The history of the Chinese Communist Party began with its establishment in July 1921. A study group led by Peking University professors Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao to discuss Marxism, led to intellectuals officially founding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in July 1921. In 1923, Sun Yat-sen invited the CCP to form a United Front, and to join his Nationalist Party (GMD) in Canton for training under representatives of the Communist International, the Soviet Union's international organization. The Soviet representatives reorganized both parties into Leninist parties. Rather than the loose organization that characterized the two parties until then, the Leninist party operated on the principle of democratic centralism, in which the collective leadership set standards for membership and an all-powerful Central Committee determined the party line, which all members must follow.

The CCP grew rapidly in the Northern Expedition (1925–1927), a military unification campaign led by Sun Yat-sen's successor, Chiang Kai-shek. The party, still led by urban intellectuals, developed a radical agenda of mass mobilization, labor organization, rural uprisings, anti-imperialism, and national unification. As the Northern Expedition neared success, Chiang in December 1927 unleashed a White Terror that virtually wiped out the CCP in the cities. Nevertheless, Mao Zedong, whose Autumn Harvest Uprising had been a spectacular failure in mobilizing local peasants, became the leader of the CCP and established rural bases and to protect them, he formed the Chinese Red Army. During the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) Mao led a rectification campaign to emphasize Maoism and his leadership of the party and after the war, he led the CCP to victory in the Chinese Civil War (1945–1949).

In the years after 1949, the structure of the CCP remained Leninist, but the CCP's style of leadership changed several times.

Origins of the CCP (1905–1922)

Before the First Congress

Flag of the Chinese Communist Party
Flag of the Chinese Communist Party before the 1990s
Location of the 1st National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in July 1921, on Xintiandi, former French Concession, Shanghai.

Marxist and socialist ideas began to take root in China towards the end of the Qing dynasty as Chinese intellectuals began studying the work of European philosophers.[1] One of the earliest Chinese promoters of Marxism was Zhu Zhixin, a revolutionary author and close colleague of Sun Yat-sen who in 1905 published the first Chinese translation of The Communist Manifesto.[1][2] Sun Yat-Sen was also an early proponent of certain socialist ideals, arguing that socialism and communism were both subsets of the doctrine of Minsheng, or People's Livelihood, an idea centered around the taxation of land.[3] The CCP still claims descent from Sun Yat-Sen, viewing him as a proto-communist and one of the founders of their movement.[4][5] Sun stated, "Our Principle of Livelihood is a form of communism".[6] His widow, Soong Ching-ling, eventually became Honorary President of the PRC.[7]

Following the 1919 May Fourth Movement, communism began to gain traction in China.[8] During 1919 and 1920, reading groups focused on the study of Marxism began to develop in China, with participants who had been involved in political movements of the 1910s like Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, as well as younger activists including Mao Zedong.[9]: 23 

In the summer of 1919, the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decided to assist people of the Far East.[10] In June 1920, Communist International (Comintern) agent Grigori Voitinsky was one of several sent to China, where he met Li Dazhao and other reformers. While in China, Voitinsky financed the founding of the Socialist Youth Corps.[11]: 32–35  Voitinsky found the Far Eastern Secretariat of the Comintern at Shanghai. On 5 July, he attended a meeting of Russian communists in China to promote the establishment of the CCP. He helped Chen found the Shanghai Revolutionary Bureau, also known as the Shanghai Communist Group. Stojanovic went to Guangzhou, Mamaev went to Wuhan, and Broway went to Beijing to help Chinese establish communist groups. Voitinsky provided these groups with promotional, conference and study abroad expenses.[12]: 114  In June 1921, Henk Sneevliet, a Dutch agent from the Communist International arrived in Shanghai, and arranged a meeting in a deserted girls' school in the French Concession to which thirteen of the fifty-seven declared Communists were invited. There, they proclaimed the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party."[1]

First Congress

The Party dates its establishment to June 1, 1921.[9]: 24  Its first formal meeting took place on July 23, 1921, when 12 representatives of local Chinese groups that had met over the course of the preceding two years gathered in Shanghai.[9]: 24 

