Few observers are unaware of just how dominant the Communist Party of China is nowadays, with its 85+ million members and firm grip across pretty much all socio-politico-economic dimensions of China. In fact, here at ChinaFund.com, we frequently include aspects pertaining to the Communist Party of China in our analysis… and rightfully so because if there’s one elephant one cannot ignore in the room when it comes to China, it is without a doubt the Communist Party of China.
However, it makes sense to take our analysis to the next level and dig deeper, deep enough so as to at least understand a thing or two about how the Communist Party of China got to where it is today (to get a proper dose of context, in other words) and let’s just say the ride was more than bumpy on several occasions.
The very beginning of the Communist Party of China has to do, as the history enthusiasts among us surely suspected, with the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the victory of the Bolsheviks. Think of the CPC as a combination between an ideological movement and a political party, with leaders such as Mao Zedong and Liu Shaoqi emerging from China’s May Fourth Movement and gradually building up a base throughout the 20s via methods such as organizing unions in urban areas.
Next, much to the surprise of those who are familiar to the current relationship between the nationalist Kuomintang party and the CPC in the context of China’s modern-day Taiwan situation, the two entities actually did very well together after joining forces back in 1924 so as to establish control over China by, among other things, driving away warlords. In other words, the beginning of the relationship between the Kuomintang and the CPC was actually not just peaceful but downright fruitful.
As of 1927, however, the CPC was forced to go underground by the Kuomintang in light of the fact that its leader (Chiang Kai-shek) decided it was time for the previously mentioned love affair to end… in a brutally violent manner. In the end, the CPC had little choice but to retreat from its urban strongholds to rural regions but fortunately for them, they were rather successful in that endeavor, in that they gained enough popular support to be able to establish the Chinese Soviet Republic in the southern region of China in 1931.
Needless to say, the Kuomintang was less than thrilled and as a result, the overwhelmingly more powerful (at that point) nationalists destroyed the positions of the CPC. In the end, leaders such as Mao Zedong and whatever forces they had left were forced to retreat to northern China (more specifically, to Yan’an), as those familiar with the Long March know. A march which, among other things, enabled Mao Zedong to gain control over the Communist Party of China, control which would not be lost until the year of his death (1976).
But going back to the more distant past, it is important to point out that as of 1936, the actions of Japan against China left the Kuomintang little choice but to stop military campaigns against the CPC and, on the contrary, join forces. This alliance ended up being far more productive for the CPC than the Kuomintang had hoped, with the communists being able to dramatically bridge the logistical gap between the two entities. They ended up controlling an area with a population of roughly 100 million individuals and had everything they needed to take things to the next level, from a ready-to-implement political program (which included complex relationships between peasants, the proletariat, the middle class and even certain capitalists) to the military and administrative capacity to generate clear results.
And, indeed, this is precisely what happened as of 1946, when the civil war started again in China as a result of the fact that Japan had lost World War II and was forced to surrender as well as retreat from China. At that point, the United States offered some support to the Kuomintang, whereas the Soviet Union supported the Communist Party of China… however, neither the US nor the USSR were all that eager to actively support their preferred entity.
In the end, though a combination between the previously mentioned growth working in the favor of the communists and the nationalists proving to be remarkably inefficient to the point of incompetence, the Communist Party of China gained control over mainland China (the overwhelming majority of China’s territory) in 1949, with the Kuomintang retreating to Taiwan.
What followed were two remarkably distinct periods:
- A period marked by Mao Zedong’s “continuous revolution” mindset, which resulted in excessively ideologically rigid programs such as the Great Leap Forward of 1958 and the Cultural Revolution of 1966 that put a major dent in the (overly optimistic) economic goals of China. Furthermore, China even considered the USSR under Stalin’s successors a disappointment from an ideological perspective (criticizing the Soviets for being too pragmatic), which led to a deterioration of the relationship between the two entities
- The Deng Xiaoping and post-Deng period, which had China essentially changing course to its so-called Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, a model which tries to reconcile many market economy elements with the domination of the Communist Party of China. Economically speaking, the results were spectacular. However, some criticized Deng and his successor Jiang Zemin for focusing on economic growth but ignoring the social costs, with future leaders Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping showing more flexibility in this area
Today, the Communist Party of China is praised by some for being flexible enough to switch to a remarkably different economic model but criticized by others for sometimes being displaying more similarities to capitalist entities than socialist ones. More on that in future articles, however.