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, and met Li Dazhao and other reformers. He 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. There were informal groups in China in 1920, and also overseas, but the official beginning was the 1st Congress held in Shanghai and attended by 13 men in July 1921 and later transferred from Shanghai to Jiaxing. The birth of the party (then having some 50 to 60 members) was declared here in a boat on South Lake. The Chinese therefore consider it one of the most important historical places of the revolution. The formal and unified name Zhōngguó Gòngchǎn Dǎng (Chinese Communist Party) was adopted and all other names of communist groups were dropped and the final agenda was carried out. The key players 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, and two representatives from the Comintern, 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 and 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. According to Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Cai Heshen and Gao Yuhan opposed the motion, whereupon Maring 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. However, 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 did not enjoy a high reputation in Moscow. Moreover, it was divided into two camps, led by Deng Zhongxia and Li Dazhao on the more moderate "bourgeois, national revolution" model and 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. And, it was the CPC's reliance on the leadership of the Comintern that was the first indication that the 1923-27 First United Front was fragile.[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 and participated by CPC gained some quick successes 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 CPC's ideologies have significantly evolved since its founding and establishing political power in 1949. Mao's revolution that founded the PRC was nominally based on 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 comprises 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.

Feminist views[edit]

As a Leninist party, the CPC were theoretically committed to female equality. This was at odds with traditional Chinese culture, which the Kuomintang largely upheld. After 1949, they outlawed concubinage and allowed women to get divorced. An All-China Women's Federation pushed for female rights.

Xiang Jingyu was a prominent female leader in the early Chinese Communist Party.[15] She was executed in 1928 by the Nationalist government. This was part of a general crack-down on the underground Communist Party, but the Nationalist government viewed the feminist movement as part of a larger threat that could cause anarchy.[16]

Kang Keqing was the leader of a local guerilla force that joined up with the main Red Army. She was one of the few women who took part in the Long March, and became a prominent leader within it.

The May Fourth era had been more open and accommodating to feminism than the eras that followed it.[16] in the early 1900s organized marriages were arranged by the parents of the bride. The only way that women could initiate a divorce was by suicide. Where as the men could divorce for numerous reasons if they felt like it. Chairman Mao Ze'Dong in the beginning of his leadership was sympathetic to these women who took their lives because of forced marriage.[17] After 1949, both sexes chose freely, but permission was needed from the work unit.

In the 1960s women were depicted as strong capable warriors who fought in the name of Communism and China in propaganda posters.[18] In many cases during the introduction of the Red Guard, women felt the need to be a leading force. This resulted in numerous women at schools being beaten and humiliated by their peers if they did not live up to Communist standards. Despite being depicted as strong and proud, unequal treatment for women was still relevant in the 60s. Many women who completed their educational requirements were still assigned poorer jobs next to their male counterparts who would receive better quality jobs.[19] After the elimination of the assigned work units and the ability to migrate from the countryside to urban areas became available, many girls started doing so and living outside of the traditional sense that was still practiced in the rural areas. These girls would eventually become known as the factory girls due to their work in poor conditioned factories.[20]

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. 
  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"...
  15. ^ Gilmartin, Christina (2008). "Xiang Jingyu". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History.
  16. ^ a b Mitter, Rana (2004). A Bitter Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 147. 
  17. ^ Mitter, Rana (2004). A Bitter Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  18. ^ "Iron Women, Foxy Ladies". Chineseposters.net. December 16, 2016. Retrieved March 26, 2017. 
  19. ^ Yang, Rae (1998). Spider Eaters: A Memoir. U of California Press. ISBN 0520215982. 
  20. ^ Chang, Leslie (2009). Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China. Spiegel & Grau. ISBN 0330506706. 

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