20080218-Agnes Smedley asu.edu archives night meeting.jpg
Night meeting in 1920s
Carrie Gracie of the BBC wrote: “The founding congress of the Chinese Communist Party took place at a Shanghai girls' boarding school in 1921. At the time, they can hardly have imagined that they were men of destiny. They had to present themselves as a student group on vacation - and run away when the police came. But these rebels ended up running China, they do not need to dwell on the miraculous good luck which brought them to power in 1949.” [Source: Carrie Gracie, BBC News, 10 17, 2012]

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “The Chinese Communist Party began in 1921 (with Soviet advice and support) as a Soviet-style Communist Party. It was based in the urban areas and tried to organize the industrial working class to carry out revolutionary activities. From 1922 to 1927, the Communist Party, at the direction of the Soviet Union, was allied with the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) in the “First United Front” in order to help to defeat the warlords and unite China under Kuomintang leadership. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu ]

China at the time that the Chinese Communist Party was shaped was a brutal, hierarchical society where men could kill their wives with impunity and ruthless landlords could seize grain and leave farmers to starve. “When I was little, people ate the husks [of rice] and wild greens,” one survivor of the era told The Guardian. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, September 27, 2009]

Revolutionary movements that preceded the Communist Party were made up of mainly of former students at Beijing University, a center of political and intellectual dissent after the Qing collapse. Mao Zedong and Chang Kuo-tao, another pioneering member of China’s Communist movement, were old University of Beijing school chums.

The Communist Party's struggle for power took almost 30 years to achieve. Urged on by the Communist International and Russian Communists who had come to China in 1920 after the Bolshevik Revolution, the Chinese Communist Party was created from several Chinese Marxist groups.

Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters

Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com

Good Websites and Sources on Early 20th Century China Sun Yat-sen Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Time Asia time.com ; My Grandfather Sun Yat-sen Asia Week ; May 4th Movement Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; New York Times Obituary New York Times ; Madame Chiang Kai-shek Wikipedia article Wikipedia ;

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Books: 1) Mao; the Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. ; 2) The Penguin History of Modern China by Jonathan Fenby 3) . Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow; 4) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) The Chan's Great Continent: China to Western Minds by Jonathan Spence (Norton, 1998). 7) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press). 8) Jay Taylor The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009); 9) Shark Fins and Millet is an excellent depiction of China in the 1930s by Polish-born journalist Ilona Ralf Sues, who met up with Big-Eared Du and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Founding of the Chinese Communist Party

Site of the first
Communist Party meeting
The Chinese Communist Party was formed in Shanghai in July---maybe July 21---1921. Among the 12 delegates at the first Communist Congress was Mao Zedong. In China, the event is known as the "First Supper," and nobody is really sure who else was there, when exactly it took place and what happened. Fearing a raid by French police, the meeting was adjourned after a short time and continued later on a houseboat on the Grand Canal near the town of Jiazing.

The main discussion point during the July 1921 meeting, it is said, was whether or not to break ties completely with bourgeois society or form a tactical alliance with merchants and landlords. Ignoring recommendations by two Communist International advisers from Moscow, the Chinese delegates decided to take a radical approach and have nothing to do with capitalism and demand the immediate surrender of land and machinery.

Other pioneering members of the fledgling Communist movement in Shanghai included Zhou Enlai, Chang Kuo-tao, and Deng Xiaoping. Fearing detection and massacre by the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, the early Chinese Communists met in safe houses in Shanghai. Eventually they were forced out of Shanghai by a joint force of Kuomintang Nationalists and Shanghai gangsters.

The epic founder of the Chinese Communist Party was the stern Li Dazhao. Qu Qiubai was the tragic communist intellectual who ended up facing a Nationalist firing squad while his comrades were roaming the country in what later was called the Long March. His ill fate didn't even finish with his death, as during the Cultural Revolution, some 30 years after his demise, he was bitterly criticized as a renegade by the Maoist Red Guards who then were in control of China. He had to wait until 1980 to be officially rehabilitated, and today he is held in very high regard by the party. [Source: Francesco Sisci, the Asia Editor of La Stampa, from the Asian Times]

Communist Party of China Not Founded on July 1

Li Dazhao

On July 1, 2011, the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China was celebrated with great fanfare. Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “When President Hu Jintao said in a pomp-filled ceremony in the Great Hall of the People on July 1, “The Communist Party of China was founded 90 years ago today,” and, “From then on, the Chinese people embarked on the bright road of striving for independence and liberation and the glorious pursuit of prosperity and strength,” he was wrong...About the date, anyway...The party’s true founding date is July 23, 1921, according to official documents. An autobiographical account by one of the party’s founders and, remarkably, memories and news reports of a murder in a Shanghai hotel corroborate that, providing important clues for historians keen to establish the truth. [Source: Didi Kirsten Tatlow , New York Times, July 20, 2011]

“Ultimately, the strange story of the wrong founding date of the world’s biggest political party is the result of Mao Zedong’s mistaken memory and the party’s disregard for truth, historians say. While the true date is now recorded in some Chinese history books, to this day most Chinese are unaware of the error and are astonished when they hear of it.

