Liu Shao-Ch'i

Liu Shao-ch'i (1899?-1969?) was a leading organizer of the Chinese Communist party. Named chairman of the People's Republic (1959) and recognized as heir apparent to Mao Tse-tung, he became a major target of the Cultural Revolution in 1966 and was expelled from the party.

Liu Shao-ch'i was born in Hunan Province, China, to a landowning peasant family. In 1916, after a traditional education, he entered the Provincial First Normal School, where he was a schoolmate of future revolutionaries Mao Tse-tung, Jen Pi-shih, and Li Li-san. The school was an important center of radical activities, and Liu became interested in political activism. In 1919, he may have worked with Mao in editing the radical magazine Hsiang River Review. He also studied French in hopes of going abroad for further education.

In 1920, Liu joined the Socialist Youth League, a Communist auxiliary organization, and began to study Russian. He was arrested in 1920 and left for Shanghai after being released. Lui spent 1921 in Moscow with a small group of league members, where he studied at the University for the Toilers of the East.

Rise in the Labor Movement

After his return to China early in 1922, Liu was assigned to work with labor organizations in Shanghai. Transferred to the Anyuan coal mines as an assistant to Li Li-san, Liu organized a successful strike in 1922. The following year, he replaced Li in charge of strike activities and then went to Canton to work with unions under the nationalist Kuomintang (KMT)-Communist coalition.

In 1925, Liu was named vice-chairman of the All-China Federation of Labor. In Shanghai that year, he organized anti-British activities, but by late 1926 he was in Wuhan, where the new national government of the Kuomintang was established.

When the Kuomingtang purged the Communists in 1927, Liu directed the labor movement from underground. He became secretary general of the Hupei provincial labor union and organized an important demonstration in Hankow. In April, Liu was elected for the first time to a significant Communist party office, becoming a member of the Central Committee. In May, he was named general secretary of the All-China Federation of Labor.

Clandestine Operations

Between April and July 1927, a fragile alliance between the Communists and the KMT collapsed, leaving Liu and his comrades in a precarious situation. Liu's activities over the next few years are obscure. In 1928, he was made head of the Workers' Bureau of the party and in 1929, provincial secretary of party organization in Manchuria. By 1930, he was in Shanghai, where the official headquarters of the party were located. Two years later, he was sent to the Kiangsi Soviet base that Mao and Chu Teh had constructed and took charge of production activities in the supply workshops. While in Kiangsi, he was made chairman of the All-China Federation of Labor and was recognized as a major party leader in 1934 by his promotion to the power-holding Politburo.

Liu is reported to have left Kiangsi with the main detachment of Communist forces on the Long March to northwestern China, but he separated from the others to perform underground work in northern China. From then until 1942, he headed the party's guerrilla warfare activities in northern and central China. During that time he began to stress the necessity of maintaining party organization at all costs.

Major Party Member

Liu's emergence as a major figure in the Communist party was marked in 1939 by the publication under his own name of a book that was later translated into English as How to Be a Good Communist. He stressed the importance of studying Marxism-Leninism and self-cultivation through participation in revolutionary work.

From 1939 to 1942, Liu played a major role in the organization of guerrilla units in central China and of the New 4th Army. After an army incident in January 1941 that ruptured relations between the Communists and the government in the anti-Japanese united front, Liu became the political commissar of the New 4th Army. By early 1943, he had become one of the top party leaders as a member of the Central Committee Secretariat. His report to the Seventh National Congress in 1945, translated under the title "On the Party, " reflected his position as a leading authority on Chinese communism.

At the congress, Liu became the third-ranking party member after Mao and Chu Teh. During Mao's trip to Chungking for negotiations in 1945, Liu acted as his deputy at Yenan. When the Communists were forced to evacuate Yenan in 1947 due to resumption of the civil war, Liu headed a team that would assume leadership of the revolution if Mao and his group were killed or captured. With the creation of the People's Republic in 1949, Liu became second vice-chairman after Chu Teh as well as general secretary of the Central Committee.

Liu's public pronouncements during the 1950s appear to have reflected the general policies of the party and the government. He emphasized the necessity of collective leadership under Mao Tse-tung and held that Mao's thoughts and ideas were crucial to party principles, as well as being an important guide to revolutionaries in Southeast Asia. In October 1952, Liu attended the Nineteenth Congress of the Russian Communist party in Moscow, returning to China in January. In 1957, he acted for Mao when the leader paid a visit to the Soviet Union.

Liu's rise to power in the Chinese Communist party was capped in 1959 when he replaced Mao Tse-tung as chairman of the People's Republic. Mao, however, retained chairmanship of the party. Liu publicly supported the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), Mao's grand plan to organize the huge Chinese population. Later evidence suggests, however, that Liu soon came to consider Mao's policies in error, especially after the economic setbacks from 1960 to 1962. Liu also supported the policies of economic and social retrenchment that followed.

Policy differences developed between Mao and Liu. Mao emphasized rapid development based on the political consciousness of the Chinese masses. Liu's apparantly favored a slower growth, placing economic reliance on a small core of highly trained technical experts. Liu pushed for tighter central control of society through party authority, whereas Mao wanted less hierarchical structure with greater scope for mass activity.

Decline to Obscurity

Although it was not evident at the time, Liu's decline in power probably began in 1965, with the opening of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. An attack on Wu Han, a playwright and journalist, broadened into an attack on party officials associated with Wu Han, although Liu was not apparently involved. In April 1966, he made a state visit to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Burma.

At a Central Committee meeting that August, Liu came under heavy attack, although there was no official announcement. Instead, at an August 18 meeting, he appeared on the rostrum in eighth position rather than second. It was at this meeting that the Chinese Red Guard, Mao's aggressive paramilitary units formed as part of the Cultural Revolution, were first noticed publicly. Liu was soon denounced in Red Guard publications and posters, although not in the official press. That changed in 1967 when the official press began to refer ominously to Liu as the "top person in authority taking the capitalist road" and then as "China's Khrushchev." Soon he ceased to be mentioned by name at all in the press or to appear in public, except perhaps at meetings where he was denounced.

Liu remained in his official post and in 1967, three documents appeared that were said to be self-criticisms made by Liu Shao-ch'i. They admit to errors on his part, but reject charges that he was not loyal or a true Communist in spirit.

In October 1968, a Central Committee report declared Liu guilty of "counterrevolutionary crimes." He was expelled from the party and dismissed from all party and government posts. The resolution expressed the committee's intention "to continue to settle accounts with him and his accomplices." Shortly after, newspaper editorials suggested that his crimes were great enough to warrant death.

Although Liu's whereabouts remained unknown, he was apparantly imprisoned and probably died, or was killed, there, perhaps as early as 1969. In 1974, the Chinese Communist press acknowledged his death, but did not stipulate when. Late in that year, the New York Times carried his obituary. By 1980, the post-Mao Communist party in China apparently had second thoughts about Liu Shao-Ch'i and hailed him as a "great Marxist."

Further Reading on Liu Shao-Ch'i

There is no standard biography of Liu. The Collected Works of Liu Shao-ch'i (3 vols., 1969) were published in Hong Kong. His most famous publication is How to Be a Good Communist (1952). See also Quotations from President Liu Shao-ch'i with an introduction by C. P. Fitz Gerald (1968). Background on Liu's life is in Donald Klein and Anne B. Clark, Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism 1921-1965 (2 vols., 1971), and in the chapter on him in Chün-tu Hsüeh, Revolutionary Leaders of Modern China (1971). See also Edgar Snow, The Other Side of the River: Red China Today (1961).

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