Chen Duxiu (; October 8, 1879 – May 27, 1942) played many different roles in Chinese history. He was a leading figure in the anti-imperial Xinhai Revolution and the May Fourth Movement for Science and Democracy. Along with Li Dazhao, Chen was a co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. He was its first General Secretary. Chen was an educator, philosopher, and politician. His ancestral home was in Anqing ( ), Anhui, where he established the influential vernacular Chinese periodical La Jeunesse.
- October 9, 1879: Birth in Anqing, Anhui.
- 1879 to 1901: Early life and education in China.
- 1901 to 1908: Study in Japan, organising Republican revolutionary groups.
- 1908 to 1911: Working as a teacher.
- 1911 to 1915: Participation in the Xinhai Revolution, the post-revolution Republican government, the anti-Yuan Shikai revolution.
- 1915 to 1920: Leading figure in the May Fourth Movement.
- 1920 to 1927: Founding and leading the Communist Party of China
- 1927 to 1932: Leading Communist forces participating in the Northern Expedition, conflict with Chiang Kai-shek leading to the April 12 Incident and massacre of Communists, conflict with Comintern leading to expulsion from Communist Party. Becomes leader of Trotskyists in China.
- 1932 to 1937: Arrest by Kuomintang authorities and imprisonment.
- 1937 to 1942: Retires from public life.
- May 27, 1942: Death due to heart attack.
Life in the Qing Dynasty
Chen Duxiu was born in the city of Anqing ( ), in Anhui ( ) province. He was born to a wealthy family of officials, the youngest of four children. In his youth, he was described as volatile, emotional, intuitive, non-intellectual, and a defender of the underdog. His father died when Chen was two years old, and he was raised primarily by his grandfather; and, later, by his older brother.
Chen was given a traditional Confucian education by his grandfather, several private tutors, and his elder brother. A thorough knowledge of Confucian literary and philosophical works was the pre-requisites for civil service in Imperial China. Chen was an exceptional student, but this poor experiences taking the Confucian civil service exams resulted in a lifelong tendency to advocate unconventional beliefs and to criticize traditional ideas.
Chen took and passed the county-level imperial examination ( ) in 1896, and succeeded in the provincial-level examination ( ) the following year. He later wrote a sardonic memoir in which he reminisced about the filthy conditions, the dishonesty, and the incompetence that he observed when taking the official examinations. 1898, he passed the entrance exam and became a student of Qiushi Academy (currently Zhejiang University) in Hangzhou, where he studied French, English, and naval architecture. He moved to Nanjing in 1902, after he was reported to have given speeches attacking the Qing government, and then to Japan the same year. It was in Japan where Chen became influenced by socialism and the growing Chinese dissident movement. While studying in China, Chen helped to found two radical political parties, but refused to join Sun Yat-sen's Revolutionary Alliance (Tomngmenghui), which he regarded as narrowly racist. In 1907, Chen left Japan to visit France, before returning to Anhui to teach in a high school later that year. In 1908, he visited Manchuria before accepting a position at the Army Elementary School in Hangzhou.
Life in the Early Republic
At the turn of the century, the Qing Dynasty ( ) had suffered a series of humiliating military defeats against the colonial foreign powers, most recently in the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the war against the Alliance of Eight Nations that invaded China in reaction to the 1901 Boxer Rebellion. At the same time, widespread corruption within the Qing bureaucracy had left the empire in a state of total economic paralysis. Against this background Chen Duxiu became an increasingly influential activist in the revolutionary movement against both foreign imperialism and the Qing government itself.
Influenced by his time in Japan, Chen founded the Anhui Patriotic Association ( ) in 1903 and the Yuewang Hui ( ) in 1905. He was an outspoken writer and political leader by the time of the Wuchang Uprising ( ) of 1911, which led to the abdication of the last Qing emperor and the collapse of the Qing Dynasty. in 1912, Chen became the secretary general to the new military governor of Anhui, while also serving as the dean of a local highschool. Chen fled to Japan again in 1913 following the short-lived "Second Revolution" against Yuan Shikai ( ), but returned to China soon afterwards.
In 1915, Chen founded the journal "Youth" in Shanghai. In 1916 the name was changed to "New Youth." It quickly became the most popular and widely distributed journal in China. This journal published articles attacking conservative Chinese morality and promoting individualism. The journal was highly critical of Confucianism, and carried articles promoting the adoption of a Western moral system valuing human rights, democracy, and science, which he believed Confucianism opposed. Chen used the journal to promote vernacular writing at the expense of traditional Confucian writing conventions.