According to a Russian-language document of the Communist International, published in Chinese in June by the Party Literature Research Office, 12 people---10 Chinese and two Soviet organizers “attended the party’s founding congress in Shanghai on July 23, 1921. The document was held by the Soviets, and, coupled with the chaos of civil war, revolution and the Japanese invasion, that opened the door for Mao to reimagine the founding date. Holed up with his Communist fighters in caves in Yan an, Mao wanted to commemorate the party’s 20th anniversary in 1941 but had forgotten exactly when that would be, wrote Zhang Baijia, deputy head of the Party History Research Office, in an article published in May in History Reference, a magazine belonging to People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper. “No one remembered the opening date of the first party congress,” wrote Mr. Zhang. “They just remembered it was in July, so they decided on July 1.”

The mistake matters, said Zhou Xun, a historian at the University of Hong Kong. “It’s actually rather important,” Ms. Zhou said. “We’re talking about real historical events and real historical truth...This is a good example of how the party makes up all kinds of things, such as events, historical figures, and how they eliminate facts. It’s just a constant thing.” “But for the president of China to stand up and formally say the wrong date, as Mr. Hu did recently, “is pretty amazing, really,” she said.

Said a party historian, who requested anonymity because of the political sensitivity of the subject, “The most important reason they don’t change it is that it was decided by Mao.” To this day, he said, “Even many scholars don’t know.” The truth began to emerge after 1978, with Mao two years dead and the new leader, Deng Xiaoping, urging Chinese to ‘seek truth from facts.”

Some historians do not see a problem with the dueling dates. “All important things are a process,” said the party historian. By July 1921 there were already half a dozen small, independent Communist groups in Chinese cities, he noted. “I don’t think the date itself is important,” he said. “I think what is important is that the party was set up in that period, and the reasons why.” Ms. Zhou, of Hong Kong University, disagreed. “They don’t want people to remember the details,” she said. “They want you to remember what they want to tell you, and not what the truth is, whether you know already or not. And even after you know, it still doesn’t matter.”

Some Details from the First Communist Party of China Meetings

Qu Qiubai and his family in Moscow in 1929

In a collection of autobiographical essays, “Cold Wind Anthology,” published in Shanghai in 1945, Chen Gongbo, a founding delegate from the southern province of Guangdong who, disillusioned, left the party a year after it was founded, wrote dramatically of events at the end of July 1921.

Didi Kirsten Tatlow wrote in the New York Times, “Two things happened in quick succession on July 30 and 31. The first was that on the evening of July 30, a date many participants agreed was about a week into the congress, the police raided the home of one of the delegates, where the fledgling party was meeting. Mr. Chen wrote that he and that delegate were the only ones who did not flee when seven police officers “three French and four Chinese “burst in. After hours of interrogation, the police allowed the two men to leave. “

Mr. Chen said he shook off a tailing police officer by slipping through a cinema. He returned to his room at the Dadong Hotel, shaken by the narrow escape. “Who knew that barely had one wave passed than another arrived,” he wrote. Hours later, in the early morning of July 31, he heard a gunshot and a scream. Frightened, he opened the door and looked down the corridor but saw nothing. The next morning, a room attendant told Mr. Chen and his wife that a young woman had been murdered in the hotel. They fled to the nearby city of Hangzhou, with Mr. Chen reckoning that he was by now a security risk for the party. A report in the Aug. 1 edition of Shenbao, Shanghai’s leading newspaper, confirms Mr. Chen’s account.

In what was apparently a failed murder-suicide, a young man surnamed Zhang shot and killed his female companion in Room No. 32, on the fourth floor, the report said. He left later without paying his bill. Mr. Chen, who followed the case avidly from Hangzhou, wrote that the man had not shot himself, as the couple had agreed. The motive for their pact was a thwarted desire to marry, Mr. Chen wrote, citing Hangzhou newspaper accounts. Mr. Chen never returned to the congress. In 1946 he was executed by the Nationalists for collaborating with the Japanese.

As Mr. Zhang wrote in History Reference, the exact date the party congress ended remains a mystery, but the timing of the hotel shooting, at the end of the month, rules out July 1 as the founding date.

"Beginning of the Great Revival"

20111106-Wiki C Mao_and_Wang_Ming.jpg
Mao and Wang Ming
In June 2011, Beginning of the Great Revival , a blockbuster movie chronicling the founding of the country's ruling Communist Party was released. The Economist reported: “It opened at every cineplex in China on June 15th, in time for the party’s 90th birthday. Competing films with a shred of drawing power were blocked, even the awful “Transformers 3". Many state-owned firms ordered their staff to attend. Schools organised trips so that pupils could watch and learn from the exploits of a youthful Mao Zedong. Government departments deployed waves of bureaucratic bottoms to fill seats...The film was not, as you might imagine, a piece of government-produced propaganda. It was a piece of for-profit propaganda, produced by the country’s biggest film company, the China Film Group (CFG).

