Origins of the Chinese Communist Revolution: Early 1900’s
In October 1911, an explosion happened in the home of Chinese Republican conspirators in Hankow which unfolded events that led to the fall of the Manchu Dynasty, the Republic Party growing weaker, nationalist dictatorship, and the Chinese Communist Party conquering. However, such a small event to cause that big of a change wouldn’t be possible if a Revolution was already in place to happen, all it needed was a little push. The citizens of China were tired of the poor treatment the Empire was giving and how the Chinese society was becoming more and more likely to tumble. The ways of ruling in China that had been there for ages and everyone was used to be lacking what it once had and was missing that certain quality that it once had that made the citizens feel confident in their government. The revolution was developing quickly due to the fall of the old society, which included the throne and ancient institution that were once prominent in China.
Whether it was the attack on Chinese Republican conspirators which gradually weakened the Republican Party, or the interest in socialism which gave birth to social activism and the idea of Communism; the origins of the Chinese Communist Revolution can be interpreted differently through the eyes of the people. In October 1911, an explosion in the home of Republican conspirators in Hankow set in motion the deterioration of the Republican Party and other events, which is what some would say started the Chinese Communist Revolution. On the other hand, some argue that the growth in interest in socialism by Chinese Elites and government officials in the May Fourth period that created social activism which in turn led to branching off of that idea to Communism, gave steps to the origins of the revolution. I, however, see that it was a combination of these two arguments that influenced the Chinese Revolution. The weakening of the Republic Party and the rise in interest to socialism led to the Chinese Society teetering on disaster and a lacking influence from the central Chinese Government. Many of the people of China believed that a new thinking needed to happen in order to regain strength as a country and bring back normality to society.
The Manchu Dynasty saw its greatest strength and power come from the ruling authority of Ch’ien Lung, it was a long, glorious and prosperous reign. Unfortunately, it all began to crumble down with the death of Ch’ien Lung, and within a century of his death the dynasty was on its last legs causing the English to take advantage of this. The English attacked the empire with unequal treaties and had attempts of invading the empire. The European power could only muster-up limited and small attacks, but their restricted objective of opening the ports, the few missionaries who attempted to convert the Chinese, and their expanding industrial sciences proved just enough to overturn the Chinese society, Empire, and economy. Within a hundred years of this happening, China was in the final stages of its revolution, and the rise of Communism was already the main issue. The Chinese civilization rested on three pillars of support for centuries with little to no change (Fitzgerald, 12-14). The first was the universal Empire, which only embraced the world that was known to the Chinese. The empire had secluded the Chinese and shut its doors to foreigners to keep Chinese society pure in itself and so it was familiar to the citizens. The second base of the Chinese civilization was the fundamental practice and occupation of agriculture. Chinese agriculture was an extremely efficient system when compared to others in the pre-industrial age. As agriculture was the fundamental occupation, and taxation was collected in kind, the Empire began to keep accurate records of the population and the yield of the land. The third pillar of the old civilization, and the greatest of the three, was the orthodox doctrine of Confucian ethical and political teaching. Chinese civilization, for many centuries, was the only higher culture known to the Chinese and the doctrines which ensured this fact were the only conceivable expression of civilization (Fitzgerald, 20-25). When the English created changes to the Chinese civilization, these three pillars were left there to be questioned by the Chinese people and wonder why they had not changed and conformed to the new times of the world for so long.
Many historians of modern China acknowledge the importance of the May Fourth tradition for the emergence of Communism. During the May Fourth era, an evolution of socialist radicalism became abrupt which was the main movement that in turn gave birth to Chinese Communism (Hung-Yok Ip, 35-37). The popularity of socialist ideas that created a socialist tradition in the May Fourth period led to an intellectual desire for democracy that was too strong to be ignored. Many Chinese were attracted to the ideas of socialism or became socialists simply due to earlier socialist actions and the attention socialism was receiving around China. The interest in democratic values converted many of the Chinese intellectuals to socialism. The socialist intellectuals treated the pursuit of democratic values as an indispensable part of the cultural transformation they sought out for China. The democratic values they seemed to be very attracted to those that sought out national well-being, specifically in the form of wealth and power. The May Fourth intellectuals believed that democracy contributed to the happiness and fulfilment of the people in China, and that democracy was valuable in its own right, and that democratic values should be realized nationally to create a unified system to form a brotherhood of mankind in China (Hung-Yok Ip, 40-41). The intellectuals gave a speech in which they stated they wanted a new, democratic society where there was no class division and no threat of war, and where equality, liberty, and happiness prevail in the faces of the citizens.
In 1919, Mao Zedong created and identified the “doctrine of the common people” with the values of democracy. Mao wanted to use the doctrine to overthrow all types of power, including power on the international level (Chan Lau, 1046). In order to achieve this, Mao was ready to use all kinds of social movements to have his wishes be a reality for China and its people. The eagerness to overthrow power on the international level was, in part, due to the oppression by Japan that created suffering in China. Some of the May Fourth intellectuals saw democracy as a way to make all individuals in a society to become who they want to be and achieve happiness. While, on the other hand, Mao’s idea of democracy which was the “doctrine of the common people,” was to create respect for person and the creation of an environment that enables every individual to benefit from mankind and contribute to the progress of the ever changing world.
Mao Zedong’s idea for democracy and in turn Communism is still celebrated in today’s time in China. The Communist party is still active in small ways and there is a group of people called Maoists who want to get back to “the good old days”, a.k.a. Communism. Mao is still a respected leader among government officials in China because he had the courage to stand up and lead China down a different road. People in China are still being influenced by Mao Zedong’s teachings in political and governmental issues, and the Maoists are growing on a daily basis (The Vancouver Sun, 2014).
A newspaper article that was published on January 6, 1926 in London, England gave some insight and to what was physically happening during that time in China. The author, Sir Frederick Whyte, stated that the Communist party was trying to instill fear into the Chinese citizens that opposed their beliefs. The Communist party was becoming more militarized and was using their power to complete the Chines Communist Revolution (Whyte, 1926). Whyte says that these attempts at creating fear to have people conform created physical and political battles between the North and South of China. Another newspaper article from London, England that was published on March 17, 1927 also stated how the Communist party was using their power to convert China to Communism. The article stated how the Communists were taking control of major political discussions and making the end result of sad discussion to lean towards a conversion to Communism (Times, 1927).
Sir Frederick Whyte.”Political China.” Times [London, England] 6 Jan. 1928: 13+. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.
Chan Lau Kit-ching. “The Perception of Chinese Communism in Hong Kong 1921-1934” The China Quarterly. (2000) 1044-1061
“‘Expert Intimidators.’.” Times [London, England] 17 Mar. 1927: 15. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.
The Vancouver Sun. “Chinese leaders celebrate dark past; Communist party offers cautious praise for Mao 120 years after his birth” LexiNexisAcademic (2013). Accessed September 7, 2014
Fitzgerald, C.P. The Birth of Communist China. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc. 1966.
Hung-Yok Ip, “The Origins of Chinese Communism: A New Interpretation” Modern China (1994): 34-60