After several days of meeting, security concerns prompted the group to instead meet on a houseboat on lake in nearby Zhejiang.[9]: 24  The General Assembly adopted The First Program of the Communist Party of China, stating that "the Party is to be named the Communist Party of China" and specifying its objectives: "to overthrow the power of the capitalist class[,]" to "eradicate capitalism and private ownership of property[,]" and to "join the Comintern."[13] The key delegates in the congress were Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu, Chen Gongbo, Tan Pingshan, Zhang Guotao, He Mengxiong, Lou Zhanglong and Deng Zhongxia.[citation needed]

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'[14]). Notably absent at this early point were future leaders Li Lisan and Qu Qiubai.[citation needed]

The period of the CCP's development between 1921 and 1934 is often referred to as the "Communist International era" because the Soviet Union was the key sponsor of Party activities.[15]: 35 

First United Front (1922–1927)

Main article: First United Front

In the early 1920s, the Bolsheviks and the Communist International's leaders believe that in China, the Kuomintang should be supported as it was in their view the country's most viable progressive force.[9]: 24  In August 1922, Sneevliet called a surprise special plenum of the central committee. During the meeting Sneevliet proposed that party members join the Kuomintang 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 CCP to accept his decision.[16]

Under the guidance of the Comintern, the CCP was reorganized along Leninist lines in 1923, in preparation for the Northern Expedition. The Northern Expedition was intended to unify China under a single government.[17]: 35  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 CCP was not highly regarded in Moscow. Moreover, the CCP 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.[18]

Mikhail Markovich Borodin negotiated with Sun Yat-sen and Wang Jingwei the 1923 KMT reorganization and the CCP's incorporation into the newly expanded party. CCP cadres would join the KMT while remaining under CCP discipline.[9]: 25 

Borodin and General Vasily Blyukher (also known as Galen in Chinese) worked with Chiang Kai-shek to found the Whampoa Military Academy. Soviet advisors were the academy's instructors.[9]: 26  The academy produced officers who later became leaders of both the Nationalist forces and the Chinese Red Army.[9]: 26 

The CCP's reliance on the leadership of the Comintern provided a strong indication of the First United Front's fragility.[19]

The party's first major involvement in large-scale urban worker militancy was the May Thirtieth Movement.[20]: 61  The movement also resulted in major growth for the party, with its membership growing from 1,000 members in May 1925 to more than 57,000 by 1927.[21]: 56 

Chinese Civil War (1927–1937)

Main article: Chinese Civil War

In 1927, the KMT broke the United Front, committing the Shanghai Massacre and violently suppressing the CCP.[17]: 35  CCP leaders sought to respond with armed uprisings in Nanchang and Changsha, which briefly seized power before being defeated by KMT forces.[9]: 27  CCP cadres fled urban areas and, in southern China, led their small armies to establish a base at Jinggangshan.[17]: 35  The Red Army left Jiaggangshan following the Kuomintang's counterinsurgency campaigns. They moved into the Jiangxi-Fujian borders to establish the Jiangxi–Fujian Soviet.[17]: 35 

By the early 1930s, the political center of the Communist movement had shifted to the rural base areas.[9]: 28  In 1931, the CCP consolidated a number these base areas into a state, the Chinese Soviet Republic (CSR).[17]: 1  The CSR reached its peak in 1933.[17]: 1  It governed a population which exceeded 3.4 million in an area of approximately 70,000 square kilometers.[17]: 1  The CSR had a central government as well as local and regional governments.[17]: 1  It operated institutions including an education system, court system, and education system.[17]: 1  The CSR also issued currency.[17]: 1 

Long March

Main article: Long March

Although various counter-insurgency campaigns by the Kuomintang failed to defeat the CSR, the fifth encirclement campaign succeeded.[22] The CCP had to give up their bases and started the Long March (1934–1935) to search for a new base.

