The Origins of Chinese Communism

By Arif Dirlik | Go to book overview
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The origins of the Communist party of China have received little attention from students of Chinese Communism. Most historians have not deemed the subject significant enough to warrant detailed study. The exceptions are easily identifiable: Sima Lu's Zhonggongdi chengli yu chuqi huodong (The Founding and Initial Activities of the Communist Party of China) ( Hong Kong, 1974), Ding Shouhe's Cong wusi qimeng yundong dao Makesi zhuyi di chuanpo (From the May Fourth Enlightenment Movement to the Propagation of Marxism ( Beijing, 1978), and Li Xin's Weida di kairui (The Great Beginning) ( Beijing, 1983). The first work, which is, to my knowledge, the first to address certain fundamental questions about the origins of the Communist party, has never received the attention it deserves. The other two are too recent to have made an impact on scholarship, at least partially because they themselves are products of the same political and intellectual trends that are responsible for the present study. Our understanding of the origins of Chinese Communism still rests, consequently, on studies that have incorporated the topic into broader inquiry about the history of Chinese communists. The present study represents an effort to remedy this situation.

Our understanding of the origins of Communism in China has been based in the past on studies that may be classified into one of two categories. The first category consists of works concerned with the unfolding of Communism in the 1920s, and emphasizing Soviet involvement in China. This category includes early studies of Chinese Communism, such as C. Brandt's Stalin's Failure in China ( New York, 1958) and A. Whiting's Soviet Policies in China, 1917-1924 ( Stanford, 1953). Both the subject matter (the revolutionary movement of the 1920s) and the environment in which these books were written (the Cold War years) predisposed these studies to emphasize the Soviet role in the Chinese revolution, portraying the origins of Communism in China as an extension of a Communist movement emanating from Moscow. The complexities of the context of radicalism in which Communism took root in China were largely pushed into the background.

A counterpoint is to be found in the second category of studies, which stressed the indigenous roots of Chinese Communism. The classics in this category are B. Schwartz's Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao ( Cambridge, 1951) and M. Meisner's Li Ta-chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism ( Cambridge, 1967). These studies, in reaction to the Cold War portrait of Chinese Communism as a mere offshoot of an international Communist conspiracy based in Moscow, were concerned above all to explain the emer


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