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A Brief History of the CPC Over the Past Century: The Period of the New-Democratic Revolution
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The Period of the New-Democratic Revolution  

(MAY, 1919—October, 1949)  

New Youth Magazine

Revolutionary magazine New Youth, which initiated the New Culture Movement and spread the influence of the May Fourth Movement, was launched by Chen Duxiu in Shanghai in 1915. Its editorial office was briefly based in Beijing, but relocated to Shanghai in 1920. Its site also served as the office for the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee in the 1920s.

New Culture Movement

In 1915, in the face of Japanese encroachment on China, young intellectuals, inspired by New Youth, began agitating for the reform and strengthening of Chinese society. As part of this New Culture Movement, they lam- basted traditional Confucian ideas and embraced Western ideas, particularly those on science and democracy. Their inquiry into liberalism, pragmatism, nationalism, anarchism, and socialism provided a basis from which to evaluate traditional Chinese ethics, philosophy, religion, and social and political institutions and criticize the backward elements. Moreover, Chen and U.S.-educated scholar Hu Shi proposed a new naturalistic vernacular writing style (baihua), replacing the difficult 2,000-year-old classical style (wenyan). These patriotic feelings and the zeal for reform culminated in an incident on May 4, 1919, a date from which the movement took its name.

Li Dazhao

Li Dazhao (1889-1927) is considered a pioneer in China’s communist movement, a great Marxist and revolutionary, and one of the main founders of the CPC. He devoted his lifetime to the cause of communism. To unite the nation at a time of crisis, Li actively took part in the May Fourth Movement during his tenure as Director of Peking University Library. He wrote hundreds of articles for New Youth magazine and others to promote democracy, support constitutional government, endorse individual freedom and call for a national revival. Li is one of the earliest and strongest advocates of Marxism in China. He influenced many people, including Mao Zedong who later became the leader of the CPC.

May Fourth Movement

The May Fourth Movement is a great patriotic and revo- lutionary campaign pioneered by forward-thinking young intellectuals and joined by people from all walks of life to resolutely fight imperialism and feudalism. It started with mass student protests on May 4, 1919, against the government’s response to the Treaty of Versailles that contained unfair terms on China and undermined the country’s sovereignty, following the end of WW I. On that day, more than 3,000 students from 13 colleges in Beijing partook in a mass demonstration against the decision of the Paris Peace Conference to transfer the former German concessions in Shandong Province to Japan. It then triggered a national campaign to overthrow the old society and promote new ideas, including science, democracy and Marxism. For one week, beginning on June 5, merchants and workers across Shanghai and other cities went on strike in support of the students. In big cities, strikes and boycotts against Japanese goods lasted more than two months.

The First CPC National Congress

The founding fathers of the CPC secretly started the First CPC National Congress at No.76 Xingye Road, a two-story brick- and-wood building in downtown Shanghai, on July 23, 1921. The meeting concluded on a boat on Nanhu Lake in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province. Thirteen delegates, Mao Zedong, He Shuheng, Dong Biwu, Chen Tanqiu, Wang Jinmei, Deng Enming, Li Da, Li Hanjun, Zhang Guotao, Liu Renjing, Chen Gongbo, Zhou Fohai and Bao Huiseng, were in attendance. The First National Congress of the CPC, after adopting the Party’s program, passing the resolution on the current work and electing the Central Bureau of the Party, proclaimed the founding of the CPC.

The Third CPC National Congress

The Third CPC National Congress was held from June 12- 20, 1923. The congress mainly discussed the establishment of the united revolutionary front based on the Kuomintang (KMT)- Communist cooperation. It accepted the Resolution on the Relationship Between the CPC and the KMT adopted by the Communist International on January 12 of that year and decided that all CPC members would join the KMT in the capacity of individuals for the benefit of establishing the united front of various democratic classes. The Central Executive Committee elected Chen Duxiu, Mao Zedong, Luo Zhanglong, Cai Hesen and Tan Pingshan to form the Central Bureau. Chen was further elected Chairman of the Central Executive Committee.

