Ch'en Tu-hsiu (1879-1942) was a leader of China's cultural and political revolution. He helped found the Chinese Communist party and served as its first chairman from 1921 to 1927.
Son of a wealthy family in Huaining, Anhwei Province, Ch'en Tu-hsiu received a classical education. In 1896 he passed the lowest-level civil service examination but failed to obtain a higher degree. During the first decade of the 20th century he pursued a modern education in China, Japan, and France. He also helped to edit a series of magazines and served as a teacher and dean. After the Revolution of 1911 Ch'en headed the Anhwei Department of Education until forced by Yüan Shih-k'ai to flee to Japan in 1913. There he helped his friend Chang Shihchao to edit Chia-yin tsa-chih (Tiger Magazine). Upon the suppression of this publication, Ch'en went to the foreign concession in Shanghai. In 1915 he began to publish his most famous magazine, Ch'ing-nien tsa-chih (Youth Magazine).
Though sympathetic to the revolution, Ch'en was concerned more with cultural and social changes than with political change. A Francophile, he championed equality, democracy, and science and denounced Confucianism. More a pamphleteer than a systematic philosopher, Ch'en was widely influential. In 1917 the chancellor of Peking University, Ts'ai Yüan-p'ei, invited him to become dean of the College of Letters at National Peking University (Peita). Surrounded by kindred souls of the literary renaissance, Ch'en made his magazine, now called the Hsin Ch'ing-nien (New Youth), the voice of the intellectual avant-grade.
In 1918, outraged at the misgovernment of Tuan Ch'ijui's Anhwei Clique, Ch'en and Li Ta-chao, professor and librarian at the University, formed the Mei-chou p'inglun (Weekly Critic) to serve as a platform of attack against the government's domestic and foreign policies. The paper helped prepare the ground for the May Fourth movement, a nationwide protest sparked by the Peking student demonstration of May 4, 1919. Targets of this assault were the Versailles powers, who had given Shantung Province to Japan, and the Peking officials, who had connived in this treachery.
Birth of the Chinese Communist Party
Swept along by the movement, Ch'en was jailed by the government for nearly 3 months. Upon release he resigned from Peita and returned to Shanghai. There he became a Marxist. In the summer of 1920, after discussions with Comintern agent Gregory Voitinsky, Ch'en organized a Communist nucleus and was instrumental in establishing similar groups elsewhere. In Shanghai he set about organizing students and workers, and in August the Socialist Youth League was formed to train future party members. A foreign-language school prepared students for study in Russia; one of its first graduates was Liu Shao-ch'i.
In December 1920 Ch'en accepted an offer from the progressive warlord Ch'en Chiung-ming to head Kwangtung's provincial education department. He took the opportunity to organize a Communist nucleus in Canton. In July 1921 the First Congress of the Chinese Communist party (CCP) unanimously elected Ch'en Tu-hsiu secretary of the Central Committee. Returning to Shanghai, Ch'en met with the Dutch Comintern representative, Maring. The Comintern agreed to provide funds, and Ch'en agreed to accept Commintern discipline. The implications of the agreement became clear a year later, when Ch'en reluctantly agreed to follow Comintern policy by joining an alliance with the Kuomintang.
Ch'en feared that the party of the proletariat would be swallowed up by this organ of the bourgeoisie. However, after attending the Comintern congress in Moscow in November-December 1922 and witnessing the weakness of the workers' movement in the Peking-Hankow railway strike of February 1923, he actively supported the new policy. In June 1923 he was elected secretary general of the party. Ch'en was nonetheless unenthusiastic about continued cooperation with the Kunomintang. Because the Kuomintang polarized after President Sun Yat-sen's death in March 1925, the alliance came under attack from within the Kuomintang as well.
After the anti-Communist purges by Chiang Kai-shek in March 1926 and April 1927, Ch'en pleaded for an end to the alliance but was overruled by the Comintern. With the split between Chiang's government in Nanking and the "left" Kuomintang regime in Wuhan, Ch'en followed Comintern orders and allied the CCP with the Wuhan faction. However, he came under growing opposition within the party, because of personal and regional jealousies and because he had become the scapegoat for the Comintern's miscalculations. Ch'en was branded a "Trotskyite," and, at a secured emergency conference on Aug., 7, 1927, he was replaced by Ch'ü Ch'iu-pai.
Expulsion and Imprisonment
For the next 15 years Ch'en lived in Shanghai, where he continued to write and to be active in party affairs. Ch'en followed an independent line which placed him at odds with the new leadership. He finally was expelled from the party for criticizing its support of the Soviet Union in the Chinese Eastern Railroad dispute of mid-1929.
Having been falsely branded a Trotskyite in 1927, Ch'en became a real Trotskyite in 1929. Though bitterly attacked as "liquidationists" by the Central Committee, in 1931 Ch'en and his followers finally brought several splinter groups together in a united Trotskyite organization, the Chinese Communist Party Left Opposition Faction. Though the new group suffered from factional rivalries and was completely ineffective, Ch'en was arrested by the Nationalists on Oct. 15, 1932, and charged with endangering the republic. Sentenced to 15 years' imprisonment, he turned a deaf ear to Nationalist supplications to cooperate with the Nanking government. While in prison he devoted himself to his old passion, linguistic studies.
After the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Ch'en was released under a general amnesty. He announced his support of the united front against Japan and his refusal to identify with any political group. He fled from the advancing Japanese to Wuhan, Changsha, Chungking, and finally, because of poor health, to retirement in a small town 45 miles from the wartime capital.
In letters and essays written from 1940 to 1942 Ch'en reaffirmed his faith in individual freedom and democratic socialism, but he equated the repressive orthodoxy of Soviet communism with Confucianism, both being incompatible with these goals. Ch'en died on May 27, 1942.
Further Reading on Ch'en Tu-hsiu
A short treatment of Ch'en's life is in Y. C. Wang, Chinese Intellectuals and the West, 1872-1949 (1966). Ch'en's role in the May Fourth movement and the founding of the Chinese Communist party is treated in Benjamin I. Schwartz, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao (1951), and in Chou Tsetsung, The May Fourth Movement: Intellectual Revolution in Modern China (1960).
Additional Biography Sources
Feigon, Lee, Chen Duxiu, founder of the Chinese Communist Party, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1983.