Chen joined the faculty of Peking University in 1917 as the university's dean, at the invitation of Cai Yuanpei, who also paid for moving Chen's journal to Beijing. A Marxist study group at the university, led by Li Dazhao, attracted his attention in 1919. At the time, New Youth was highly popular, and Chen decided to run a special edition on Marxism with Li Dazhao as the edition's general editor. The edition of this magazine was the most detailed analysis of Marxism then published in China, and achieved wide readership due to the journal's popularity. Chen's decision to run this edition, and his activities in the May Fourth Movement that same year, motivated conservative opponents within the university to force his resignation in the fall of 1919. Around the time that he was forced out of Peking University, he was jailed for three months for distributing literatue that Peking authorities considered inflammatory, demanding that all pro-Japanese ministers resign, and that the government guarantee and freedom of speech and assembly. After his release, Chen moved to Shanghai and became more interested in Marxism and the promotion of rapid social change. His settlement in the French Concession allowed him to pursue his intellectual and scholarly interests free from official persecution.
Career Within the Chinese Communist Party
Founding the Chinese Communist Party
In 1921, Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao and other prominent revolutionary leaders founded the Communist Party of China ( / ). It has been generally asserted that Chen, Li and the other Chinese radicals of the time (including future chairman Mao Zedong) formed the CCP out of diligent study of Marxist theories, inspired by the Russian Revolution of 1917. However, many historians now believe that, for this generation of Chinese radicals, Chen included, the road to Marxism was a long one, with numerous prominent members initially attracted to anarchism or anarcho-communism. Many of the prominent members of the party in 1920 had a very poor understanding of Marxist theory. Over time, the more prominent revolutionaries attracted to the early Chinese Communist Party eventually adopted a more orthodox interpretation of Communism, and were organized through the influence of a Comintern advisor, Grigori Voitinsky, who made a tour of China during 1920-21.
At the First Congress of the Communist Party in Shanghai, Chen was elected (in absentia) as the party's first General Secretary; and, with the assistance of Li Dazhao, he developed what would become a crucial cooperative relationship with the international Communist movement, the Comintern. This cooperation with the Comintern would later prove to be a problem for the fledgling CPC over the next decade, as aggressive foreign Comintern advisors would try to force policy according to the wishes of Moscow and against the will of many prominent CPC leaders, often for the national interest of the USSR. By 1922, the size of the entire Communist Party in China was only about 200 members, not counting those overseas. Chen remained as the undisputed leader of the Chinese Communist Party until 1927, and was often referred to as "China's Lenin" during this period.
Subsequent Efforts to Spread Communism
Soon after the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, in 1920, Chen accepted an invitation by a rebel governor in Guangzhou to serve as the head of the province's education board, but this position dissolved when the government returned to Nationalist control. At the direction of the Comintern, Chen and the Chinese Communists formed an alliance with Sun Yat-sen and the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) () in 1922. Although Chen was not convinced of the utility of collaborating with the Kuomintang, he reluctantly carried out the Comintern's orders to do so. Pursuing collaboration with the Kuomintang, he was elected into that party's Central Committee in January, 1924.
In 1927, he and other high-ranking Communists, including Mao Zedong and Borodin, collaborated closely with Wang Jingwei's Nationalist government in Wuhan, convincing Wang's regime to adopt various proto-Communist policies. The Wuhan government's subsequent land reform policies were considered provocative enough to influence various KMT-aligned generals to attack Wang's regime, suppressing it. Chen was forced to resign as General Secretary in 1927, due to his public dissatisfaction with the Comintern order to disarm during the April 12 Incident, which had led to the deaths of thousands of Communists, and because of his disagreement with the Comintern's new focus on peasant rebellions.
Conflict with Mao
Chen came into conflict with Mao Zedong in 1925 over Mao's essay "An Analysis of Classes in Chinese Society". Although Mao had been one of Chen's students, he had begun to question Chen's analyses of China. While Chen believed that the focus of revolutionary struggle in China should primarily concern the workers, Mao had started to theorize about the primacy of the peasants. According to Han Suyin in Mortal Flower, Chen "opposed the opinions expressed [in Mao's analysis], denied that a radical land policy and the vigorous organization of the rural areas under the Communist party was necessary, and refused the publication of the essay in the central executive organs of publicity."