In January 1935, the Red Army reached Zunyi.[9]: 29  At the Zunyi conference, party leadership addressed the events leading to the defeat of the CSR, the overall state of revolution in China, and how to proceed.[9]: 29  The course set by previous leaders including Bo Gu, international advisor Otto Braun, Li Lisan, and Qu Qiubai were the subject of criticism.[9]: 30  Although Zhou Enlai was among the criticized leaders, he remained respected and continued to hold a leadership position.[9]: 30  Mao Zedong was elected to the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and became the movement's most influential leader.[9]: 30  Mao's elevation also reflected a theoretical shift and strategic shift to an increased focus on the rural peasantry as the primary revolutionary class.[9]: 30 

After the Zunyi conference, the Long March resumed.[9]: 31  The Red Army settled in Shaanxi to expand an existing base into the Yan'an Soviet.[23]: 174 

The Western world first got a clear view of the main base of the Chinese Communist Party 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).[24]

During this period, young people dominated the CCP from its lowest to its highest levels.[25]: 145  According to Snow, the average age of Red Army rank-and-file soldiers was nineteen as of 1936.[25]: 145  The CCP's highest-ranking leaders had been students during the May Fourth period and were thus in their mid-thirties or forties after more than a decade of leadership.[25]: 145 

World War II and the Second United Front (1937–1945)

Further information: Second United Front

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 CCP and the KMT were temporarily in an alliance so they could fight against their common enemy. The Yan'an Soviet moved its headquarters from Bao'an (Pao An) to Yan'an (Yenan) in December 1936.[23]: 175  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 to the Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region.[26] However, essentially the army and the region controlled by CCP remained independent from the KMT's government.[citation needed]

In eight years, the CCP's membership increased from 40,000 to 1,200,000 and the size of its military forces increased – from 30,000 to approximately one million in addition to more than one million members of militia support groups.[27]

China under Mao (1946–1976)

After the conclusion of World War II, the civil war resumed between the Kuomintang and the CCP. Although the CCP participated in the National Constituent Assembly, due to the attacks by the Nationalist government, the party was officially banned by the Nationalist government in June 1946, with party leaders including Mao Zedong wanted.[28]

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 CCP, but both to limited extent. With the Kuomintang's defeat & retreat to Taiwan, Mao Zedong established the People's Republic of China in Beijing on 1 October 1949.[9]: 37 

On 1 October 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong formally proclaimed the establishment of the PRC before a crowd at Tiananmen Square. At the time of the PRC's establishment, the CCP had 1 million members.[9]: 37  The CCP headed the Central People's Government.[12]: 118  From this time through the 1980s, top leaders of the CCP (like Mao Zedong, Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping) were largely the same military leaders prior to the PRC's founding.[29] As a result, informal personal ties between political and military leaders dominated civil-military relations.[29]

Chinese communists celebrate Joseph Stalin's birthday, 1949.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin proposed a one-party state when Liu Shaoqi visited the Soviet Union in 1952.[30] In 1954, the PRC constitution was enacted, which changed the previous coalition government and established the CCP's sole ruling system.[31][32]

During the 1960s and 1970s, the CCP experienced a significant ideological separation from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[33] By that time, Mao had begun saying that the "continued revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat" stipulated that class enemies continued to exist even though the socialist revolution seemed to be complete, leading to the Cultural Revolution in which millions were persecuted and killed.[34]

Political and economic reforms (1976–2012)

Leadership of Deng Xiaoping

Following Mao's death in 1976, a power struggle between CCP chairman Hua Guofeng and Vice-chairman Deng Xiaoping erupted.[35] Deng won the struggle, and became the "paramount leader" in 1978.[35] Deng, alongside Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang, spearheaded the Chinese economic reform, and introduced the ideological concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics, opening China to the world's markets.[36] In reversing some of Mao's "leftist" policies, Deng argued that a socialist state could use the market economy without itself being capitalist.[37][non-primary source needed] While asserting the political power of the CCP, the change in policy generated significant economic growth.[citation needed] The new ideology, however, was contested on both sides of the spectrum, by Maoists as well as by those supporting political liberalization. With other social factors, the conflicts culminated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.[38] The protests having been crushed, Deng's vision on economics prevailed, and by the early 1990s the concept of a socialist market economy had been introduced.[39] In 1997, Deng's beliefs (Deng Xiaoping Theory), were embedded in the CCP constitution.[40]

