History of the Communist Party of China

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This article details the history of the Communist Party of China.

History during the Revolution[edit]

Establishment of the Party[edit]

Flag of the Communist Party of China
Flag of the Communist Party of China before the 1990s

Marxist ideas started to spread widely in China after the 1919 May Fourth Movement. In June 1920, Comintern agent Grigori Voitinsky was sent to China, where he met Li Dazhao and other reformers. While in China, Voitinsky financed the founding of the Socialist Youth Corps.[1] The Communist Party of China was initially founded by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao in the French concession of Shanghai in 1921 as a study society and an informal network. Informal meetings were held in China in 1920 as well as overseas. The official beginning of the Communist Party of China began with the 1st Congress held in Shanghai and Jiaxing in July 1921. The congress was composed of 13 men. The birth of the party (totaling 50 to 60 members) was declared while a meeting was held on a boat on South Lake. The formal and unified name Zhōngguó Gòngchǎn Dǎng (Chinese Communist Party) was adopted and the final agenda was carried out. The key delegates in the congress were Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu, Chen Gongbo, Tan Pingshan, Zhang Guotao, He Mengxiong, Lou Zhanglong and Deng Zhongxia. Mao Zedong was present at the first congress as one of two delegates from a Hunan communist group. Other attendees included Dong Biwu, Li Hanjun, Li Da, Chen Tanqiu, Liu Renjing, Zhou Fohai, He Shuheng, Deng Enming. Two representatives from the Comintern were also present, one of them being Henk Sneevliet (also known by the single name 'Maring'[2]). Notably absent at this early point were future leaders Li Lisan and Qu Qiubai.

First Civil Revolution Period—the First United Front (1922–1927)[edit]

In August 1922, Sneevliet called a surprise special plenum of the central committee. During the meeting Sneevliet proposed that party members join the Kuomintang (KMT, or Chinese Nationalist Party) on the grounds that it was easier to transform the Nationalist Party from the inside than to duplicate its success. Li Dazhao, Cai Heshen and Gao Yuhan opposed the motion, whereupon Sneevliet invoked the authority of the Comintern and forced the CPC to accept his decision.[3] Under the guidance of the Comintern, the party was reorganized along Leninist lines in 1923, in preparation for the Northern Expedition. The nascent party was not held in high regard. Karl Radek, one of the five founding leaders of the Comintern, said in November 1922 that the CPC was not highly regarded in Moscow. Moreover, the CPC was divided into two camps, one led by Deng Zhongxia and Li Dazhao on the more moderate "bourgeois, national revolution" model and the other by Zhang Guotao, Lou Zhanglong, He Mengxiong and Chen Duxiu on the strongly anti-imperialism side.[4] Mikhail Markovich Borodin negotiated with Sun Yat-sen and Wang Jingwei the 1923 KMT reorganization and the CPC's incorporation into the newly expanded party. Borodin and General Vasilii Blyukher (known as Galen) worked with Chiang Kai-shek to found the Whampoa Military Academy. The CPC's reliance on the leadership of the Comintern provided a strong indication of the First United Front's fragility.[5] The death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925 created great uncertainty regarding who would lead the party, and whether they would still work with the Communists. Despite the tensions, the Northern Expedition (1926–1927) led by the Kuomintang, with participation of the CPC made quick gains in overthrowing the warlord government.

Second Civil Revolution Period—Soviet Republic of China (1927–1937)[edit]

In 1927, as the Northern Expedition approached Shanghai, the Kuomintang leadership split. The left-wing of the Kuomintang, based in Wuhan, kept the alliance with the Communists, while Chiang Kai-shek in Nanjing grew increasingly hostile to them and launched a campaign against them. This happened after the capture of Shanghai, which occurred with the Communists and Kuomintang still in alliance. André Malraux's novel, Man's Fate (French: La Condition Humaine), is based on these events.

