On July 23, 1921, the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) convened in a residential building in the French concession area of Shanghai, heralding the birth of the CPC.
More than seven decades earlier in February 1848, Marx and Engels’ The Communist Manifesto was published in London. The work announced the aims and tendencies of communists openly for the whole world to understand. The book has become a political standard studied around the globe and cherished by communist parties all over the world.
In the 19th Century, a capitalist tide swept across the West, creating a massive pool of workers subsisting on wages earned by selling their labor. With the extensive usage of machinery and specific division of labor, workers became indistinguishable from machines, as depicted in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times. The bourgeoisie began arbitrarily exploiting the surplus value of laborers at the minimal cost of basic, necessary means of subsistence. Countless workers fell into extreme poverty. As Marx declared in The Communist Manifesto, “not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons—the modern working class—the proletarians.” The struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie emerged and has continued ever since. Marx predicted that the proletarians—created by the bourgeoisie—would bring about the latter’s own demise while liberating mankind.
That prediction came to fruition in Europe in the late 19th Century: Working-class parties embraced socialism and communism at a stunning speed. Marxist theories were systematically interpreted and became doctrine of working-class parties. Marx’s declaration that the working class, organized by communist parties, would create a glorious future and ultimately emerge victorious became widely accepted. Russia’s October Revolution of 1917 further consolidated public confidence in the victory of communism. After the end of World War I in 1918, Europe was left in shambles. The revolutionary tide that started in Moscow swept across the world.
In the 19th Century, following relentless aggression by Western powers and chronic spread of corruption among the country’s feudal rulers, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society. The land of China was laid to waste, the people descended into misery, and the Chinese nation experienced suffering of unprecedented scale. In 1919, to protest against the exploitative treaty imposed on China at the Paris Peace Conference, the May Fourth Movement broke out, stirring up another revolutionary tide in China soon after the 1911 Revolution.
After the May Fourth Movement, with myriad ideas and theories swarming into China from abroad, Chinese intellectuals determined to overthrow imperialist and feudal rule and achieve prosperity gradually began realizing that Marxism most accurately identified development of human society and provided theories for social revolution that would oppose imperialism and feudalism in favor of building a prosperous, strong China. Eventually, they embraced Marxism as the ideological and theoretical weapon which would serve as the foundation for the CPC.
During the May Fourth Movement, students, intellectuals and urban workers joined hands against imperialism and feudalism.
Chinese society started a long journey towards modernization with the Westernization Movement during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). China’s modern industry sprouted during the movement and completed a giant stride forward after the 1911 Revolution, creating the country’s first generation of modern industrial workers who became a major collective force in cities. Thanks to the development of modern education around the 1911 Revolution, a group of young intellectuals with new ideas and philosophies emerged, some of whom became leaders who changed the fate of China. Sensing the revolutionary spirit and powerful strength of the Chinese working class, those intellectuals began to disseminate Marxism amongst Chinese workers and play an active role in social movements. Their endeavors facilitated the integration of Marxism and workers’ movements in China, laying groundwork for the eventual founding of the CPC.
In October 1920, Li Dazhao (1889-1927), a central founding member of the CPC, established an early communist organization in Beijing. Soon, communist organizations mushroomed in cities including Wuhan, Changsha, Jinan and Guangzhou, as well as amongst overseas Chinese people living in Japan and France, creating strong organizational foundation for the Party.
On July 23, 1921, with the help of the Communist International, 13 delegates representing communist groups across China gathered in Shanghai to convene the First National Congress of the CPC. The meeting advanced the revolutionary program to “unite workers, peasants and soldiers to overthrow the political power of the capitalist class” and confirmed the fundamental political goal of the Party was to “carry out social revolution.” The congress marked the birth of a united proletarian party guided by Marxism-Leninism and focusing on the realization of socialism and communism in China.
At a time of unprecedented social crisis with the Chinese people smothered by domestic turmoil and foreign aggression, the CPC was born of an integration of Marxism-Leninism and the Chinese workers’ movement. Its founding was the inevitable result of the evolution of Chinese society and the development of international communist movement.
On July 1, 2016, in a speech at a ceremony marking the 95th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, commented, “The emergence of a communist party in our country was an epoch-making event, which profoundly changed the course of Chinese history in modern times, the fate and future of the Chinese people and nation, and the direction and pattern of world development.”
The author is editor-in-chief of China Pictorial.