Communist Party of China Centenary

China celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of Communist Party of China

Print edition : July 30, 2021

Chinese President Xi Jinping leading other top officials pledging their vows to the Communist Party of China on screen during a gala show ahead of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the party, in Beijing on June 28. Photo: AP/PTI

September 15, 1954: Chairman Mao delivering the opening speech at the first session of the First National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China. Photo: The Hindu Archives

1935: Zhou Enlai, Mao Zedong and and Bo Gu in Yan’an, Shaanxi Province. After the Long March, the CPC set up a new military base in Yan’an. Photo: https://kknews.cc/zh-cn/history/o9ae9y6.html

October 1, 1959: Mao, Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, and others at Tiananmen Square during National Day celebrations in Peking (now Beijing). Russia had played a big role in helping the Chinese government lay the foundation of a socialist economy in the first decade of the revolution. It helped China emerge as a nuclear power. Photo: The Hindu Archives

February 21, 1972: Chairman Mao himself opened the door for the entry of Western capital into the country, after his historic meeting with U.S. President Richard Nixon, at his residence in Peking. Photo: White House Photo Office (1969–74)

October 19, 1992: Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao (left) Deng Xiaoping, who was the paramount leader of the People’s Republic of China from 1978 to 1989, and President Jiang Zemin (centre) at the end of the 14th Communist Party Congress in Beijing. At the time, Hu had just been named to the CPC’s Politburo Standing Committee and was slated to take over from Jiang Zemin as General Secretary of the party at the end of the 16th Congress in 2002. Photo: AP/Xinhua

At a truck parts factory in Qingzhou, in China’s eastern Shandong Province on June 30, 2021. Today, China has the second biggest economy in the world and is the biggest manufacturing base. Photo: AFP/China OUT

As the Communist Party of China celebrates its centenary, President Xi Jinping highlights its role in alleviating poverty and making the country strong and united.

People all over China have been celebrating the centenary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC), which fell on July 1. President Xi Jinping, who is also the Chairman of the CPC, had said earlier in the year that “favourable social conditions” should be in place for the nationwide celebrations to take place. The government has been successful in containing the pandemic in record time. The economy is booming again and the goal of poverty alleviation was achieved in 2020, the deadline the CPC had set for itself. The deadline had originally been set for 2030. Under Xi’s leadership, the goal was met a decade earlier. Since assuming office, he has introduced radical reforms that have made him the strongest Chinese leader since Deng Xioping.

The main event was held in Beijing’s historic Tiananmen Square, where Xi delivered a landmark speech highlighting the role the CPC has played in making the country strong and united. Despite the threat posed by the pandemic, preparations were on throughout the year to make the centenary celebrations a grand success. Seminars and lectures highlighting the role of the party were held in towns and cities all over the country. Documentaries and films about the party’s anti-imperialist struggles flooded television screens and cinema halls.

Domestic tourism to the “red scenic spots”, major sites connected to the history of the CPC, registered a dramatic increase this year. They symbolise the modest beginnings and the landmark events that shaped the party before the revolution of 1949. Eighty new slogans, including “Follow the Party Forever” and “No Force Can Stop the March of the Chinese People”, were plastered on the walls of major cities and towns.

The Long March

The CPC was formed on July 1, 1921, in Shanghai. Many historians say the correct date is July 23. At the time the party had only 50 members. Only 13 founding members could attend the founding ceremony. Inspired by the Russian Revolution, they set about uniting the peasantry and the working class under the red banner. One of the founding goals of the CPC “was the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. Keeping the red banner flying involved heroic deeds and sacrifices. The “Long March” is an illustration.

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In 1927, the Kuomintang government under Chiang Kai-shek massacred thousands of workers and Communist Party members in Shanghai. Eighty thousand Communist Party fighters had to embark on a 12,000-kilometre trek from south-eastern to north-western China after Chiang’s nationalist forces surrounded their military base during the civil war. The Long March (from October 1934 to October 1935) was an epic journey of survival and heroism. Fewer than 10,000 communist soldiers survived the arduous trek, chased as they were by the much more numerous and better armed nationalist forces. The CPC set up a new military base in Yan’an, Shaanxi Province.