Needless to say the film was nearly universally panned. A screenshot from a Chinese microblog user taken before douban.com disabled its rating system showed the film receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews, with 87.8 percent of participating users giving it one star. Others on the Web discussion boards have called the film an attempt by authorities to "brainwash" the public in an effort to create more support for the Chinese government. “I was confused throughout the entire movie,” Liu Yang, sophomore at Tsinghua University Medical School, told the New York Times after watching “Beginning of the Great Revival.” “It featured way too much romance with Mao Zedong.”

Liu Ye played a young Mao Zedong. Actress Tang Wei , who was blacklisted from appearing in Chinese films or on TV for a time, was rehabilitated in time to play Mao Zedong's first love. Lu Chuan and Sheng Ding directed parts of the film besides chief director Huang Jianxin. The cast did not work for free as they had for other Communist Party block busters but receive basic compensation and expenses.

Chinese Web users poked at the irony of the film, David Bandurski, a researcher at the University of Hong Kong's China Media Project, told PC World. While the film depicts historical figures fighting for revolution, currently people in China cannot encourage revolution given the government's outlawing of any political subversion in the country, a point that microblog users are making. [Source: Michael Kan, PC World June 22, 2011]

A 24-year-old from Beijing told PC World, "On the Web I saw this saying: people are allowed to sing revolutionary songs, but they are not allowed to actually lead a revolution," he said. "Chinese people are not dumb. They understand the humor of all this." "So I think with this film, it won't really have a brain-washing effect. Instead it will have the opposite," he added. "The movie is saying open party politics is crucial. But in reality, China does not have that. From the movie's images, it proves the importance of democracy and having open party politics."

A 27-year-old in Beijing, who only wished to give out his surname Jin, agreed. He said he was interested in watching the movie, considering the current political climate of China. "The movie has secret societies, unlawful gatherings, protest demonstrations, and anti-government movements, these are all things that China's Communist Party currently bans," he said. Jin said it was clear the movie's original intention was to brainwash people. But he added, "Ultimately, with a product like this, the creators can only make it, but its up to the viewers to interpret it as how they see fit."

Founding of the Kuomintang and Its Early Years

Song Jiaoren, Kuomintang founder

The Communist Party’s main rival and enemy in its early years was the Kuomintang, founded by Song Jiaoren (1882-1913), one of Sun's associates. The party, the Kuomintang (Guomindang or KMT--the National People's Party, frequently referred to as the Nationalist Party), was an amalgamation of small political groups, including Sun's Tongmeng Hui.

The Kuomintang of China was one of the dominant parties of the early Republic of China, from 1912 onwards, and remains one of the main political parties in modern Taiwan. Its guiding ideology is the Three Principles of the People, advocated by Sun Yat-sen. It is the oldest political party in the Republic of China, which it helped found. It is currently the ruling party in Taiwan. The Kuomintang refer reverentially to founder Sun Yat-sen as the "Father of the Nation." [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Kuomintang traces its ideological and organizational roots to the work of Sun Yat-sen, a proponent of Chinese nationalism, who founded Revive China Society in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1894. In 1905, Sun joined forces with other anti-monarchist societies in Tokyo to form the Tongmenghui or the Revolutionary Alliance, a group committed to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of a republican government. The group planned and supported the Republican Revolution of 1911. +

The Kuomintang was established at the Huguang Guild Hall in Beijing, where the Revolutionary Alliance and five smaller pro-revolution parties merged to contest the first national elections. Sun, the then Premier of the ROC, was chosen as the party chairman with Huang Xing as his deputy. The most influential member of the party was the third ranking Song Jiaoren, who mobilized mass support from gentry and merchants for the KMT on a democratic socialist platform in favor of a constitutional parliamentary democracy. The party was opposed to constitutional monarchists and sought to check the power of Yuan. The Kuomintang won an overwhelming majority of the first National Assembly in December 1912. +

Kuomintang meeting in 1920

But Yuan soon began to ignore the parliament in making presidential decisions and had parliamentary leader Song Jiaoren assassinated in Shanghai in 1913. Members of the KMT led by Sun Yat-sen staged the Second Revolution in July 1913, a poorly planned and ill-supported armed rising to overthrow Yuan, and failed. Yuan, claiming subversiveness and betrayal, expelled adherents of the Kuomintang from the parliament. Yuan dissolved the KMT in November (whose members had largely fled into exile in Japan) and dismissed the parliament early in 1914. +

Yuan Shikai proclaimed himself emperor in December 1915. While exiled in Japan in 1914, Sun established the Chinese Revolutionary Party, but many of his old revolutionary comrades, including Huang Xing, Wang Jingwei, Hu Hanmin and Chen Jiongming, refused to join him or support his efforts in inciting armed uprising against Yuan Shikai. In order to join the Chinese Revolutionary Party, members must take an oath of personal loyalty to Sun, which many old revolutionaries regarded as undemocratic and contrary to the spirit of the revolution. +

Thus, many old revolutionaries did not join Sun's new organisation, and he was largely sidelined within the Republican movement during this period. Sun returned to China in 1917 to establish a rival government at Guangzhou, but was soon forced out of office and exiled to Shanghai. There, with renewed support, he resurrected the KMT on October 10, 1919, but under the name of the Chinese Kuomintang, as the old party had simply been called the Kuomintang. In 1920, Sun and the KMT were restored in Guangdong. +