Northern Expedition

Thanks to the correct leadership of the CPC and to KMT- Communist cooperation, a great revolution against imperialism and feudalism rose around the country. In 1925, the May 30th Movement took place in Shanghai, marking the beginning of a nationwide revolutionary upsurge and laying the groundwork for the revolutionary war against the northern warlords. Known as the Northern Expedition, the war was launched under the slogan “Oppose Imperialism and Warlords,” a slogan raised by the CPC. The main-stay of the Northern Expeditionary Army was made up of CPC members, members of the Communist Youth League and progres- sive personages of the KMT. Along with the victorious advance of the Northern Expedition, the CPC-led workers’ and peasants’ movement rapidly grew in force, shaking the reactionary rule of imperialist and feudal forces in China. However, at the critical moment of the struggle, the bourgeoisie betrayed the revolution, and Chen Duxiu, then General Secretary of the CPC, pursued an erroneous line of capitulationism. As a result, the revolution failed.

Counter-Revolutionary Coup

On April 12, 1927, the KMT reactionaries launched a counter-revolutionary coup in Shanghai, where they wantonly slaughtered communists and revolutionary masses. Over 1,000 communists were arrested, some 300 were officially executed, and more than 5,000 went missing. Communists in Guangzhou, Xiamen, Fuzhou, Ningbo, Nanjing, Hangzhou and Changsha were also arrested or killed. In Beijing, on April 28, warlord Zhang Zuolin killed 20 communists who had taken up refuge at the Soviet embassy, including Li Dazhao.

Nanchang Uprising

The Nanchang Uprising was an armed resistance led by the Chinese Communist forces on August 1, 1927, in Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, in order to counter the anti-communist purges by the KMT. The military forces were under the leadership of CPC members Zhou Enlai, Tan Pingshan, Ye Ting, Zhu De and Liu Bocheng, and He Long, who joined the Party in the event’s aftermath. The Soviet Army military adviser M. F. Kumanin from the 20th Army was also among the leaders. On August 1, 1927, the first shots of the armed resistance against the KMT reactionaries were fired by the CPC and the left-wing KMT, lifting the curtain for the CPC to independently lead the armed struggle and create a revolutionary army.

Autumn Harvest Uprising

On September 9, 1927, Mao Zedong launched the Autumn Harvest Uprising in Hunan-Jiangxi border area. From September 29 to October 3, 1927, Mao led the famous “Sanwan Reorganization” at Sanwan Village in Yongxin County, Jiangxi Province. He devised a new strategy for running the army, based on principles like “the Party commands the gun,” “the Party branch is organized on a company basis,” and “officers and men shall receive equal treatment.”

Jinggang Mountains Revolutionary Base Area

After the Autumn Harvest Uprising, Mao Zedong led the insurgent troops to the Jinggang Mountains in Jiangxi province and launched the agrarian revolution and established the first rural revolutionary base area—the Jinggang Mountains Revolutionary Base Area.

The Chinese communists, represented by Mao, accumulated experience in the struggle and gradually shifted the focus of the Party’s work from the cities to the countryside. While residing in the countryside, the CPC mobilized the peasants and established base areas, thus opening up a road of encircling the cities from the rural areas and seizing political power with armed force. Under the Party leadership, people in base areas overthrew the landlords and shared the land. Revolutionary armed forces and workers and peasants’ governments were established. Communist forces foiled, one after the other, the “encirclement and suppression” campaigns launched by KMT armies. The base areas became settings of revolutionary activities.

September 18th Incident

In 1931, the Japanese imperialists staged the September 18th Incident in an attempt to colonize China. The CPC was the first to hold up the banner of armed resistance against Japan. It called on people of the whole country to fight the Japanese for the salvation of the motherland.

Long March

As the revolution resumed momentum, Wang Ming, then a senior CPC leader, pursued an erroneous line of “Left” dogmatism, which brought about yet another severe loss to the Party. Due to the failure of the struggle against the fifth “Encirclement and Suppression” campaign, the Red Army was forced to undertake a strategic transfer by embarking on the Long March, a 12,500-km-long journey.

