Modern China

The Chinese Communist Party

The New Culture Movement

   The Chinese Communist Party ultimately began with the intellectual ferment of the May Fourth Movement, or the New Culture Movement, which began in 1911. While political theorists and activists, such as Sun Yat-sen, were aggressively pursuing political and economic modernization while, for the most part, retaining their roots in Confucianism, the May Fourth movement had as its specific goal the complete elimination of traditional Confucian culture and its replacement with a culture more closely resembling Western culture and beliefs. The humiliation of Yüan Shih-kai and his brand of Confucianism had completely discredited Confucianism, and the intellectual revolutionaries between 1917 and 1923 spearheaded a movement to adopt Western science, culture, and democratic principles. At the same time they championed new literature written in vernacular Chinese over the Chinese classics. This five year period, called by some "The Chinese Renaissance," may perhaps have been the most intellectually revolutionary period since the time of Confucius.

   The political effect of the New Culture Movement was to politicize and radicalize Chinese, particularly Chinese students. The New Culture thinkers published their theories of government, education, culture, economics, and Western science prolifically in books and journals. Never before in Chinese history had political and social issues been discussed so openly and so publicly. Soon Chinese students were publishing their own journals and attacking all the traditions of China: Confucianism, hsiao (filial piety), the Chinese classics, and Neo-Confucian science. In the journals of the New Culture Movement and their student followers, no part of Chinese culture was free from ridicule or criticism, but they spared their most vitriolic attacks for traditional Chinese views of government. This eagerness and intellectual volatlity sparked a massive uprising: the May Fourth Movement.

The May Fourth Movement

   At the end of World War I, the Japanese had taken Shantung in China. As part of the allied forces, the taking of Shantung was meant as a direct attack on Germany, which leased a naval base there. At the end of World War I, the Japanese insisted on keeping Shantung and persuaded the Allied powers forging the Treaty of Versailles to accept their demands. On May 4, 1919, angered at this treaty and fired up with nationalist fervor, students staged a mass demonstration in China protesting the Treaty of Versailles. This was the first mass protest in Chinese history. It did not, however, have the desired effect. Even though the Chinese refused to sign the treaty, the Allied powers sacrificed China in order to lure Japan into the new League of Nations; the irony, of course, is that Japan would be the first to withdraw from the League after the Manhuria incident in 1933.

   The May Fourth Movement, however, is critical in Chinese history because it spawned a whole new wave of intellectual revolution in the New Culture Movement. Several of the leaders of the movement who were ardently pro-Western were bitterly disappointed by the betrayal of China at the Versailles conference. These embittered intellectuals now turned to Marxism and the lessons of the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. Thus the New Culture Movement began to gestate the seeds of the Chinese Communist Party.

Li Ta-ch'ao and Ch'en Tu-hsiu

   The founders of the Chinese Communist Party were a prominent leader in the New Culture Movement, Li Ta-cha'o and Ch'en Tu-hsiu. Iconoclastic and brilliant, he fundamentally disagreed with the ideas of the other major leader of the New Culture Movement, Hu Shih, who believed that Chinese society should be changed gradually, "drop by drop." Ch'en, however, believed that Chinese society should be changed all at once in a revolution modelled after the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1921, he formed the Chinese Communist Party, which came under the supervision of Gregory Voitinsky, a Soviet representative of the Comintern (Communist International). On July 20, 1921, the CCP held its first congress with twelve Chinese and two Russians present. Li Ta-ch'ao could not make it, but those in attendance including the later leader of the Communist revolution and Communist China, Mao Tse-tung.

The Chinese Communist Party

   By 1922, however, the Comintern, which supervised the activities of the CCP, began to press the Communists to cooperate with the Kuomintang in order to facilitate the rise of a Chinese republic. Under the influence of Lenin and later Stalin, the Comintern argued that China wasn't ready for communism for it needed to undergo a period of modernization and republicanism. The standing order, then, was for the CCP to ally itself with the KMT despite the rabid anti-communism of the latter.

   The marriage was not exactly made in heaven. The Nationalists repeatedly used the CCP in order to mobilize strikes during the Northern Expedition, but then betrayed the communists when they gained control of major cities. The communists themselves began to operate independently as a party after the death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925; in particular, Mao Tse-tung engaged on a party recruitment campaign among peasants that was phenomenally successful. Leadership in the Soviet Union was divided: Josef Stalin believed that the Communists should continue to cooperate with the KMT while Leon Trotsky, in a competition for power with Stalin, argued that the communists should begin setting up communist-style local governments and initiate land reform. This breach between the two Soviet leaders would eventually result in the exile and eventual assassination of Trotsky.