Early Chinese Communist Party and the Soviet Union

Li Dazhou meeting Soviet agent Voitrngsky

Dr. Eno wrote: “When the Chinese Communist Party (or CCP) was established in Beijing in 1921, the Party was devoted to the principles of Marxist-Leninism. Party doctrine held that China, long subject to imperialist coercion, had actually already been through its bourgeois revolution in 1911, and that what was needed now was to build a strong Party to educate China’s tiny proletariat. If this were done, China could look forward to a rapid communist revolution because, as Lenin had made clear, its imperialist history made its proletariat innately radical and a vanguard Party could immeasurably accelerate the spread of revolutionary proletarian consciousness. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“The founders of the CCP looked to Moscow for guidance, as did all other communist movements worldwide. During its early years, it received assistance from Moscow’s organ of world revolution: the Communist International, or “Comintern.” The Comintern sent advisors to China to help the Party. On issues of particular importance, first Lenin and then his successor Josef Stalin shaped the directives that were sent to the CCP leadership. Communism was a stridently anti-nationalistic ideology. It believed that humanity was shared by similar classes, not those of similar ethnic backgrounds. The CCP leaders assumed that their proletarian advisors in the Comintern cared deeply about their Chinese comrades. They followed orders. /+/

“But Stalin’s warm support of the Chinese communists should not be misunderstood as altruistic. Stalin was not a cuddly man (his name, Stalin, means “Man-of-Steel” – it was his own invention: he was born Josef Dzhugashvili); he used the CCP entirely to forward Soviet foreign policy aims in China. He clearly believed that no proletarian revolution was possible in China, and so he hoped to manipulate the CCP to improve his standing with the Nationalist government which, during the 1920s, was finally capturing effective power in China." /+/

Kuomintang-Communist Alliance

Kuomintang emblem

In 1922 the Kuomintang-warlord alliance in Guangzhou was ruptured, and Sun fled to Shanghai. By then Sun saw the need to seek Soviet support for his cause. In 1923 a joint statement by Sun and a Soviet representative in Shanghai pledged Soviet assistance for China's national unification. Soviet advisers--the most prominent of whom was an agent of the Comintern, Mikhail Borodin--began to arrive in China in 1923 to aid in the reorganization and consolidation of the Kuomintang along the lines of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. [Source: The Library of Congress *]

“The CCP was under Comintern instructions to cooperate with the Kuomintang, and its members were encouraged to join while maintaining their party identities. The CCP was still small at the time, having a membership of 300 in 1922 and only 1,500 by 1925. The Kuomintang in 1922 already had 150,000 members. Soviet advisers also helped the Nationalists set up a political institute to train propagandists in mass mobilization techniques and in 1923 sent Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi in pinyin), one of Sun's lieutenants from Tongmeng Hui days, for several months' military and political study in Moscow. *

“After Chiang's return in late 1923, he participated in the establishment of the Whampoa (Huangpu in pinyin) Military Academy outside Guangzhou, which was the seat of government under the Kuomintang-CCP alliance. In 1924 Chiang became head of the academy and began the rise to prominence that would make him Sun's successor as head of the Kuomintang and the unifier of all China under the right-wing nationalist government. *

Kuomintang and Communists After Sun Yat-Sen’s Death

Letter from Sun Yat-sen to Li Dazhou

Sun Yat-sen died of cancer in Beijing in March 1925, but the Nationalist movement he had helped to initiate was gaining momentum. During the summer of 1925, Chiang, as commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, set out on the long-delayed Northern Expedition against the northern warlords. Within nine months, half of China had been conquered. By 1926, however, the Kuomintang had divided into left- and right-wing factions, and the Communist bloc within it was also growing. In March 1926, after thwarting a kidnapping attempt against him, Chiang abruptly dismissed his Soviet advisers, imposed restrictions on CCP members' participation in the top leadership, and emerged as the preeminent Kuomintang leader. The Soviet Union, still hoping to prevent a split between Chiang and the CCP, ordered Communist underground activities to facilitate the Northern Expedition, which was finally launched by Chiang from Guangzhou in July 1926. [Source: The Library of Congress]

“In early 1927 the Kuomintang-CCP rivalry led to a split in the revolutionary ranks. The CCP and the left wing of the Kuomintang had decided to move the seat of the Nationalist government from Guangzhou to Wuhan. But Chiang, whose Northern Expedition was proving successful, set his forces to destroying the Shanghai CCP apparatus and established an anti-Communist government at Nanjing in April 1927. There now were three capitals in China: the internationally recognized warlord regime in Beijing; the Communist and left-wing Kuomintang regime at Wuhan; and the right-wing civilian-military regime at Nanjing, which would remain the Nationalist capital for the next decade. [Ibid]

“The Comintern cause appeared bankrupt. A new policy was instituted calling on the CCP to foment armed insurrections in both urban and rural areas in preparation for an expected rising tide of revolution. Unsuccessful attempts were made by Communists to take cities such as Nanchang, Changsha, Shantou, and Guangzhou, and an armed rural insurrection, known as the Autumn Harvest Uprising, was staged by peasants in Hunan Province. The insurrection was led by Mao Zedong (1893-1976), who would later become chairman of the CCP and head of state of the People's Republic of China. Mao was of peasant origins and was one of the founders of the CCP. [Ibid]

