The Origins of Chinese Communism

By Arif Dirlik | Go to book overview

4
Social Consciousness and Socialism: Class, Society, and Social Revolution in May Fourth Thought

It was not quite accurate to say, as Zhang Dongsun did in late 1919, that "before the conclusion of the World War, not one person in China spoke of socialism; since the war ended, everyone has suddenly begun to discuss socialism." 1 The first discussions of socialism in China had preceded the May Fourth Movement by a decade and a half, when Sun Yatsen's Revolutionary Alliance, established in Tokyo in 1905, had incorporated a program of social revolution in its agenda.

Since then, socialism had been a perennial presence. Between 1907 and 1910, Chinese anarchists in Paris and Tokyo had taken up the cause of social revolution. In the first few years after the 1911 revolution, there had been a lively interest in socialism. The Revolutionary Alliance abandoned its socialist program when it became the Guomindang in 1912, but Sun Yatsen did not. In 1912, he still professed socialist beliefs, and the Chinese Revolutionary Party he established in Japan during his exile after the "second revolution" of 1913 continued to display interest in socialism. Meanwhile in 1911 Jiang Kanghu established the Chinese Socialist Party, the first political party in China to bear that name. Also in 1912, anarchists abroad returned to China, and a new anarchist group formed in Guangzhou under the charismatic leadership of Liu Sifu (better known under his adopted name of Shifu). In 1913-1914, Shifu criticized the socialism of Sun Yatsen and Jiang Kanghu, which led to the first debate among socialists to take place in China. This debate had done much to clarify differences among the various socialisms that Chinese had encountered in Europe and Japan. Jiang went into exile in 1913 when his party was proscribed, and Shifu's death in 1915 cramped anarchist activities, but socialism and the advocacy of social revolution were kept alive, primarily through the activities of Shifu's followers in China, and the continued activities of anarchists in Paris. Their contribution to the New Culture movement made for a significant socialist presence in Chinese thought in 1915-1919. Shifu's followers also had some success with labor organization. The return of Sun Yatsen and Jiang Kanghu to China after 1916 also initiated a new phase of activity, though the effects of such activity would not become visible until after 1919. Radicals who had been initiated into socialism before 1911 were

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