workers' organizations began to challenge the newly appointed city government and organized around the slogan of "All power to the Commune".[126] However, Maoist leaders in Beijing had begun to favor the model of the revolutionary committee for the reorganization of political society. During a meeting with Zhang and Yao, after hearing that many Shanghai Communards were now demanding the abolition of political authority in the commune, Mao himself expressed his opinion on the communards' demands: "This is extreme anarchism, it is most reactionary... In reality there will always be heads."[127]

After the suppression of the Shanghai People's Commune and the institution of a revolutionary committee in the city,[128] Mao turned his attention towards eliminating the anarchistic tendencies that had been unleashed by the Cultural Revolution. He declared that the revolutionary slogan "doubt everything and overthrow everything" was "reactionary", banned radical workers' organizations for being "counter-revolutionary" and instituted strict punishments for attacks against the party and the state.[129] The ultra-left May Sixteenth elements, which had been blamed for much of the chaos by Maoist leaders, were outlawed on charges of "anarchism" and a nationwide campaign was carried out to liquidate the organization.[130]

Out of these struggles between the grassroots and the leadership of the revolution, the radical Maoist group Shengwulian (Federation of the Provincial Proletariat) was formed in Hunan province during late 1967.[131] The group took on a staunchly anti-bureaucratic line against what they saw as the "Red capitalist class", which had retained control of the state through the newly established revolutionary committees.[132] In its manifesto Whither China?, the Shengwulian declared its goal was a mass revolution to "smash the old state machinery" and establish in its place the "People's Commune of China", a new society without bureaucrats where the masses would be in control.[131][132] Despite the Shengwulian pledging its fealty to Mao and the Cultural Revolution Group, the group was denounced as "anarchists" and violently suppressed by the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the Ministry of State Security (MSS).[132]

By the end of 1968, the last vestiges of the radical popular uprising had been suppressed by the PLA, with revolutionary committees finally coming to dominate the country.[133] In its place, Mao Zedong's cult of personality grew to a more totalizing position and the Cleansing the Class Ranks campaign consolidated the power of the Communist Party over China.[134] During the early 1970s, many of the radical changes brought by the Cultural Revolution were rolled back. China–United States relations were normalized, party officials that had been attacked during the revolution were rehabilitated and managerial authority was strengthened, with calls for labor discipline, further rules and regulations, as well as an industrial struggle against the forces of "anarchism" and ultra-leftism".[135] After the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the first generation of Chinese leadership, Deng Xiaoping established himself as the country's paramount leader and began to repress the leftist elements of the Cultural Revolution, such as the Gang of Four.[136]

In recent years, critics of the Cultural Revolution have argued that it was inspired by anarchist ideas. These ideas entered the Chinese Communist Party in the early 1920s and survived many years of revolution. There are some similarities between the themes of the Cultural Revolution and those of the Chinese revolution first proposed by the anarchists.[22]

The Democracy Movement and the New Left[edit]

Image from the Beijing Spring, the beginning of the Chinese democracy movement.

The end of the Cultural Revolution had also brought the advent of the Democracy Movement, which spearheaded a political liberalization process known as the Beijing Spring. The anti-authoritarian character of the Democracy Movement rejected the communist party's political monopoly and revived the anti-bureaucratic ideals of the early Cultural Revolution. In early 1979, Deng denounced the movement as anarchists and set about repressing them, arresting and imprisoning many of the movement's members, including the pro-democracy leader Wei Jingsheng.[137] By early 1981, many pro-democracy activists were forced underground and the movement ceased to exist in the public sphere.[138] Deng continued this authoritarian turn by abolishing the "four great freedoms" of the Cultural Revolution (including freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of association), replacing them with the "Four Cardinal Principles".[138] Throughout the 1980s, Deng implemented a series of economic reforms, introducing a market economy under the theory of "Socialism with Chinese characteristics".[139] Although this period initially saw a rise in living standards, it also brought an increase in cronyism and inflation, leading many workers to consider themselves "losers in the decade of economic reform" and began to respond with slowdowns and wildcat strikes.[140]