Zunyi Meeting

The Party took its cues from the victories and failures of the great and agrarian revolutions. During the Long March, it convened a meeting in Zunyi during which it corrected the “Left” mistakes within the Party and established the leading position of the Marxist line represented by Mao Zedong. The Zunyi Meeting proved to be a critical turning point in the Party history. It indicated that the Party was en route to maturity. After the meeting, the Party led the Red Army to defeat the enemy’s encircling, pursuing and blocking tactics, and with extraordinary willpower, overcame all sorts of hazards and obstacles. As a result, the Red Army achieved the great victory ofthe Long March. In the meantime, the Party adopted a new policy of establishing a national united front against Japan. It played an active role in the peaceful settlement of the Xi’an Incident and the realiza- tion of a second KMT-Communist cooperation, thus paving the way for the nationwide War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45).

Chinese United Front Against Japanese Aggression Proposed by the CPC

The Wayaobu Conference refers to an important enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee held on December 17, 1935, at Wayaobu in Anding County (today’s Zichang County) of Shaanxi Province. Chaired by Mao Zedong, the conference examined the new changes in China’s class relations, discussed the issues concerning a national unit- ed front, a national defense government, and the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army, and concluded with a strategy for a national united front against Japanese aggression. A resolution of the CPC Central Committee on the prevailing political situa- tion and the tasks of the Party was adopted at the conference. It outlined the major tasks of the Party, namely mobilizing, uniting, and organizing all revolutionary forces nationwide in the fight againstJapanese imperialism.

July 7th Incident

On the night ofJuly 7, 1937, while conducting military exercises near the Lugou Bridge, also known as the Marco Polo Bridge, in the vicinity of the town of Wanping outside Beijing, Japanese troops demanded entry into the town under the pretext of looking for a missing soldier. When China’s 29th Route Army troops stationed there rejected their demand, Japanese forces began firing on and shelling the town. The Chinese troops fought back. What happened that night is com- monly referred to as the July 7th Incident, or the Lugou Bridge Incident; the event shocked the world. It was a deliberate act of aggression on the part ofJapan and signaled the start of its full-scale war on and invasion of China. From that point on, the whole of China engaged in a war of resistance, which lasted until Japan’s unconditional surrender on August 15, 1945.

During the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, the CPC and the KMT entered into a new alliance in order to mount joint resistance against Japan’s aggression. This second alliance, known as the national united front against Japanese aggression, followed the first cooperative attempt by the KMT and the CPC to overthrow the rule of the northern warlords from January 1924 to July 1927. In mid-August 1937, the Central Red Army in Northern Shaanxi was reorganized into the Eighth Route Army of the National Revolutionary Army. On September 22, the KMT Central News Agency published the CPC Central Committee’s Declaration of Cooperation Between the KMT and the CPC. Chiang Kai-shek delivered a speech the following day, recognizing the legitimacy of the Communist Party. In October, Red Army guerrilla forces, active in the 13 southern regions, were reorganized into the New Fourth Army. A national united front against Japanese aggression thus took shape, ushering in the second KMT-CPC coalition. Within the united front, the CPC gradually became a central pillar in the fight against Japanese imperialist aggressors. The people’s revolutionary forces under the leadership of the CPC became pivotal to China’s political future and to eventual victory in the War of Resistance AgainstJapanese Aggression.

The Yan’an Rectification Movement

The Yan'an Rectification Movement was the first ideological mass movement initiated by the CPC, spanning a time period from 1941 to 1945. The movement took place at the communist base in Yan’an, a remote mountainous area in northern Shaanxi, after the communists’ Long March.

Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression

Under the banner of the national united front, the CPC became the backbone of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. People’s revolutionary forces led by the Party during the war had experienced an unprecedented growth. In August 1945, Japanese imperial- ism announced unconditional surrender. The Chinese people won the great victory ofthe war.

