Communist party (in China)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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Communist party (in China)

Communist party, in China, ruling party of the world's most populous nation since 1949 and most important Communist party in the world since the disintegration of the USSR in 1991.


Founded in 1921 by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, professors at Beijing Univ., the early party was under strong Comintern influence. The Chinese Communist party became formally allied with the Kuomintang in 1923; by 1925 Communists held many top posts in the Kuomintang organization. Chiang Kai-shek forced a reduction in Communist power in Mar., 1926, but the party maintained the Kuomintang alliance at the insistence of the USSR.

Civil War

In Apr., 1927, Chiang Kai-shek drove the Communists, led by Zhou Enlai, from Shanghai and executed many of their leaders. By July the party went underground, beginning the long conflict between the party and the Kuomintang. In Aug., 1927, Mao Zedong led the peasants of Hunan prov. in the Autumn Crop Uprising, a popular rebellion that was bloodily suppressed.

One branch of the party secretly maintained itself in the cities, even establishing a short-lived Communist commune in Guangzhou (Dec., 1927). In the rural hinterland Mao Zedong and Zhu De established (1927) a precarious soviet in Jiangxi prov. Several other rural soviets were set up in Hunan, Anhui, and Hubei provs. By 1931, Mao was in control of the official soviet government at Ruiqin; radical land-reform was adopted, gaining support of the peasants. A Red Army, under the leadership of Mao and Zhu, was recruited from the peasantry of Jiangxi. Eventually driven from their southern base by Chiang's military campaigns, many thousands of Communists trekked north on the long march and set up headquarters at Yan'an in Shaanxi prov. There the party organization was strengthened, factories were built, and the civil war with Chiang's forces continued.

In Sept., 1937, after a two-year effort to promote Chinese unity in the face of further Japanese aggression (see Sino-Japanese War, Second), the Communists obtained a limited truce from Chiang Kai-shek and accepted his nominal authority, although they retained actual military and political control over large areas in the northwest. The truce with the Kuomintang broke down in 1939, but Communist guerrillas remained the only really effective force against the Japanese in N China. When World War II ended in 1945, the Communists controlled wide rural areas in N and central China and moved quickly to gain control of Manchuria. From 1945 to 1949 party membership swelled as Communist armies took city after city from the Nationalists.

Ruling Party

After the People's Republic of China was set up in 1949, the party became the administrative and policymaking center of the government. It was the party hierarchy that was challenged and nearly destroyed by Mao in the Cultural Revolution (1966–76). The rehabilitation of Deng Xiaoping (1977) represented reestablishment of party control, which was strengthened further by events at Tiananmen Square (1989). It is currently the largest and most important governing Communist party, but it has essentially abandoned the principle of a collective economy directed by the state, emphasizing economic growth instead. It does continue to exercise exclusive political power, however, and it has actively suppressed real and perceived challenges to its power. Jiang Zemin, who was party leader from 1989 to 2002, essentially rejected the notion of class struggle in 2001 when he promoted the recruitment of business executives and entrepreneurs as party members. Jiang was succeeded as party leader by Hu Jintao, who largely maintained the status quo and was not an active reformer; Xi Jinping succeeded Hu in 2012.

For additional information, see China.


See L. Ladanay, The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921–1985 (1988); S. S. Schram, The Thought of Mao Tse-tung (1988); S. Uhalley, Jr., A History of the Chinese Communist Party (1988); V. Schwartz, The Time for Telling Truth is Running Out (1992); D. Shambaugh, China's Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation (2008); R. McGregor, The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers (2010).

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