Although he recognized the value of Mao's interpretation of Marxism in inciting the Chinese peasants and labourers to revolution, Chen opposed Mao's rejection of the strong role of the bourgeoisie that Chen had hoped to achieve. During the last years of his life, Chen denounced Joseph Stalin's dictatorship, and held that various democratic institutions, including independent judiciaries, opposition parties, a free press, and free elections, were important and valuable. Because of Chen's opposition to Mao's interpretation of Communism, Mao believed that Chen was incapable of providing a robust historical materialist analysis of China. This dispute would eventually lead to the end of Chen and Mao's friendship and political association.
Expelled by the Party
After the collaboration between the Communists and Nationalists collapsed in 1927, the Comintern blamed Chen, and systematically removed him from all positions of leadership. In 1929, he was expelled. Afterwards, Chen became associated with the International Left Opposition of Leon Trotsky. Like Chen, Trotsky opposed many of the policies of the Comintern, and publicly criticized the Comintern's effort to collaborate with the Nationalists. Chen eventually became the voice of the Trotskyists in China, attempting to regain support and influence within the party, but failed. Chen continued to oppose measures like "New Democracy" and the "Bloc of Four Classes" advocated by Mao Zedong.
Taken in the First Nanjing Prison in the spring of the 26th year of the Republic 
In 1932, Chen was arrested by the government of the Shanghai International Settlement, where he had been living since 1927, and extradited to Nanjing. Chen was then tried and sentenced to fifteen years in prison by the Nationalist government. Chen was released on parole in 1937, after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Chen was one of the few early leaders of the Communist party to survive the turmoil of the 1930s, but he was never able to regain any influence within the party he had founded. For the last decade of his life, he faded into obscurity. Chen later embraced a form of libertarian socialism, and refused to side either with the Nationalists or CCP. At the time that he was released, both the supporters of Chen and the pro-Comintern leaders who opposed him had either been killed or had fallen out of favor with the Communist membership. The Chinese Communist Party only managed to survive the purges by fleeing to the northern frontier in the Long March of 1934-5, during which Mao Zedong emerged as leader. Mao and this new generation of Communists would lead the party in China for the next fifty years.
After his release, Chen travelled from place to place until the summer of 1938, when he arrived at the wartime capital of Chongqing and took a position teaching at a junior high school. In poor health and with few remaining friends, Chen Duxiu later retired to Jiangjing, a small town west of Chongqing, where he died in 1942 at the age of 62. Today, he is buried at his birthplace of Anqing.
After the founding of the PRC in 1949, Chen's example was used to warn Communist Party members not to deviate from party orthodoxy. In the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the example of Chen in collaborating with Wang Jingwei's Wuhan government, leading to the ostracism of his peers and the failure of Communist policies at the time, was used by Peng Zhen as a warning never to "forgive" anti-Maoists. After Mao died in 1976, Hua Guofeng gave a speech praising Mao's suppression of "Right and 'Left' Opportunist lines of the Party" as one of the late Chairman's greatest achievements: Chen's was the first person to be named as being correctly suppressed; Deng Xiaoping was the last. Subsequent generations of Chinese have since re-assessed Chen's contributions to Chinese Communism as being somewhat more positive.
Chen felt that his articles should reflect the needs of society. He believed that the progress of society could not be achieved without those who accurately report social weaknesses and sicknesses.
Chen's articles were always expressive. He criticized the traditional Chinese officials as corrupt and guilty of other wrongdoings. He was under constant attack from conservatives in China, and had to flee to Japan four times. In China, he spent much of his life in the French Concession and the Shanghai International Settlement in order to pursue his writing and scholarly activities free from official harassment.
Chen's articles strove to attract publicity, and often arouse discussion by using hyperbole. He emphasized his sadness about the backwardness and corruption in China so that people suffering would be willing to send him their opinions. In New Youth, he wrote various articles using pseudonyms to form "discussions", in order to arouse public interest.
Chen's publications emphasized the responses from their audience. In New Youth there were forums and citizens' columns. On average, there were 6 letters from the public in each issue. Whether in praise or strong opposition, Chen encouraged all to write. He also thought that teamwork was very important in journalism, and consequently asked for help from many talented authors and journalists, including Hu Shih and Lu Xun.