The march has become part of Chinese folklore now. Mao Zedong, who formally took over the leadership of the CPC in 1935, explained the significance of the Long March, describing it as a “seeding machine” that enthused the masses. “The Long March is a propaganda force. It has announced to some 200 million people in 11 provinces that the Red Army is their only road to liberation. In the 11 provinces it has sown many seeds which will sprout, leaf, blossom and bear fruit and will yield a harvest in the future,” Mao wrote. The Chinese communists also fought valiantly against the Japanese occupation forces during the Second World War. This gave them more credibility among the masses as an anti-imperialist force.

By the time the CPC came to power in China in 1949, the membership of the party had risen to 20 million. Today, it has a membership of more than 95 million. The party applies rigorous standards while vetting those applying for membership. This is one reason why the CPC has avoided many of the grievous mistakes that communist parties in the Soviet Union and other countries made. In the first two decades of Communist Party rule, the emphasis was on building a truly egalitarian society and consolidating the territorial integrity of the nation. Colonial powers had unilaterally redrawn the borders of China and taken over territory.

Just a year after liberation, the CPC had to deal with the crisis in the Korean peninsula instigated by the military intervention of the United States. The CPC decided to send the People’s Liberation Army, as the Chinese armed forces are known, to fight alongside socialist North Korea. The two countries share a common border. If the CPC had not acted, the entire Korean peninsula would be under the control of the U.S.

Radical reforms

At the time, the U.S. refused to grant recognition to the People’s Republic of China and was feverishly working to reinstall the nationalists, who had fled to Taiwan, in the mainland. It was only in 1978 that the U.S. acknowledged reality and established diplomatic relations with communist China. China took its seat in the United Nations Security Council that year. Domestically, in the first two decades after the revolution, with Chairman Mao at the helm, radical agricultural and economic reforms were carried out. “The Great Leap Forward” (1958-62) completed the full-scale collectivisation of Chinese agriculture. But the scope envisaged was too ambitious at the time, given China’s limited economic base. Some historians describe the Great Leap Forward policy as a “catastrophic” failure that led to mass famine.

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The 1960s also witnessed the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution”, during which many top leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, were temporarily purged from the party. Mao had given his blessings to the formation of the “Red Guards”, the bulk of whom were students and peasants. They went out of control all over China. Senior CPC officials, academics and government functionaries were accused of revisionism and publicly humiliated. Many of them spent time in jail and lost their jobs. The turmoil and the chaos unleashed by the Cultural Revolution laid the groundwork for the rise of a new leadership that dramatically changed the country’s fortunes.

‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics’

Following the death of Chairman Mao in 1974, there was a short period when open infighting occurred in the party. However, unity was soon restored under the leadership of Deng, and the so-called reformist wing of the party made a comeback under his leadership. The CPC adopted a new approach, “socialism with Chinese characteristics”, to bolster the economy and living standards of the Chinese people. The reformist policies that were adopted after 1978 opened up the Chinese economy to foreign investment and encouraged citizens to start their own businesses under a centralised planning system.

It was Chairman Mao himself who initially opened the door for the entry of Western capital into the country, after his historic meeting with U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1972. Orthodox Marxists say that state-supervised capitalism had made an entry through the back door. After the full-fledged reforms instituted by Deng, the Chinese economy started growing at a fast pace. The surplus was used to strengthen rural infrastructure and the agrarian sector. A wealthy elite owing allegiance to the CPC emerged and has since expanded in size and influence. The expansion of private enterprise at a rapid pace and its negative impact has created some fissures in society.

Poverty eradication & public health achievements

While investing in China, the West was also working overtime to undermine the revolution. The 1989 Tiananmen incident could have snowballed into a major counter-revolutionary movement, but Deng took control of the situation. The student-led uprising was demanding Western-style democracy in the country. Today, China has the second biggest economy in the world and is the biggest manufacturing base. Hunger, once rampant, has been eradicated. The party has deployed more than three million of its cadre to remote areas of the country to help with the implementation of its anti-poverty programmes.

At the beginning of this year, the Chinese government announced that it had achieved the goal of ending “absolute poverty” throughout the length and the breadth of the country. The poverty rate in 1978 was a whopping 97.5 per cent. Since 1979, China has been able to lift 770 million people out of poverty, which constitutes 70 per cent of the world’s population being lifted out of poverty. China has also made great strides in public health. In 1949, the average life expectancy was only 35 years. Today, it is more than 77 years.