The Chongqing Negotiations

The Chongqing Negotiations, marking 43 days of top level negotiations between the KMT and the CPC, were an important political event at a vital time when China faced a choice between war and peace after its victory in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression. On August 28, 1945, at the invitation of Chiang Kai-shek, then Chairman of the National Commission of Military Affairs of China, Mao Zedong, Chairman of the CPC Central Committee, flew to Chongqing from Yan’an, Shaanxi Province, to engage in peaceful negotiations to realize the people’s desire for nationwide peace and democracy. Weeks later, on October 10, the Minutes of Talks between the Government and Representatives of the CPC, also known as the Double Tenth Agreement, were signed and released to the public.

In order to unite all possible social forces and establish a wider united front for China’s peaceful development, Mao Zedong met with over 100 individuals in Chongqing on the sidelines of the negotiations, including senior government officials, military officers, business tycoons, scholars, artists and representatives from other political parties and foreign missions.

An All-Out Civil War

In June 1946, with the support of and aid from the U.S. Government, the ruling clique ofthe KMT waged an all-out civil war. Under the leadership of the CPC, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), in self-defense, defeated the military attacks of the KMT forces and eventually switched from the defensive to strategic offensive. In the meantime, anti-feudal land reform was carried out in Liberated Areas, bringing the broad masses of farmers into active support of the PLA troops on the frontlines. Across KMT-controlled areas, the people’s movement, spearheaded by the student movement, commenced and became a second front. Due to the failure ofthe “middle path,” the people’s democratic united front was further consolidated and expanded, laying the foundation for the multi-party cooperation led by the CPC. The KMT government fell under a siege laid by the whole people.

The Outline Land Law of China

In July 1947, the Working Committee of the CPC Central Committee convened for the National Land Conference and in September, the Outline Land Law of China was passed. On October 10, 1947, it was finally promulgated by the CPC Central Committee. According to the new law, the feudal and semi-feudal exploitative land systems were completely abolished and the “land to the tiller” system was adopted. In addition, the development of national industry and commerce was protected and the People’s Court was established.

Three Major Military Campaigns

The Party then led the PLA troops in three major military campaigns—the Liaoning-Shenyang, Huaihai and Beiping-Tianjin campaigns. This wiped out the main military forces of the KMT, armies that had helped uphold the reactionary rule of the KMT. In the Huaihai Campaign (1948-49), the PLA pushed forward with overwhelming drive, capturing a large number of KMT soldiers. During the Liaoning-Shenyang Campaign (1948), the PLA rushed to Jinzhou City under the cover of artillery fire in a powerful blitz attack. In 1948, the CPC Central Committee decided to launch the Beiping-Tianjin Campaign.
As the war progressed, the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CPC Central Committee took place to make the political and ideological preparations for a nationwide victory and the establishment ofthe People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Nanjing Liberation

On April 20, 1949, the PLA embarked on the Crossing-the-Yangtze River Campaign. Then, after the liberation of Nanjing, the fall ofthe reactionary rule ofthe KMT was declared.

The Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CPC Central Committee

In March 1949, with national victory in sight, the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CPC Central Committee took place in Xibaipo, Hebei province. Mao Zedong, who chaired the meeting, made his famous speech calling on all Party members to remain modest and prudent, free from arrogance or recklessness on the job, and to preserve the virtues of a simple life and hard work. Later that month, the CPC Central Committee and the PLA Headquarters left Xibaipo for Beijing.

The First Plenary Session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)

Held on September 21, 1949 in Beiping (now Beijing), the First Plenary Session of the CPPCC was attended by rep- resentatives of the CPC, other political parties, public figures with no party affiliation, mass organizations, regions, the PLA, ethnic groups, overseas Chinese and other patriotic democrats. The Session exercised the functions and powers of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and represented the will of the people of the whole country. It adopted a provisional constitution entitled the Common Program of the CPPCC, the Organic Law of the CPPCC and the Organic Law of the Central People’s Government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). It selected Beijing as capital of the PRC, made the five-star red flag the national flag, chose the March of the Volunteers as the national anthem and decided that China should adopt the Gregorian calendar. The session also elected the First National Committee of the CPPCC and the Central People’s Government Council of the PRC. It proclaimed the founding of the PRC and turned over the first page in the history of the PRC.

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