Anhui Suhua Bao
On March 31, 1904, Chen founded Anhui Suhua Bao ( ), a newspaper that he established with Fang Zhiwu ( ) and Wu Shou ( ) in Tokyo to promote revolutionary ideas using vernacular Chinese, which was simple to understand and easy for the general public to read. While Chen was the chief secretary of the newspaper, its circulation increased from only a thousand copies to more than three times that figure in less than half a year, becoming one of the most popular vernacular Chinese newspapers in print at that time. During 1904 and 1905, a total of twenty-three issues were published. Each issue had 40 pages - about 15,000 words. However, due to political pressures, the paper was barred from publishing in 1905.
Chen had three main objectives in publishing Anhui Suhua Bao ( ): to let his countrymen in Anhui keep abreast of the politics of the Qing Dynasty; to spread knowledge to the paper's readers through vernacular Chinese; and, to promote revolutionary ideas to the public. Chen believed that most Chinese believed that the importance of the family was greater than that of the state, and that this limited their interest in political events. He also found Chinese people in general to be excessively superstitious. Chen urged Chinese people to participate in politics through the publication of Anhui Suhua Bao ( ). After its sixteenth issue, the newspaper added an extra 16 columns, the most popular were on military events, Chinese philosophy, hygiene, and astronomy. Almost all of these additional topics were written by Chen. His pen-name was San'ai ( ). At least 50 articles were published under this name.
Tokyo Jiayin Magazine
In early 1914, Chen went to Japan, where he worked as an editor and writer in the Tokyo Jiayin Magazine, ( ) which was published by Zhang Shizhao ( ). Chen once wrote an article entitled "Self Consciousness on Patriotism" ( ) which conveyed a strong sense of patriotism and encouraged people to fight for their freedom. It promoted the idea that those who love their country should spare no pains to protect it, and should fight for the rights of its citizens. This group of people should work together towards the same goal harmoniously. The article was threatening to the Yuan Shikai's government, as it tried to arouse the self-consciousness of the Chinese people. This preliminary magazine was released for 10 issues in total, before it was prevented from publishing. The magazine was resumed in 1925 in Beijing with the new name Tokyo Jiayin Weekly ( ).
New Youth Magazine
In 1915, Chen started an influential monthly periodical in the French Concession of Shanghai, The Youth Magazine ( ), which was later renamed La Jeunesse ( , literally New Youth). It became one of the most influential magazines among the students who participated in the May Fourth Movement. Chen was the chief editor of this periodical. It was published by Qunyi shushe ( ), and ended publication in 1926. The magazine mainly advocated the use of vernacular language, socialism, and Marxism, and was strongly against feudalism.
In 1917, Chen became a lecturer of Chinese Literature, and a Dean of Peking University ). Having the approval from the Cai Yuanpei, the Chancellor of the Peking University, Chen collected the writings of the students which he appreciated most, which especially included Li Dazhao ( ), Hu Shih ( ), Lu Xun ( ) and Qian Yuan ( ). In order to expand the editorial department, New Youth was moved to Beijing at this time, and in February 1917, Chen used New Youth to promote science, democracy and modern literature, and to discourage the study of paleography and classical Chinese literature. The magazine began to advocate the use of the scientific method and Logical arguments towards the achievement of political, economic, social, ethical, and democratic goals.
New Youth focused on different concerns during various phases of its development. From 1915 to 1918 it opposed Chinese conservatism (especially conservatism associated with Confucianism) and promoted the development of democracy. During this phase, it became influential among the New Culture Movement. From 1919 to 1921, until the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, it focused on promoting socialism, and Marxism. From 1921 to 1926, it published and disseminated the prevailing views of the members of the Communist Party.
The Shanghai local government banned the sale of a publication called "Guomin Ribao" ( ) on December 1, 1903. After this, Chen twice planned to found a paper called "Aiguo Xinbao" ( ), but failed because of pressure from different groups. Chen continued to express his discontent towards the government in his later publications. When Anhui Suhua Bao ( ) was published on March 31, 1904, Chen was responsible for all editing and distribution.
On November 27, 1918, Chen started another magazine, the Weekly Review ( ) with Li Dazhao ( ) in order to criticize the politics of his time in a more direct way and to promote democracy, science, and modern literature. Chen also edited Tokyo Jiayin Magazine ( ) and Science Magazine ( ). Later, he became the Editor-in-Chief of the newspapers Minli Bao ( ) and Shenzhou Daily ( ).
