CHINA GOES RED: The Forgotten Chen Duxiu And The Founding Of China’s Communist Party


The man who, in 1921, founded China’s Communist Party (the CCP) was writer and teacher Chen Duxiu.   Chen Duxiu felt that just putting a Western patch over the hole in the Chinese heart would not be enough.  There must be “destruction before construction,” he said, agreeing with Liang Qichao’s philosophy of Destructivism.  China must rip out its traditional core and begin again.  It must do whatever is necessary to strengthen itself and re-join the ranks of the world’s respected countries.  “A loathsome nation,” he said, “is worse than no nation.”

Chen Duxiu felt that the belief of the typical Chinese in divine authority contributed to the Chinese acceptance of human authority.  Thus, for him, throwing off the yoke of a heavenly tyranny was a fundamental step which had to be taken before the Chinese could throw off the yoke of worldy authoritarianism.  The choice was, for him at least, easy to see…  “There are now two roads in the world.  One is the road of light which leads to democracy, science, and atheism.  And the other, the road of darkness leading to despotism, superstition, and divine authority.”

Chen Duxiu felt that anyone who supported democracy must necessarily oppose Confucianism, along with its outmoded codes of ritual and old-fashioned ethics– including the moral condemnation of unchaste women (like many of those kicking against the Old Ways, he was enticed by the Western idea of Romantic Love– and seemed to support “Free Love”– an idea considered racy even in the West).  Everything must go.  According to the authors of that remarkable book on modern Chinese political history, Wealth And Power, he personified his two main reform-wishes as “Mister Democracy” and “Mister Science.”

Chen Duxiu thought the Chinese view of young and old was symptomatic of the fundamental problem with China’s outlook…  “The Chinese compliment others by saying, ‘He acts like an old man, although still young.’  Englishmen and Americans encourage one another by saying, ‘Keep young, while growing old’.”  In his work, A Call To Youth, he extols youthfulness and disparages agedness…

 “Youth is like early spring, like the rising sun, like trees and grass in bud, like a newly sharpened blade.  It is the most valuable period of life.  And the function of youth in society is the same as that of a fresh and vital cell in a human body.  In the process of metabolism, the old and the rotten are incessantly eliminated to be replaced by the fresh and living… If metabolism functions properly in society, it will flourish; if old and rotten elements fill society, then it will cease to exist.”

What was needed in China, he maintained was youthful, vigorous action- or what we might today call, “pro-active” initiative.  The Chinese should not passively await the advent of Liang Quchao’s benevolent dictator, but should take matters into their own hands.  He felt that any new government simply presented to the Chinese people would be mere “political windowdressing.”  What was needed was the self-motivated action of the majority.

Joining the ranks of the disillusioned after the global catastrophe that was the First World War, Chen Duxiu realized that the West had a distorted view of patriotism… “In their eyes, patriotism seems to be another word for harming others.”  He said that the Chinese patriotism he envisioned meant “a country that seeks happiness for the people, not a country for which the people sacrifice themselves.”  A state’s most important job, he maintained, was “to protect individual rights and to enrich individual happiness.”

Interestingly, the founder of the Chinese Communist Party (the CCP) was himself cast-out during the era of Stalin in Russia, and Chen Duxiu ended his life as neither hero nor villain– but in obscurity.  And he did not live to see Mao Zedong’s Communist victory over Chiang Kai-Shek’s  Nationalists.


Other HAMMERING SHIELD posts on the politics of modern China…

Third Generation Rulers & Recent Dissidents In China

Deng Xiaoping & Tiananmen Square

Deng Xiaoping’s Counter-Capitalist Revolution In China

Permanent Revolution: The Rise And The Ruthlessness Of Chairman Mao

China Under Chiang Kai-Shek

China’s May Fourth Incident (and another reason why the Treaty Of Versailles sucked) 

Liang Qichao, Yan fu, and China’s Post WWI Disenchantment With The West 

The Transition Of China From Dynasty Rule To Republic, 1912

China Stumbles:  Opium Wars and the Tiaping And Boxer Rebellions

China In The 19th And 20th Centuries:  The Time Of Writhing

China Today:  Post-Confucian, Post-Maoist, and Post-Communist 



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