Anniversary of the First National Congress of the CPC
Arise! Ye who refuse to be slaves!
With our flesh and blood, let us build our new Great Wall!
The Chinese people face their greatest peril.
From each one the urgent call for action comes forth.
Arise! Arise! Arise!
Us millions with but one heart,
Braving the enemy's fire, march on!
Braving the enemy's fire, march on!
March on! March on, on!
March of the Volunteers 中华人民共和国国歌
Lyrics by Tian Han 田汉
July 23rd marks the anniversary of the opening of the first National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which began on this day in 1921.
Tucked away in the central Huangpu District of Shanghai, along a spacious path shaded by Shanghai’s famous goldenrain trees, lies a rather unassuming building. Constructed in the shikumen style, foreigners are unlikely to notice it quietly blend into the scenery of historic buildings and storefronts in modern Xintiandi. Once the home of Li Shucheng, an associate of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and founding member of the Revolutionary League of China (Tongmenghui), it is not imposing, and among the traditional architecture and other antique buildings and homes of the area, it might not even stand out. However, this building, and the meeting which took place within its walls over a century ago today, marked the quiet beginning of a new era in Chinese history. An era which is only now entering full bloom, which has and will continue to reshape the trajectory of global development for the foreseeable future. An event which Chairman Mao Zedong would later refer to as “the great event that opened up the world.”
The first National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
In secret on the evening of the 23rd of July, 1921, thirteen representatives of different Communist groups from around China, as well as a representative for Chinese students in Japan, came together for the first time at the request of Henk Sneevliet (Ma Ling), representative of the Communist International. They were also joined by Vladimir Neyman (Nikolski), a representative of the International from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Representing Chen Duxiu, who had led the organizing of the various Communist groups, was Bao Huiseng.
Representing Shanghai were Li Da and Li Hanjun.
Representing Beijing were Zhang Guotao and Liu Renjing.
Representing Wuhan were Dong Biwu and Chen Tanqiu.
Representing Jinan were Wang Jinmei and Deng Enming.
Representing Changsha were Mao Zedong and He Shuheng.
Representing Guangzhou was Chen Gongbo.
Representing Chinese students in Japan was Zhou Fohai.
Zhang Guotao chaired the meeting, with Mao Zedong and Zhou Fohai recording the minutes.
In his absence, Chen Duxiu sent a letter with Bao Huiseng stressing four important points:
“One is to cultivate Party members;
The second is the guidance of Democracy;
The third is discipline;
The fourth is cautiously carrying out the issue of the masses conquering political power.”
Alongside his letter stood the great and historic task of the First National Congress: officially establishing and announcing the founding of the Communist Party of China.
A series of important documents and resolutions were likewise adopted, however, unfortunately many of them have been lost to history. Among the ones still available are the results of the Central Committee election: Li Dazhao, Cai Hesen, Zhang Guotao, and Gao Junyu, with Chen Duxiu serving as Chairman; and Deng Zhongxia and Xiang Jingyu serving as alternates. Likewise are some of the earliest works outlining the Communist Party’s analyses of Chinese conditions, strategies, and approaches to the struggle for national liberation and rejuvenation which have been carried forward into modern times.
Chen Duxiu, first Chairman of the Central Committee, would ultimately be expelled from the Party after siding with Leon Trotsky against the International.
Bao Huiseng would defect to the Kuomintang in 1927. Following the establishment of the People’s Republic, he would return and be rehabilitated, writing some of the earliest memoirs of the Communist Party’s history.
Li Da would leave the Party, in opposition to what he viewed as reformism, but maintain close ties with his Comrades. He would ultimately rejoin the Party following the founding of the People’s Republic. He is remembered as one of the leading Marxist philosophical minds of the time.
Li Hanjun, younger brother of Li Shucheng, would later leave the Party and join the Kuomintang; he would be murdered by the New Guangxi warlord clique.
Zhang Guotao would later be expelled from the Party and join the Kuomintang, and then flee to Canada, where he died in 1979.
Liu Renjing would abandon the Party after siding with Leon Trotsky, and then the Kuomintang; he would later be rehabilitated.
Dong Biwu would go on to serve with distinction until his death in 1975; becoming known as one of the Five Elders of Yan’an, and serving as the only Communist Party representative in the Chinese delegation at the founding session of the United Nations. His official obituary described him as a great Marxist, an outstanding proletarian revolutionary, and a founding father of the People’s Republic. Of all the Comrades of the First National Congress, he and Mao Zedong would be the only two present for the founding of the People’s Republic on October 1st, 1949.
Chen Tanqiu would go on to serve as a representative to the Communist International, and play a key role in organizing the February 7th Jinghan Railway Strike. He would be re-elected to the third, fifth, and sixth National Congresses. He would likewise be re-elected to the seventh Congress in 1943, his Comrades not knowing that he had been captured and executed by the warlord Sheng Shicai.
Wang Jinmei would serve honorably, but briefly; dying of illness in 1925, shortly after attending the National Assembly.
Deng Enming would serve bravely. Arrested in 1929 by the Kuomintang, in 1931 he and his Comrades would be led to the killing grounds of Weiba Road in Jinan City, and would sing the Internationale in the face of the firing squad. In 2009 he would be honored as one of the 100 heroes of New China.
