1 The growth of communism
In order to understand today’s China, we have to go back in time to report events which were cut short or left out of our earlier discussion in order to present them in the context of this chapter.
Although socialism and communism had been known in China long ago, this line of development of Western philosophy had interested Chinese intellectuals much less than liberalistic, democratic Western ideas. It was widely believed that communism had no real prospects for China, as a dictatorship of the proletariat seemed to be relevant only in a highly industrialized and not in an agrarian society. Thus, in its beginning the “Movement of May Fourth” of 1919 had Western ideological traits but was not communistic. This changed with the success of communism in Russia and with the theoretical writings of Lenin. Here it was shown that communist theories could be applied to a country similar to China in its level of development. Already from 1919 on, some of the leaders of the Movement turned towards communism: the National University of Peking became the first centre of this movement, and Ch’en Tu-hsiu, then dean of the College of Letters, from 1920 on became one of its leaders. Hu Shih did not move to the left with this group; he remained a liberal. But another well-known writer, Lu Hsuen (1881-1936), while following Hu Shih in the “Literary Revolution,” identified politically with Ch’en. There was still another man, the Director of the University Library, Li Ta-chao, who turned towards communism. With him we find one of his employees in the Library, Mao Tse-tung. In fact, the nucleus of the Communist Party, which was officially created as late as 1921, was a student organization including some professors in Peking. On the other hand, a student group in Paris had also learned about communism and had organized; the leaders of this group were Chou En-lai and Li Li-san. A little later, a third group organized in Germany; Chu Te belonged to this group. The leadership of Communist China since 1949 has been in the hands of men of these three former student groups.
After 1920, Sun Yat-sen, too, became interested in the developments in Soviet Russia. Yet, he never actually became a communist; his belief that the soil should belong to the tiller cannot really be combined with communism, which advocates the abolition of individual landholdings. Yet, Soviet Russia found it useful to help Sun Yat-sen and advised the Chinese Communist Party to collaborate with the KMT (Kuo-min-tang). This collaboration, not always easy, continued until the fall of Shanghai in 1927.