“But in mid-1927 the CCP was at a low ebb. The Communists had been expelled from Wuhan by their left-wing Kuomintang allies, who in turn were toppled by a military regime. By 1928 all of China was at least nominally under Chiang's control, and the Nanjing government received prompt international recognition as the sole legitimate government of China. The Nationalist government announced that in conformity with Sun Yat-sen's formula for the three stages of revolution--military unification, political tutelage, and constitutional democracy--China had reached the end of the first phase and would embark on the second, which would be under Kuomintang direction. [Ibid]

“The decade of 1928-37 was one of consolidation and accomplishment by the Kuomintang. Some of the harsh aspects of foreign concessions and privileges in China were moderated through diplomacy. The government acted energetically to modernize the legal and penal systems, stabilize prices, amortize debts, reform the banking and currency systems, build railroads and highways, improve public health facilities, legislate against traffic in narcotics, and augment industrial and agricultural production. Great strides also were made in education and, in an effort to help unify Chinese society, in a program to popularize the national language and overcome dialectal variations. The widespread establishment of communications facilities further encouraged a sense of unity and pride among the people. [Ibid]

“There were forces at work during this period of progress that would eventually undermine the Chiang Kai-shek government. The first was the gradual rise of the Communists. [Ibid]

Chiang Kai-shek Cracks Down on the Communists

20080218-t-terror communist pruge 1927.jpg
Communist purge in 1927
As the Kuomintang proceeded with the military campaign to unite China — the Northern Expedition — in 1927, Chiang Kai-shek split with the Communist Party and ordered the assassination of Communist Party members. In 1927, shortly after he took control of the Kuomintang, Chiang shocked his Soviet Union allies by purging all Communists from the Kuomintang. He ordered all the Russian advisors to return home, he said, because the Chinese Communists had allegedly plotted to seize the leadership of the Kuomintang.

In March 1927, Chiang Kai-shek organized a reign of terror in Shanghai against the Communists, who at that time were still allied with the Kuomintang. Financed and armed with modern rifles and armored cars provided by the International Settlement, rich Shanghai businessmen and Shanghai's most powerful gang leaders, thousands of Kuomintang thugs and hundreds of gangsters were ordered by Chiang to kill every Communist they could find. Anti-Communist warlord Zhang Zoulin ordered a raid of the Soviet embassy in Beijing, arresting and executing 30 Communist activists who sought refuge there including Li Dazhou, a founder of the Chinese Communist Party. It was one of the few times in history the sancutary status of an embassy was breached,

In what later became known as the Shanghai Coup, between 5,000 and 10,000 workers, Communists and left-wing Kuomintang members were massacred. Zhou Enlai barely escaped. Communist Party founder Li Dazhao was killed by slow strangulation. Attacks were then mounted by the Kuomintang against the Communist in Canton, Changsa and Nanjing. The martyred revolutionary hero Wang Xiaohe was killed. Newspaper photos of him minutes before he was executed, showed him with his head held high smiling. All this drove the main Communist Party leadership underground in Shanghai. Other Communists were forced to set up their operations in the countryside in places like the caves around Guilin and Vieng Xai.

Chinese Communists Flee to Jiangxi

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: The crackdown on the Communist Party in 1927 and the assassination of key members “drove Mao Zedong (1893-1976), a Communist Party member, into the remote rural area of Jiangxi Province, where he and his supporters established a based area and created an army to defend themselves. It was in the context of fighting with the numerically superior and better-equipped Kuomintang forces that Mao developed and applied his theories of guerrilla warfare. Mao and the Communists continued to employ guerrilla warfare in the struggle against the Japanese beginning in 1937.” [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

Dr. Eno wrote: “In 1927, as a result of Stalin’s loyal guidance, the CCP was all but exterminated by the Nationalists in a surprise coup. Those communist leaders who were not killed outright had to flee their base territories in China’s cities, where they had been trying to mobilize factory workers. The safe haven where the Chinese communist leaders fled in 1927 was the mountain fastnesses of the province of Jiangxi. /+/

“One member of the leadership was already based in Jiangxi, having convinced the Party to allow him to go there to test out a new theory about how communism should be adapted to the Chinese case. That leader was Mao Zedong, and the theory he was testing eventually became the most basic distinctive feature of Chinese communism: the theory of the Revolutionary Peasantry. /+/

Mao Zedong and Revolutionary Peasantry

20080218-Agnes Smedley asu.edu archives field hospital.jpg
Communist Field hospital
Dr. Eno wrote: “Mao Zedong, who had been among the founders of the CCP, was one of the few Party members willing to address a central fact about China’s prospects for revolution: in a land of a half-billion people, the proletarian class probably numbered no more than a million and was concentrated in only one or two eastern cities. There was no realistic prospect that such a class could gain control over China — Leninism was simply inadequate for China. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University indiana.edu /+/ ]