In 1980, Deng called for a rejuvenation of the cadre system via promotion of "revolutionary, younger, more educated, and more technically specialized" cadre.[41]: 120  Subsequent regulations included establishing a cadre retirement system, age limits for leading cadres, and new recruitment and promotion rules.[41]: 120–121  The CCP also implemented the "third echelon" policy.[41]: 121  The policy sought to promote a total of 135,000 younger officials at all levels to prepare for the retirement for the impending retirement of older leaders in 1985.[41]: 121–122 

Flag of the Chinese Communist Party from 17 June 1951 to 21 July 1996

Leadership of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao

CCP general secretary Jiang Zemin succeeded Deng as "paramount leader" in the 1990s, and continued most of his policies.[42] Since Jiang's administration, the highest positions in the party-state (General Secretary, Chair of the Central Military Commission, and President of China) have all been simultaneously held by a single leader.[15]: 37 

In the 1990s, the CCP transformed from a veteran revolutionary leadership that was both leading militarily and politically, to a political elite increasingly regenerated according to institutionalized norms in the civil bureaucracy.[29] Leadership was largely selected based on rules and norms on promotion and retirement, educational background, and managerial and technical expertise.[29] There is a largely separate group of professionalized military officers, serving under top CCP leadership largely through formal relationships within institutional channels.[29]

In 1991, the party launched the nationwide Patriotic Education Campaign.[43]: 99  The major focus of the campaign was within education, and text books were revised to reduce narratives of class struggle and to emphasize the party's role in ending the century of humiliation.[43]: 99 As part of the campaign, Patriotic Education Bases were established, and schools ranging from primary to the college levels were required to take students to sites of significance to the Chinese Revolution.[43]: 99 

As part of Jiang Zemin's legacy, the CCP ratified the Three Represents for the 2003 revision of the party's constitution, as a "guiding ideology" to encourage the party to represent "advanced productive forces, the progressive course of China's culture, and the fundamental interests of the people."[44] The theory legitimized the entry of private business owners and bourgeois elements into the CCP.[44] Hu Jintao, Jiang Zemin's successor as general secretary, took office in 2002.[45] Unlike Mao, Deng and Jiang Zemin, Hu laid emphasis on collective leadership and opposed one-man dominance of the political system.[45] The insistence on focusing on economic growth led to a wide range of serious social problems. To address these, Hu introduced two main ideological concepts: the Scientific Outlook on Development and Harmonious Socialist Society.[46]

Under Xi Jinping (2012–present)

Hu resigned from his post as CCP general secretary and Chairman of the CMC at the 18th National Congress held in 2012, and was succeeded in both posts by Xi Jinping.[47] Since taking power, Xi has initiated a wide-reaching anti-corruption campaign, while centralizing powers in the office of CCP general secretary at the expense of the collective leadership of prior decades. Commentators have described the campaign as a defining part of Xi's leadership as well as "the principal reason why he has been able to consolidate his power so quickly and effectively."[48] Xi's leadership has also overseen an increase in the CCP's role in China.[49] The CCP added Xi Jinping Thought to its constitution in 2017.[50]

Since 2014, the CCP has led efforts in Xinjiang that involve the detention of more than 1 million Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities in internment camps, as well as other repressive measures. These repressive measures have been described as a genocide by some academics, the United States,[51][52] the Dutch parliament,[53] and the British House of Commons.[54] On the other hand, a greater number of countries signed a letter penned to the Human Rights Council supporting the policies as an effort to combat terrorism in the region.[55][56][57]

On 1 July 2021, the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the CCP, one of the Two Centenaries, took place.[58]

See also


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Works cited