The anti-communist drive became general. As Chiang Kai-shek consolidated his power, various revolts continued, and Communist armed forces created a number of 'Soviet Areas'. The largest of these was led by Zhu De and Mao Zedong, who established Soviet Republic of China in some remote areas within China through peasant riots. A number of KMT military campaigns failed, but in the meantime the party leadership were driven out of Shanghai and moved to Mao's base, sidelining him.

Chiang Kai-shek launched a further campaign which succeeded. The CPC had to give up their bases and started the Long March (1934–1935) to search for a new base. During the Long March, the party leadership re-examined its policy and blamed their failure on the CPC military leader Otto Braun, a German sent by Comintern.[citation needed] During the Long March, the native Communists, such as Mao Zedong and Zhu De gained power. The Comintern and Soviet Union.[citation needed] lost control over the CPC. They settled in Shaanxi,[6] where there was an existing Communist base.

The Western world first got a clear view of the main base of the Communist Party of China through Edgar Snow's Red Star Over China. Snow was also the first person to present Mao as the main leader - he was previously seen as just a guerilla leader and mostly as second to Zhu De (Chu Teh).[7]

Sino-Japanese War Period—Second United Front (1937–1945)[edit]

The Party leadership in 1938. Front row, left to right: Kang Sheng, Mao Zedong, Wang Jiaxiang, Zhu De, Xiang Ying, Wang Ming. Back row, left to right: Chen Yun, Bo Gu, Peng Dehuai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Zhang Wentian

During the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937–1945), the CPC and KMT were temporarily in alliance to fight their common enemy. The Communist government moved from Bao'an (Pao An) to Yan'an (Yenan) in December 1936.[8] The Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Red Army became army groups belonging to the national army (8th route army and New 4th Army), and the Soviet Republic of China changed its name as a special Shaan-Gan-Ning administration region (named after the Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia provinces at the borders of each it was located). However, essentially the army and the region controlled by CPC remained independent from the KMT's government.

In eight years, the CPC membership increased from 40,000 to 1,200,000 and its military forces - from 30,000 to approximately one million in addition to more than one million militia support groups.[9][citation needed]

It is a well accepted idea that without the Japanese invasion, the CPC might not have developed so fast. This accelerated development is attributed by some[who?] to the lack of attention the CPC paid to the war against Japan, they argue that the Chinese Communists took advantage of the KMT's preoccupation with the Japanese to gain an edge on the nationalists. This, however, wasn't entirely true as the Chinese Communists did wage costly Hundred Regiments Offensive and guerrilla wars against Japanese occupied areas.[10]

Third Civil Revolution Period (1946–1949)[edit]

After the conclusion of World War II, the civil war resumed between the Kuomintang and the Communists. Despite initial gains by the KMT, they were eventually defeated and forced to flee to off-shore islands, most notably Taiwan. In the war, the United States supported the Kuomintang and the Soviet Union supported the CPC, but both to limited extent. With the Kuomintang's defeat, Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on October 1, 1949.

As ruling party[edit]

The party came to power as part of a coalition of a number of parties, most non-Marxist, though all of them were small and they had little power in practice. The initial aim was New Democracy, implementing things that Marxist would define as part of the 'bourgeois revolution'. These included rights for women - see Feminism in Chinese Communism. Private capitalism was for a time permitted. Land reform transferred land to the poorer peasants, but they all remained small private owners. Collectivisation of the land and nationalisation of factories and shops came later.

The CPC's ideologies have significantly evolved since its founding and establishing political power in 1949. Mao's revolution that founded the PRC was based on his understanding of Marxism-Leninism with a rural focus based on China's social situations at the time. During the 1960s and 1970s, the CPC experienced a significant ideological breakdown with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev and their allies. Since then Mao's peasant revolutionary vision and so-called "continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat" stipulated that class enemies continued to exist even though the socialist revolution seemed to be complete, giving way to the Cultural Revolution. This fusion of ideas became known officially as "Mao Zedong Thought", or Maoism outside of China. It represented a powerful branch of communism that existed in opposition to the Soviet Union's "Marxist revisionism".