From 1908 to 1910, two students at Peking University, Deng Zhongxia ( ) and Xu Deheng ( ), founded the Guomin magazine ( ) and invited Li Dazhao ( ) to be a consultant for the magazine. From 1912 to 1913, Chen, with the assistance of Luo Jialun ( ) and Fu Sinian ( ), published a paper named Xinchao She ( ).
Chen's Contribution to Chinese Journalism
Chen set a precedent for future writers via the intentionally controversial nature of his publications. He insisted on telling the truth to the Chinese people and strengthening the Chinese media for later generations. By publishing newspapers and magazines concerning political issues, Chen provided a channel for the general public to express their ideas or discontent towards the existing government. Chen believed that the purpose of mass media was to reveal the truth. At a young age, Chen had already established his first periodical, Guomin Ribao ( ), in which he criticized many social and political problems evident in the late Qing Dynasty. With a view to the things mentioned above, his contribution was said to be influential to journalism as a whole. Chen's writing brought the standards of Chinese journalism closer to those of other, more libearal societies of his time.
In 1918, New Youth published contemporary poetry by Hu Shih ( ) and Liu Bannong ( ), written in vernacular Chinese, becoming one of the first publications in China to encourage poetry in vernacular Chinese. Eventually, every article in New Youth were written in vernacular Chinese. New Youth was one of the first publications in China to adopt and use punctuations marks, and popularized their use through its popularity and wide readership.
=Final Letters and Articles
Gregor Benton compiled and translated into English the last of Chen Duxiu's writings, publishing them under the title "Chen Duxiu's last articles and letters, 1937-1942".
Intellectual contributions and disputes
Crisis with Cai Yuanpei
In the second edition of New Youth, Chen prepared to publish Cai Yuanpei's speech, the "Speech on Freedom of Religion" ( ), along with an editorial interpreting its meaning and significance. Before its appearance in New Youth, Cai criticized Chen for misinterpreting this speech. Chen later admitted that "the publication of my speech in New Youth included a number of mistakes." Fortunately, Cai did not become angry with Chen and the publication was then amended before publishing.
Crisis with Hu Shih
This crisis was about the political stand of New Youth. Hu Shih insisted that New Youth should be politically neutral and the publication should be concerned with Chinese philosophy. Chen attacked his rationale by publishing "Talking Politics" ( ) in the 8th edition. Because Chen was invited by Chen Jiongming ( ) to be the Education officer in Guangzhou in mid-December 1920, he decided to assign the publication to Mao Dun ( ), who belonged to the Shanghai Communist Party.
Hu Shih was dissatisfied with this responsibility and their friendship and professional relationship ended. Later, Chen wrote to Hu Shih about his dissatisfaction with Hu s intimacy with many conservative faculty members of Peking University. Especially troubling to Chen was Hu's relationship with Liang Qichao ( ), a supporter of the Duan Qirui ( ) government and their anti-new wave ideology, which made Chen greatly dissatisfied.
Chen suggested six guiding principles in New Youth with an article called "Warning the youth" ( ). This article was aimed at removing the old beliefs of Confucianism. "Warning the Youth" promoted six values:
- Independence instead of servility;
- Progressivism instead of conservatism;
- Aggression instead of passivity;
- Cosmopolitanism instead of isolationism;
- Utilitarian beliefs instead of impractical traditions;
- Scientific knowledge instead of visionary insight.
New Youth was one of the most influential magazines in early modern Chinese history. Chen introduced many new ideas into popular Chinese culture, including individualism, democracy, humanism, and the use of the scientific method, and he advocated the abandonment of Confucianism for the adoption Communism.
Seen in this light, New Youth found itself in a position to provide an alternative intellectual influence for many young people. Under the banners of democracy and science, traditional Confucian ethics became the target of attack from New Youth. In its first issue, Chen called for young generation to struggle against Confucianism by "theories of literary revolution" ( ).
To Chen, Confucianism was to be rooted out because:
- It advocated superfluous ceremonies and preached the morality of meek compliance, making the Chinese people weak and passive, unfit to struggle and compete in the modern world.
- It promoted family values and rejected the idea that the individual was the basic unit of society.
- It upheld the inequality of the status of individuals.
- It stressed filial piety, which made men subservient and dependent.
- It preached orthodoxy of thought, disregarding freedom of thinking and expression.
Chen called for the destruction of tradition, and his attacks on traditionalism gave new options to the youth of his time. This magazine as a major influence within the May Fourth Movement.
- Benton, Gregor, ed. Chen Duxiu's last articles and letters, 1937-1942. University of Hawaii Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8248-2112-2
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