   The relationship between the KMT and CCP eventually broke down completely despite Stalin's wishes. On August 1, 1927, a peasant army numbering 15,000 men attacked and seized the city of Nanchang in Kiangsi in southern China. Although it failed, this brought the CCP in direct military confrontation with the KMT. The Communist Party itself split into two factions. On the one hand were the members directly under the control of the Comintern and Josef Stalin; on the other were the rural agitators that had been raising peasant armies for the communist struggle. Principle among these rural leaders was Mao Tse-tung who had been phenomenally successful at raising a peasant army in Hunan province. Mao began a series of uprisings, but the Comintern severely rebuked him. The Comintern believed that a real communist revolution would be a revolution of workers rather than peasants, so it began sponsoring a series of urban uprisings. When these failed, it became evident that Mao and his peasant army was the realy player in communist politics.In January, 1928, he formed the Fourth Red Army with Chu Teh as the military leader and Mao as the "party representative." They then established a Soviet regime in Kiangsi.

   By this point, Mao and Chu had become independent operatives largely untouched by party squabbles or by influence from the Comintern and Soviet Russia. They aggressively organized the peasantry and set up one soviet government after another throughout Hunan and Kiangsi. They began seizing land and redistributing it to the peasantry. Mao's movement in the south contrasted completely with the state of the CCP party, which had started to fall apart under weak leadership and internal bickering. The Soviet Union tolerated Mao's and Chu's activities, even though they were in direct violation of Comintern orders, because they were, after all, the only successful communist activities in China.

First All-China Congress of the Soviets

   Utterly sure of himself, Mao then called the First All-China Congress of the Soviets on November 7, 1931, to be held in his capital city of Juichin. The Bolshevik members of the Chinese Politburo agreed to this congress but only with the intention of chastising Mao. They attacked him at the Congress for his guerilla tactics, his recruitment of peasants over workers, and his overal "ideological poverty." Mao, however, had stacked the congress with Maoists. The Congress elected Mao chairman of the Central Executive Committe of the All-China Soviet Government and made him Chief Political Commissar of the Red Army. However, Mao was unable to gain admission into the Chinese politburo, which remained in the hands of the Bolsheviks.

   The differences between the Bolsheviks and the Maoists were irreconcilable. The Maoists believed that land should be equally distributed to landlords and poor alike; the Bolsheviks believed that the wealthy and the landlords should be completely deprived of all land. The Maoists believed that the Red Army should ally itself with other parties in order to meet the threat of Japanese aggression; the Bolsheviks believed that the Red Army should slowly grow and should have as its primary goal the protection of the Soviet Union from the Japanese. Finally, the Maoists believed in luring Nationalist forces into Communist territory and then surrounding and attacking them; the Bolsheviks believed that the Communists should defend their territories and occasionally make forays into Nationalist territory.

The KMT Campaign

   The split with the Bolsheviks weakened Mao because it deprived him of the unity he so needed in Communist forces. The biggest threat, however, came from the KMT. Seeking out advice from the German military, Chiang Kai-shek began a series of campaigns against Mao with over 700,000 men. He slowly encircled Mao's territories and put an economic stranglehold on them. At the same time, as he recovered territory, he instituted radical land reform and redistributed land to the poorest peasants. Like the Bolsheviks, Chiang criticized Mao for being too "egalitarian"; he believed that landlords should be completely deprived of their land.

   This campaign successfully defeated the Red Army and dislodged the Maoists from Kiangsi. By mid-1934, the Red Army was all but completely defeated. There was nothing left to do but run.

The Long March

   Mao Tse-tung wanted the Red Army to break free of the KMT army and break up into small, guerilla fighting units. However, the Military Council vetoed this strategy and ordered the Red Army to break through as a single, unified army. Only the able-bodied were allowed to join the exodus of the army and on October 15, 1934, the Long March began. The March included 85,000 soldiers, 15,000 party officials, and 35 women. A three-man military group composed of Li Te, Po Ku, and Chou En-lai, supervised the march.

   The Communists, however, were unhappy with the leadership of Li and Po and, when the communists reached the city of Tsunyi, they held a conference. At this conference, Li and Po were ousted but, most importantly, Mao Tse-tung became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee. A new three man committee was formed with Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai, and Wang Chia-hsiang. The latter was ill and Chou always deferred to Mao. For the most part, Mao was now the head of the party.

   After a journey of over six thousand miles, over mountains, rivers, forests, and wasteland, the Communists finally arrived in Wuch'ichen in Paoan county in October, 1935. Only 8,000 people had survived the March, but later units arrived swelling the total number of soldiers and officials to 30,000. In Yenan, Mao rebuilt the party. He had, through all his tribulations, achieved his ambition of becoming the head of the Communist party. In 1938, the Soviet Union recognized him as the leader of the CCP, and in 1945, he was elected teh Chairman of the CCP Central Committee, Chairman of the Politburo, Chairman of the Secretariat, and Chairman of the Military Commission. Mao was the CCP.

   

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1997, Richard Hooker
Updated 3-9-97