Following the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, however, the CPC under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping moved towards Socialism with Chinese characteristics and instituted Chinese economic reform. In reversing some of Mao's "extreme-leftist" policies, Deng argued that a socialist country and the market economy model were not mutually exclusive. While asserting the political power of the Party itself, the change in policy generated significant economic growth. The ideology itself, however, came into conflict on both sides of the spectrum with Maoists as well as progressive liberals, culminating with other social factors to cause the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests. Deng's vision for economic success and a new socialist market model became entrenched in the Party constitution in 1997 as Deng Xiaoping Theory.

The "third generation" of leadership under Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongji, and associates largely continued Deng's progressive economic vision while overseeing the re-emergence of Chinese nationalism in the 1990s. Nationalist sentiment has seemingly also evolved to become informally the part of the Party's guiding doctrine. As part of Jiang's nominal legacy, the CPC ratified the Three Represents into the 2003 revision of the Party Constitution as a "guiding ideology", encouraging the Party to represent "advanced productive forces, the progressive course of China's culture, and the fundamental interests of the people." There are various interpretations of the Three Represents. Most notably, the theory has legitimized the entry of private business owners and quasi-"bourgeoisie" elements into the party.

The insistent road of focusing almost exclusively on economic growth has led to a wide range of serious social problems. The CPC's "fourth generation" of leadership under Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, after taking power in 2003, attempted reversing such a trend by bringing forth an integrated ideology that tackled both social and economic concerns. This new ideology was known as the creation of a Socialist Harmonious Society using the Scientific Development Concept.

The degree of power the Party had on the state has gradually decreased as economic liberalizations progressed. The evolution of CPC ideology has gone through a number of defining changes that it no longer bears much resemblance to its founding principles. Some believe that the large amount of economic liberalization starting from the late 1970s to present, indicates that the CPC has transitioned to endorse economic neoliberalism.[11][12][13][14] The CPC's current policies are fiercely rejected as capitalist by most communists, especially anti-revisionists, and by adherents of the Chinese New Left from within the PRC.

The Communist Party of China governs the country with a one-party state form of government; however, there are parties other than the CPC within China, which report to the United Front Department of the Communist Party of China and do not act as opposition or independent parties. Since the 1980s, as its commitment to Marxist ideology has appeared to wane, the party has begun to increasingly invoke Chinese nationalism as a legitimizing principle as opposed to the socialist construction for which the party was originally created.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schwartz, Benjamin, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao, Harper & Row (New York: 1951), p. 32-35.
  2. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-01. Retrieved 2008-10-14.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Schwartz, p. 41.
  4. ^ Schwartz, p. 37-38.
  5. ^ Schwartz, p. 50-51.
  6. ^ Mao Tse Tung Ruler of Red China by Robert Payne, page 174
  7. ^ The Morning Deluge, by Han Suyin, footnote on page 367
  8. ^ Mao Tse Tung Ruler of Red China by Robert Payne, p 175
  9. ^ Benjamin Yang,From Revolution to Politics: Chinese Communists on the Long March Westview 1990, p. 307
  10. ^ The Battle of One Hundred Regiments, from Kataoka, Tetsuya; Resistance and Revolution in China: The Communists and the Second United Front. Berkeley: University of California Press, [1974].
  11. ^ Harvey, David. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford, England, UK: Oxford University Press. Pp. 120
  12. ^ Greenhalgh, Susan; Winckler, Edwin A. 2005. Governing China's Population: From Leninist to Neoliberal Biopolitics. Stanford, California, USA: Stanford University Press.
  13. ^ Zhang, Xudong. Whither China?: Intellectual Politics in Contemporary China. Duke University Press. Pp. 52
  14. ^ Wong, John; Lai, Hongyi; Hongyi, Lai. China Into the Hu-Wen Era: Policy Initiatives and Challenges. Pp. 99 "...influence of neoliberalism has spread rapidly in China", "...neoliberalism had influenced not only college students but also economists and leading party cadres"...

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