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In the last decade itself, the Chinese economy grew from $6 trillion to $15 trillion and now accounts for 17 per cent of the global output. No wonder that the CCP continues to swear by socialism with Chinese characteristics. The Chinese economy is projected to overtake the U.S. economy by 2030 to become number one in the world. The private sector is now the biggest employer in China, providing 70 per cent of the jobs in urban areas. Income distribution has been unequal. The challenge for the party in the coming years will be to spread prosperity more equitably. There are more than 600 Chinese billionaires living on the mainland.

Socialism in China has inculcated aspects of Confucianism and Daoism, which prioritise harmony over conflict. China, unlike the U.S., has not embarked on costly unending wars and has spurned the hegemonic model preferred by the West in international relations. The CPC has always stressed that China wants to attain the status of a superpower through “peaceful means”. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) encapsulates the model China wants to present to the world. Xi described the BRI as “the project of the century” and asserted that China would promote high-quality development in the Eurasian region and the world. The BRI has transformed the Eurasian region once again and brought back the importance it had lost after European colonialism entered it.

Relations with Russia

After Xi took over, China and Russia have become close. The incidents that soured relations in the past have seemingly been swept under the carpet. The early 1960s witnessed an ideological rupture between Moscow and Beijing. Russia withdrew the thousands of Soviet scientists and engineers it had sent to China. They had played a big role in helping the Chinese government lay the foundation of a socialist economy in the first decade of the revolution. Russia had helped China emerge as a nuclear power.

That split would last for more than two decades, with both countries finding themselves on opposite sides on some key international issues. China, in fact, was not supportive of the Russian intervention in Afghanistan. After the Vietnamese army ousted the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot from Cambodia, China and the U.S. initially sided with the murderous Khmer Rouge, which had started an insurgency to overthrow the Vietnamese-backed Cambodian government. During the Mao era, the party was more revolutionary and internationalist in its outlook. Today, it is more circumspect and does not encourage socialist revolution worldwide as it did 50 years ago. In fact, one of the basic tenets of Chinese foreign policy for many decades has been “non-interference in the internal affairs” of other countries.

The rapprochement between China and Russia was sealed with the signing of the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation 20 years ago. Both sides have described the treaty as a “comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in a new era”. The Moscow-Beijing partnership is aimed at thwarting the politics of hegemonism and unilateralism the West has been practising since the end of the Cold War.

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In his hard-hitting July 1 speech in front of a packed stadium, President Xi said that the CPC had led the Chinese people for the last hundred years with only one goal in mind: to bring about the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The victory of the revolution, he said, put an end to China’s history as a “semi-colonial, semi-feudal society” and created the conditions “for realising national rejuvenation”. Xi said that the party had already achieved the goal of making China a “moderately prosperous” society in all respects. “This means that we have brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China, and we are now marching in confident strides towards the second centenary goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects,” he said.

The President emphasised the importance of the party continuing to adapt Marxism to the Chinese context. When Xi took over the leadership in 2012, he pledged to raise the standard of living of the 100 million people still living below the poverty line by 2020. On the centenary year of the party, he has fulfilled the pledge.

Warning to China’s enemies

Xi issued a warning in his speech to China’s enemies who have become overly active in the last couple of years trying to stymie its rise to the status of a superpower. Xi said that the Chinese people would never allow any foreign power to oppress or subjugate them. “Anyone who will attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by 1.4 billion Chinese people,” Xi said. “We’ll never accept insufferably arrogant lecturing from these ‘master teachers’,” he said to a roar of approval from the packed stadium. China has been angry with the Western sanctions over Hong Kong and Xinjiang. He reminded the Chinese people and the world that China had never subjugated other people and had always worked to safeguard world peace and the international order.

The Chinese President used the occasion to send a message to the international community on the Taiwan issue. He said that resolving the Taiwan issue and realising China’s complete reunification “is a historic mission and unshakable commitment of the CPC”. Xi stressed that China wanted “peaceful reunification” but that its patience should not be tested. The West is seeking to militarily confront China on the twin issues of Taiwan and the South China Sea. China is involved in maritime territorial disputes with some of its neighbours in the South China Sea. China has resolved all its territorial land disputes with its immediate neighbours, barring India.

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Xi said that no one should underestimate “the great resolve, the strong will, and the extraordinary ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity”. He repeatedly stressed the importance of strengthening the country’s military capabilities in the face of growing threats. “A strong power needs a strong military. Only a strong military can bring a secure country,” Xi said. This was a message to the growing anti-China alliance building up in the Asia Pacific region.

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