A Very Very Short History of the Chinese Communist Party (1 of 10)

Part 1: The Beginning: How Did Communism Come to China

On May 4th, 1919, college students in Beijing took to the street to protest against the government. The day has since been memorialized and celebrated as the May 4th Youth Day.

May 4th Movement in Tiananmen Square 1919.

Isn’t it strange that CCP,  which brutally crushed the Tiananmen Square student movement on June 4th of 1989, would celebrate another student protest movement?

In 1918, the first world war was finally over. In the following year of 1919, the newly merged powers gathered in Versailles for the Paris Peace Conference to re-draw the map of the post war world. One of the issues on the negotiation table was China’s Shangdong peninsula. This piece of territory was under the control of Germany. But before the Germans it was occupied by the Japanese. During the World War, China joined the Allies on the condition that the territory would be returned to China.

Instead, the participating powers decided that the territory should be transferred back to Japan rather than returning it to its rightful owner China, a victorious nation.

When the news reached China, the nation was enraged. On May 4th, thousands of angry students in Beijing launched the first student movement in Chinese history,  a mass protest against the unfair resolution and against the government. They demanded that the government refuse to sign the treaty and that all involved officials be punished. They shouted the slogan “Fight for sovereignty outside. Eradicate traitors inside”.

The protesting student crashed with the police. Some were arrested. A group of students got violent. They went to a high official’s home, beating up the residents and burned the house down.

The student protests led to nationwide demonstrations and general strikes.

The May 4th movement succeeded in pressuring the government not to sign the treaty. All the arrested students were released without punishment, a sharp contract to how the CCP dealt with student protests decades later.

The May 4th also succeeded in something else. It opened the door for Marxism/Leninism in China.

As Mao stated once “the Chinese proletariat began to awaken during the May 4th Movement. “The May 4th Movement occurred in 1919, and the Chinese Communist Party was born in 1921.”

Xi Jinping echoes Mao’s statement: “the May 4th Movement promoted the spread of Marxism in China, and prepared the founding of the Chinese Communist Party and its future leaders”

To understand why, we have to go back a few years early.

The Chinese history of the 19th and early 20th century is the history of incompetence and corruption of the Qing Dynasty, humiliating defeats by western powers, civil unrests, constant wars among warlords, poverty, opium epidemic, ignorance, backwardness, and hopelessness.

Chinese intellectuals started to look to the West for answers to all these problems. They brought about a New Culture Movement in 1915, a Chinese enlightenment movement, with the intention to introduce the western ideas of Democracy and Science to China. They called Democracy Mr. De and Science Mr. Sci. They believed that these two misters could save China, just like they had made Japan, a mere island nation, into a formidable power.

The New Cultural Movement also had a darker side. It turned its back to the entire Chinese traditional culture and revolted against Confucianism. The New Cultural Movement is indeed the first Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Although Marxism made its way to China in the midst of the New Culture Movement, it failed to gain traction among all other competing enlightenment ideas.

However, the Treaty of Versailles changed everything. It dimmed the high hopes for Mr. De and Mr Sci. The Chinese intellectuals were disillusioned with the capitalist system, the western liberalism, and especially the Wilsonian Liberalism. May 4th movement was the turning point that many progressive intellectuals chose to reject enlightenment and to embrace radicalism.

Isn’t it interesting that Treaty of Versailles not only gave rise to Communism in China but also the Third Reich in Germany, and Fascism in Italy?

The radical idea they embraced, you guessed it, was Marxism and Leninism from Russia. The Progressive believed that Marxism offers the winning formula to save China from the oppression by the foreign imperialism.

Russian Revolution of 1917

Soviet Russia did not miss the golden opportunity. They quickly sent their agents to China from its globalist organization called Communist International or Comintern, to help to create a Communist party in China. In June 1921, Maring, a functionary of Comintern, arrived in China.

On July 23rd 1921, the First Congress of the Communist Party of China was secretly held in Shanghai with just 12 representatives, among them was Mao. Maring presided over the Congress, where they declared the founding of the Chinese Communist Party.

Mao in 1919.

CCP started with a very small group of people. But it will eventually grow into a political party of millions strong. During its infancy, its main sources of membership were the young students who participated in the May Fourth Movement.

May 4th Movement sealed the fate of China.