“Mao proposed an alternative model of a distinctively Chinese form of communist revolution. Mao’s idea was that the peasant class in China had for so many centuries endured the oppression of a parasitic landlord class, and possessed such a rich store of hatred and anger towards the wealthy landowners of China, that it was a potentially revolutionary class. (Mao was himself from a wealthy peasant family.) Mao’s analysis of China’s class structure did not conform to Marx’s model of history, which was based on European precedents. For Mao, the two contending classes whose conflict would give birth to the next stage of history were not the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, they were the peasant and landlord classes. Mao believed the Party should be serving as the vanguard of a revolutionary peasantry, and should be instilling revolutionary consciousness not in the minds of city factory workers, but in the minds of rural peasants. /+/

“Prior to 1927, the CCP had viewed Mao as an eccentric among its founders. Marx and Lenin had said that the peasants, who worked individually rather than collectively in factories, were invariably a reactionary class which could never be politically mobilized prior to a revolution. Mao’s arguments that the Chinese peasant was a uniquely “blank slate” upon which the outline of revolutionary consciousness could be inscribed with relative ease seemed idealistic and naive to the other founders of the Party. However, Mao had been allowed to experiment with his theories and was dispatched by the Party to the remote hinterlands of Jiangxi to see whether he could mobilize the peasantry.

“Once in Jiangxi, Mao’s method for this was to recruit village peasants into the Party and its military corps until he had sufficient manpower to coerce local landlords — generally wealthy families who owned vast tracts of land that they leased to peasants for generations on cruel terms — into giving up ownership of their lands to the peasants who actually farmed the fields. This process of seizing the lands of the idle landlords and giving it to the peasants was called land reform. It was through his program of land reform — from which peasants benefited directly — that Mao wished to recruit peasant support and build a revolutionary peasant army that would ultimately overthrow the oppressive national “landlord” governments of the Nationalists and the local warlords. /+/

“Mao’s efforts in Jiangxi had not been particularly successful. It was not until later that he mastered the art of conducting land reform campaigns that would yield solid peasant support for the Party. But when the other leaders of the CCP were forced to flee to Mao’s base territory in 1927, Mao’s tactics and his charismatic personality were far more forcefully impressed upon the Party membership than had been the case before. /+/

“This reading will not trace the events that ultimately led to the triumph of Mao’s vision and his ascent to CCP leadership — we will read about that later. But in the end, Mao Zedong did prevail, Soviet Leninist advisors returned to Russia, and the communist revolution that proceeded under Mao’s guidance came to possess the distinctive character of a “communist peasant revolution,” which for Marx would have been a contradiction in terms. It is this aspect of Chinese communist ideology and practice that distinguishes it from Marxist-Leninism, and this is why Chinese communist ideology is called “Maoist.”

Farmers and the Chinese Revolution

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators: “While treaty ports along China's coast were feeling the direct impact of foreign demands during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, most people in China were — and still are — rural people, living in towns and villages. Although most farmers in China owned some land and often had sources of income apart from farm work, such as handicrafts, life was generally harsh. Farm plots were very small, averaging less than two acres per family, and peasants had little access to new technology, capital, or cheap transport. We have read about the nineteenth century internal crises which had terrible repercussions for country folk — wars and rebellions, droughts and floods. From late Qing times on, new taxes and charges were levied against individual village residents and/or the village as a unit to pay for government administration, state services like police and education, and most importantly, military expenses. More insidious were the less visible effects of the new international economy into which China had inexorably been drawn. Tea, silk, sugar, and tobacco were all products with increasing competition in this period, and thus international market forces began to affect rural people in China's interior. [Source: Asia for Educators, Columbia University, Primary Sources with DBQs, afe.easia.columbia.edu <|>]

“There is much debate about whether China's farmers were "immiserated" in this period, that is, if they faced worse conditions than in previous times. But, as the first reading on raising silkworms demonstrates, without greater technological inputs, just working harder was not always enough to stave off privation. Addressing the problems of the farmers was a major challenge for Chinese leaders. The short story, by Mao Dun (Shen Yanbing, 1896-1981), entitled "Spring Silkworms," also demonstrates a greater awareness, on the part of a new breed of politically engaged and socially conscious urban writers in the 1920s and 1930s, of the plight of people in the countryside. <|>

20111106-Wiki C1937_Mao_Zedong_Zhang_Guotao 2.jpg
Mao and Zhang Guotao

“Traditional Marxist thinking relegated peasants to a class which Marx believed represented "barbarism within civilization" — people who were unable to develop revolutionary consciousness and only wanted land and bread (food). During the Russian Revolution, Lenin revised Marx's view, assigning peasants a more supporting revolutionary role, although he still believed that it was the urban working class which initiated revolution. In the 1920s, Chinese leftists began to change their view of the revolutionary potential of the rural population. Some, like the Kuomintang organizer in South China, Peng Pai, had great success from 1921-23 in convincing disaffected farmers to form peasant associations and challenge oppressive landlords. Likewise, Mao Zedong's own work in the rural areas in 1925 and 1926 led him to see the farmers differently. When Nationalists forces after 1927 drove him and other Communists to rural hideouts from their urban bases, they intensified their work among the rural population. Their belief in rural revolution thus became a hallmark of Chinese Communist thinking.” <|>