In response to increasing debates on the question of social alienation in the PRC, the Communist Party launched the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign, which targeted the Marxist humanists of the “the alienation school”. Wang Ruoshui, a prominent proponent of the theory of alienation, argued that alienation continued to exist even after the socialist revolution, stating that "when the government turns into an overlord, refusing to accept the people’s control and turning into an alien force, this is alienation."[141] He even went as far as to propose that “to overcome alienation, one should take anarchism into account”[142] and called for the institution of universal suffrage with the right to recall elected officials, which led him to be purged from his post at the People's Daily newspaper.[141] The conservative party official Hu Qiaomu extensively criticized the humanism of Wang, claiming that the recognition of alienation could lead to people “abolish all social political powers, social economic organizations, ideological authority, and centralism and discipline”.[141] When the intensifying campaign threatened to undermine the continuing economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping ordered it to be wound down, although Wang would later be purged from the Communist Party ranks altogether.[143]

People protesting near the Monument to the People's Heroes, during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

In spite of the repression against the democracy movement, pro-democratic ideas continued to spread throughout the 1980s, becoming increasingly popular among China's student movement. Towards the end of 1986, student demonstrations began to take place in a number of Chinese cities calling for political reforms,[144] including the ability for citizens to nominate their own candidates for the National People's Congress rather than choosing from a government-approved list,[145] as well as an end to political corruption and cronyism.[146] With none of the students' demands being met by the government,[147] the party responded by initiating a campaign against "bourgeois liberalization", stopping student protests and restricting political activity, with the reformer Hu Yaobang being removed from his post as General Secretary.[148]

Yaobang's death in April 1989 became the catalyst for the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, during which people called for democratic reforms, an end to corruption, and the reinstitution of the "four freedoms".[149] The protests were led by the Beijing Workers' Autonomous Federation (BWAF), a labour union independent from Communist Party control, and the Beijing Students' Autonomous Federation (BSAF), a self-governing student organization, which together called for the advancement of democracy and the end of dictatorship. After dialogue between the protestors and the government broke down, the government declared martial law and mobilized the People's Liberation Army to violently put down the demonstrations, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of protestors. In the aftermath of the protests, many of its leaders were imprisoned or went into exile, reforms were halted, a renewed political purge was undertaken and basic freedoms were further restricted. But it also resulted in the end of the second generation of Chinese leadership, with Deng Xiaoping handing power over to Jiang Zemin.

During the third generation, various strands of thought started to emerge that criticized the policy of marketization and its consequences, concerned particularly with the rising social inequality, converging to become what is now known as the Chinese New Left. Sections of the New Left began to radicalize further during the fourth generation, as the advent of the internet brought together a number of new leftists on websites such as Utopia, cultivating a rise in democratic socialism, neo-Maoism and anarchism, which attacked Communist Party policy from the far-left.

Anarcho-punk in Wuhan[edit]

At the turn of the 21st century, the Chinese punk subculture began to emerge underground in Wuhan, born from youth frustration with mainstream society in mainland China,[150] particularly with patriarchal family structures and the strict schooling system.[151] Anarchist tendencies developed within the punk scene, opening the window to concepts of anti-authoritarianism, direct democracy and anti-globalization, which were written about and distributed in DIY zines.[150] The Wuhan punk scene brought about the production of the Chaos magazine, the first anarchist publication to be published in mainland China since the establishment of the People's Republic, which issued articles about the Situationists and green anarchism, as well as translations of the works of Peter Kropotkin and CrimethInc.[151] A group of anarcho-punks even established an autonomous social center called "Our Home",[151] containing an infoshop, conference center, concert space and a guest house, emblazoned with a red and black star on the outer wall.[150] One of the actions organized from the center was a "garbage concert" held to raise money in order to clean up trash in the village where the center is located.[150] They also participated in a restoration project of East Lake, collectively managed by residents of the village.[152] By 2016, "Our Home" was shut down, due in part to the rental requirements and personal reasons.[153]

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External links[edit]