Mao Zedong would go on to lead the Communist Party following the Long March; he would serve until his death in 1976. He is remembered by all as the leading Comrade in the founding of the People’s Republic, and by countless Socialists around the world as one of the five “Great Heads” of Marxism-Leninism, alongside Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin; the greatest revolutionaries to have ever lived.
He Shuheng would go on to serve courageously. In February of 1935 he would be captured and executed by the Kuomintang whilst fighting in the guerilla campaign to cover the retreating forces of the Long March.
Chen Gongbo would later leave the Party, and served as the President of the Japanese collaborationist regime following Wang Jingwei’s death. Following the Japanese surrender, he was found guilty of treason and executed.
Zhou Fohai would leave the Party as well, serving as Vice President in Wang Jingwei’s regime. Following the Japanese surrender, he was found guilty of treason, and died in prison.
Li Dazhao would go on to help forge the united front with the Kuomintang, playing a leading role in the Northern Expedition. Despite taking refuge in the Soviet Embassy in Beijing, following the collapse of the united front he had worked so hard to build he would be arrested and executed, along with nineteen other Nationalists and Communists, by the Fengtian clique on April 28th 1927.
Cai Hesen would go on to be re-elected to the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Central Committees, as well as serving as a representative to the International. In 1931, he would be arrested by British authorities in Hong Kong and extradited to warlord-controlled Guangzhou, where he would be executed.
Gao Junyu would accompany Dr. Sun Yat-sen to Guangzhou in 1924, working as his secretary. In 1925, he would die suddenly of illness in Beijing. His partner, Shi Pingmei, is likewise remembered as one of the most important female writers of the age. The story of their love would be fictionalized in the story “Ivory Rings,” and, after Shi Pingmei’s death and burial next to Gao Junyu, would become a place of pilgrimage for young couples highlighted by Premier Zhou Enlai as an example of how love and revolution are inseparable.
Deng Zhongxia would go on to serve courageously. Advocating immediate armed uprising when Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang forces betrayed the Communists in 1927, he would play a pivotal role in reorganizing and reigniting the Communist cells and organizations that had been all but crushed by the sudden betrayal. In 1932, he would secretly return to Shanghai to continue the struggle from underground. He would be discovered, arrested, and, on September 21st, 1933, having refused to turn against his Comrades, executed.
Xiang Jingyu would serve with equal courage, playing a critical role in the May Thirtieth Movement, and is remembered as an early champion of the women’s movement. With the collapse of the united front, and Chiang Kai-shek’s terror unleashed in 1927, Xiang Jingyu stayed behind, editing the Party journal and supporting the workers movement and underground Party members who remained. In 1928, she would be turned in to French authorities by a traitor within her group; they would in turn hand her over to the Kuomintang. Facing her executioners at the Yuji Likongping killing grounds in Wuhan on the first of May, 1928, Xiang Jingyu would speak her final words:
"Everyone should cherish their own life, but when the time comes to no longer cherish it, only sacrifice yourself with bravery. People are always going to die, but die graciously."
On the 23rd of July in a house in Shanghai, these Comrades, whether they later went on to betray the revolution, valiantly lay down their lives for it, or simply walk away, opened the gates of history and laid the foundations upon which the new world would be constructed; a new world which is still today being built, and whose fires still kindle in the hearts of oppressed people all around the world. The lives of the Comrades of the First National Congress are too diverse and complex to do justice, as historians and academics, over a century later, are still debating and studying them. What we know for sure is that their coming together changed human history and led to revolutionary developments of such magnitude that over a billion people in the People’s Republic of China today, and millions more throughout the world, can trace the foundations of their revolutions, of their freedom, directly to that nondescript building in Shanghai, and that little group of teachers, students, and activists; only a few of whom would live to see the great victory of the masses, and none of whom ever imagined the rising superpower that China would become.
The resolution of the Central Committee on the major achievements and historical experiences of the Party, adopted at the Sixth Plenary of the 19th Central Committee, in November of 2021, begins simply with the declaration that, since 1921, the Party has “remained true to its original aspiration and mission of seeking happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation. Staying committed to communist ideals and socialist convictions, it has united and led Chinese people of all ethnic groups in working tirelessly to achieve national independence and liberation, and then to make our country prosperous and strong and pursue a better life. The past century has been a glorious journey.” The document then ends:
“The Central Committee calls upon the entire Party, the military, and all Chinese people to rally more closely around the Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core, to fully implement Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, and to champion the great founding spirit of the Party. We will always remember the glories and hardships of yesterday, rise to the mission of today, and live up to the great dream of tomorrow. We will learn from history, work hard, forge ahead for a better future, and make tireless efforts to realize the Second Centenary Goal and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.
We are convinced that the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people will build upon the great glories and victories of the past hundred years with even greater glories and victories on the new journey that lies before us in the new era.”
Over a century ago today the first class of cadre of the Communist Party of China came together for the first National Congress. Today, the site of the First National Congress is a museum, quietly testifying to the great struggles of the Chinese people and the victories of Socialist construction. New classes of cadres carrying that struggle forward into the new age take the oath of loyalty to the Party and the people, overseen by a relief sculpture of the Comrades of the First National Congress.
By studying the history and developments of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, beginning from the First Congress, Socialists all around the world may set out on their own path of liberation tailored to their material conditions, and they too may live up to the great dream of tomorrow. The working and oppressed peoples of the world deserve nothing less. Today, just as 1921, we have nothing to lose but our chains.