Gutian Congress

The Gutian Congress was the 9th meeting of the Communist Party of China and the first after the Nanchang Uprising and subsequent southward flight of the insurrectionist troops. It was convened in December 1929, at the town of Gutian in Shanghang County in southwest Fujian Province. Most of the delegates to this congress were army men (the insurrectionists having been renamed the 4th Army of the Chinese Workers' & Peasants' Red Army). Mao Zedong, voted out six months earlier but moving from his success at the little-known Jiaoyang Congress (also in Shanghang), addressed the Zhu-Mao 4th Army as its Comintern-anointed political commissar and chaired the congress. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Gutian Congress Resolution , also titled On Correcting Mistaken Ideas in the Party (henceforth Mistaken Ideas) was conceived at the Gutian Congress. One section included in the Little Red Book read: “ In the sphere of theory, destroy the roots of ultra-democracy. First, it should be pointed out that the danger of ultra-democracy lies in the fact that it damages or even completely wrecks the Party organisation and weakens or even completely undermines the Party's fighting capacity, rendering the Party incapable of fulfilling its fighting tasks and thereby causing the defeat of the revolution. Next it should be pointed out that the source of ultra-democracy consists in the petty bourgeoisie's individualistic aversion to discipline. When this characteristic is brought into the Party, it develops into ultra-democratic ideas politically and organisationally. These ideas are utterly incompatible with the fighting tasks of the proletariat.”

Mistaken Ideas also defined the Red Army as a "mass propaganda" (qunzhong xuanchuan) organ in addition to being a military fighting force. It entrenched the absolute leadership position of the Communist Party over the Red Army. The purpose of the Red Army, the resolution stated, "was chiefly for the service of political ends." The resolution further called for the criticism of what was seen as excessive democratic deliberation and discussion in the fighting force ("ultra-democracy"), preferring democratic centralism whereby the minority agreed to abide by the decisions of the majority, lower levels unquestioningly implemented decisions made by the leadership, and that mistaken ideas must be "corrected through ideological criticism.

Civil War, Kuomintang versus the Communists

Kuomintang allied Muslim army in 1940

With the 1927 split between the Kuomintang and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), the CCP began to engage in armed struggle against the Chiang regime. The Red Army was established in 1927, and after a series of uprisings and internal political struggles, the CCP announced the establishment in 1931 of the Chinese Soviet Republic under the chairmanship of Mao in Jiangxi Province in south-central China. After a series of deadly annihilation campaigns by Chiang’s armies, the Red Army and the CCP apparatus broke out of Jiangxi and embarked on their epic 12,500-kilometer Long March of 1934---35 to a new stronghold in Shaanxi Province in the north. During the march, Mao consolidated his hold over the CCP when in 1935 he became chairman, a position he held until his death in 1976.

The Chinese Civil War persisted off and on from 1927 to 1950. The Communist Revolution is usually broken down into five periods: the establishment of the Communist Party (1919-21); the first civil war (1924-27), the second civil war (1927-37), the fight against Japan (1937-45) and the third civil war (1945-49).

Armed conflict between the Communist Red army and Kuomintang Party began in 1927 when rebel Kuomintang units led by Zhou Enlai staged revolts in several towns, and Mao Zedong led an army of peasants, rebel Kuomintang soldiers and miners in the "Autumn Harvest Uprisings" in Changsa. Mao led the same force through Hunan to the Jinggang mountains on border between Hunan and Jiangxi to begin a guerilla war against the Kuomintang.

In 1930 the fighting between the Kuomintang and the Red Army escalated to all out war. In the early stages of the conflict, the Nationalist forces held the upper hand. In the early 1930s the Red Army suffered some costly defeats when Communist leaders abandoned the guerilla tactics that served them well and decided to launch major offensives against towns and cities.

Zhangzhou's central urban area (now Xiangcheng District) was occupied in April and May 1932 by a column of Communist guerrillas under Mao Zedong. Due to the presence of Western gunboats in Xiamen Bay, arms shipments from the Soviet Union were unable to get up the Jiulong River to Mao's forces and on to the main Communist base area. According to some reports, Mao's forces took with them a substantial amount of loot from bourgeois residents when his column retreated from the city. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The hero of the revolutionary period, according to Yu Shicun, is the solitary Zhang Xueliang, the paragon of a Chinese traditional gentleman, who captured the generalissimo to force him into an alliance with the communists against the invading Japanese. Still, after achieving his political goal, Zhang surrendered himself to Chiang and spent the rest of his life practically under house arrest, deprived of the power and the political honors he should have merited. However, he did not suffer too much for it, and in fact, he lived to be 100 years old. [Source: Francesco Sisci, the Asia Editor of La Stampa, form the Asian Times]

Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania wrote, “In the 1930s, the two sides came to blows, as Chiang launched a series of encirclement campaigns against the rural base areas where the Communists were steadily building a state-within-a-state. The last of these campaigns, in 1934, proved so successful that the Communists had to break through the Nationalist lines and flee to the Northwest. That flight, the celebrated Long March would not have been possible without chests full of those Mexican silver dollars supplied by Moscow and used to sustain the troops on their flight and bribe local militarists not to resist. When Mao’s army finally reached the small city of Baoan in the remote northwest, he told his followers that his goal was to expand their area of control until it joined up with the USSR and the Mongolian People’s Republic.” [Source:Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Soviet Influence on China in the Early 20th Century

Much of 20th century Chinese history can be seen as a contest for influence between Moscow and Tokyo, with each power seeking to advance its interests by money, influence, collaborators, and military power. The Japanese side of this story has been well known since the 1930s. Perhaps Taylor’s greatest contribution is to make clear how the Soviet effort decisively affected Chiang’s career (and Mao’s) at key points. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Chiang’s rise to power began as a disciple of Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party, who was supported by the Soviet Union. In 1923, Chiang had spent three months in the USSR consulting, seeking cooperation and addressing the executive committee of the Comintern. In June 1924, he stood beside Sun Yat-sen on the platform as the Whampoa Military Academy, of which he would become superintendent, was opened. It is here that the soon-to-be-victorious Nationalist army was trained. It was made possible by a Russian gift of 2.7 million yuan and a monthly stipend of 100,000 yuan. Weapons were provided too: On October 7, 1924 the first shipment of 8,000 Soviet rifles arrived, soon followed by another shipment of 15,000 rifles, along with machine guns and artillery pieces. After Sun’s death in 1925, Whampoa cadets and Soviet armaments were the core of Chiang’s successful campaign against the Beiyang regime in Peking that culminated at the end of the decade with the establishment of a new Republic of China (ROC) government in Nanking.” [Ibid]

Moscow, however, did not support Chiang alone. They also supported the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Stalin realized that it was too weak to take power at the time, or to serve as a credible military counterweight to Tokyo, which he feared. Initially the idea was to use the small Communist party to influence or even control the much larger Kuomintang, or to create a smaller Red China within the Republic.” [Ibid]

On June 2, 1933, the Comintern agent in Shanghai reported plans to purchase an airplane that could reach and resupply Communist base areas, to be flown by an American pilot. On November 2, Moscow instructed Shanghai to buy heavy airplanes, gasmasks and medicines and asked whether U.S. dollars or Mexican silver dollars were required for the purchase. On November 14, Shanghai reported 3 million Mexican silver dollars received and asked for an additional U.S. $250,000.” [Ibid]

Soviet money and weapons strengthened Mao’s Communists as they had Sun’s and Chiang’s Nationalists. In the 1930s, the two sides came to blows, as Chiang launched a series of encirclement campaigns against the rural base areas where the Communists were steadily building a state-within-a-state. The last of these campaigns, in 1934, proved so successful that the Communists had to break through the Nationalist lines and flee to the Northwest. That flight, the celebrated Long March would not have been possible without chests full of those Mexican silver dollars supplied by Moscow and used to sustain the troops on their flight and bribe local militarists not to resist. When Mao’s army finally reached the small city of Baoan in the remote northwest, he told his followers that his goal was to expand their area of control until it joined up with the USSR and the Mongolian People’s Republic. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

Mao and Stalin in 1949

Many Japanese wanted to invade the USSR, however, and Stalin understood that if he wanted to balance Japan he needed Chiang and his Nationalist army, which is why he intervened decisively when the Generalissimo was kidnapped at Xian in 1936, with Mao’s full knowledge and support, when Japan was already on the march in the North. Stalin knew that without Chiang, China would be leaderless against this threat and put his foot down. Mao complied instantly and Chiang was released. As full-scale war broke out in 1937, Stalin kept the Chinese army supplied by overland convoy through Sinkiang (Xinjiang). By the time of the Battle of Nanking, Soviet planes with Chinese markings and Russian pilots were engaging the Japanese. Without this support Chiang could never have survived; he came to power with Soviet support and the same support saw him through his most dangerous time. [Source: Arthur Waldron, a professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, China Brief (Jamestown Foundation), October 22, 2009]

When war ended, Stalin’s calculations changed. The Japanese no longer threatened. Soviet armies had occupied Manchuria in the closing days. He intended to keep that rich and strategic northeast territory under his control, something Chiang would never accept. The Communists, by contrast, might play in China the same role they were playing in Eastern Europe, presiding over client states such as East Germany. So Russian railroads and aircraft helped bring Mao’s Communist armies to Manchuria to start building a Red China, while delaying and denying access to Chiang. Chiang scurried diplomatically, making concessions to Moscow in the hope of being allowed at least to partition Manchuria.

Thinking he had secured acquiescence, he made the worst miscalculation of his life and threw his best troops into a battle to drive the Communists out of Manchuria. Although this enjoyed substantial success initially, it was... doomed. Stalin would not permit it to succeed. Soviet material and logistic support came to the Communists in Manchuria by rail across the borders (all of which were in Communist hands), by air, even by rail from North Korea, with a full 1,000 railcars being devoted to the task.

Jay Taylor The Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the Struggle for Modern China (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009)

Image Sources: 1st and 3rd images, photos by Agnes Smedly, University of Arizona ; Others Wiki Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2016

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