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The Other Political Parties in the People’s Republic of China Part One: History and Presence

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Giancarlo Elia Valori

The topic I will analyse in this contribution is the presence of other political parties in the People’s Republic of China and the role they played in the struggle for liberation from Japan and against the Kuomintang (KMT) dictatorship.

The Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) is a body of the United Front Central Department. It is still a key organisation in the development of multi-party cooperation through the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and an important public discussion forum to promote democracy according to Chinese characteristics.

On the eve of May 1, 1948, the CPC’s Central Committee issued a call to convene another Conference after the failure of the previous one. In fact, on October 10, 1945 – in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat – Mao Zedong (1893-1976) and Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek, 1887-1975) had agreed on the reconstruction of the country and the convening of a consultative political Conference. It opened on January 10, 1946 with the participation of seven delegates from the CPC, nine from the Kuomintang, nine from the Democratic League, five from the China Youth Party and nine independents. After reaching agreement of February 25, 1946, the Conference stalled in July when Jiang Jieshi launched a large-scale offensive against the Communist territories with 218 brigades: the real start of the civil war. In December 1947, however, Mao announced that 640,000 nationalist soldiers had been killed or wounded and over a million had laid down their arms.

The call of April 30, 1948 was appreciated and immediately echoed by democratic parties, people’s organisations, non-movement personalities and overseas Chinese. On May 5, the leaders of the various democratic parties (including Li Jishen (1885-1959) and He Xiangning (1879-1972) of the KMT’s Revolutionary Committee (the former was its Chairman); Shen Junru (1875-1963) and Zhang Bojun (1895-1969) of the Democratic League’s leadership; Ma Xulun (1885-1970) and Wang Shao’ao (1888-1970) of the China Association for Promoting Democracy; Chen Qiyou (1892-1970) of the China Justice Party; Peng Zemin (1877-1956) of China Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party; Li Zhangda (1890-1953) of the National Salvation Association; Cai Tingkai (1892-1968) of the KMT’s Committee for Promoting Democracy; and Tan Pingshan (1886-1956) of the Sanminzhuyi (the Three Principles of the People) Comrades’ Federation; as well as Guo Moruo (1892-1978), a person with no party affiliation) sent a joint telegram from Hong Kong to the CPCCC, to Mao Zedong and to the entire nation supporting the Communists’ call. Meanwhile, the Association for Promoting Democracy and the Jiu San (September 3) Society, which had established their headquarters in areas under the Kuomintang’s rule, held secret meetings of their Central Committees to welcome the CPC’s document. Mao Dun (1896-1981), Hu Yuzhi (1896-1986), Liu Yazi (1887-1958), Zhu Yunshan (1887-1981) and 120 Democrats issued a joint communiqué expressing their understanding of the CPC’s position.

Furthermore, 55 leaders of democratic parties and personages with no party affiliations issued joint comments on the political situation in China, declaring: “During the People’s Liberation War, we are willing to contribute to, and cooperate in, the planning of programmes under the CPC’s leadership, expecting to promote the quick success of the Chinese People’s Democratic Revolution for the forthcoming establishment of an independent, free, peaceful and happy New China”.

The Conference held its first plenary session in Beijing from 21 to 30 September 1949, with a total of 622 representatives sent by the CPC; democratic parties; independent personalities; mass and regional organisations; the People’s Liberation Army; ethnic minorities; overseas Chinese; patriotic democrats; and religious groups. The first session exercised the functions of a full-fledged parliamentary, legislative and constitutional Assembly of the nascent State until 1954, when the first National People’s Congress was elected.

The CPCCC adopted the Provisional Constitution (CPCCC’s Common Programme), the Organic Law of the CPCCC and the Organic Law of the Central People’s Government. It chose Beijing as the country’s capital; adopted the five-star red flag (Wu Xing Hong Qi) as the national flag and the March of the Volunteers (Yiyongjun Jinxingqu) as the national anthem; and opted for the Gregorian calendar. The session elected the CPCCC’s National Committee (NC) and the Central People’s Government Council. On October 1 – through the mouth of Mao, Chairman of the NC – it proclaimed the People’s Republic.

It is worth noting that the three NC vice-Presidents were not from the CPC: Song Qingling (1893-1981), widow of the Father of the Republic, Sun Zhongshan (Sun Yat-sen, 1866-1925), and honorary chairwoman of the KMT’s Revolutionary Committee; Li Jishen and Zhang Lan (1872-1955), President of the Democratic League. The CPC deputies were Zhu De (1886-1976), Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) and Gao Gang (1905-54).

Besides the said personalities, many Ministries and offices were entrusted to members of other parties and independents. Those were not merely formal or symbolic acts, as the New China’s government needed experts, men and women who had also fought against Japan and the Kuomintang’s dictatorship. They included a large number of China’s leading scholars and technical experts. Shen Junru, an internationally renowned jurist, was elected to the Presidency of the Supreme People’s Court, the highest legal institution in the People’s Republic of China. Many scientists who had obtained their degrees in Europe and the United States of America, and were living abroad, were invited to return to rebuild the country.

Shortly after their founding, the democratic parties developed cooperative relations with the CPC at different levels, and such relations continuously made headway in their joint struggle against imperialist aggression. After the incident on September 18, 1931, the Japanese troops occupied the entire northeast China, bringing about an unprecedented national crisis. The CPC promptly put forward the proposal to create the National Anti-Japanese United Front, which was matched by enthusiastic responses from the existing democratic parties and various social groups. The CPC and the independent parties worked closely together in the resistance against Japanese aggression and for the unity and progress of the country. On July 7, 1937, the Japanese troops attacked the Lugou Bridge (Marco Polo’s Bridge) on the outskirts of Beijing, and the Chinese defenders fought back promptly. The Lugou incident marked the beginning of Japan’s all-out aggression against China, and of the Chinese War of Resistance against that country.

During the war, democratic parties and people from all walks of society supported the CPC’s position of “Yes to resistance, No to surrender; Yes to unity, No to separation; Yes to democracy, No to autocratic rule, urging the Kuomintang to implement political reforms, to establish a coalition government, to guarantee citizens’ rights, and to improve people’s living conditions.

After the victory over Japan in 1945, the CPC put forward peace, democracy and unity as the three general principles for national reconstruction. Those principles reflected the common desires of democratic parties and independents from various walks of society in the country. During the second civil war, the democratic parties publicly sided with the CPC and broke up with the Kuomintang.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the CPC continued to adhere to the policy of “long-term coexistence, mutual supervision, sincere treatment with each other and sharing of weal and woe” with the democratic parties. They enjoyed and still enjoy full rights and freedom of activity as recognised by the Constitution. Since 1950 the democratic parties have conscientiously participated in consultations on important issues concerning the country and the management of State affairs. They have encouraged their members and associated people to take part in all fields of work; and have provided significant contributions to socialism with Chinese characteristics. Many leading representatives of the democratic parties have been elected as deputies to the National People’s Congress (NPC) and are members of the CPCCC at all levels. Furthermore, many of them serve in leadership positions in NPC standing committees, CPCCC commissions, regional governments, and economic, cultural, education, science and technology Ministries at all levels. The democratic parties have grown in membership, through mainstream and local organisations established in most provinces of the country, in municipalities directly under the central government, in autonomous regions, and in different large and medium-sized urban areas.

The democratic parties cooperate with the CPC in the political and administrative management of the State, just as the former four/five-party coalition aligned under Christian Democrats’ “right leadership” did in Italy. At the time when the one-party governments of the Christian Democratic Party appointed all Ministers of the same party, the national governments in the People’s Republic of China entrusted responsibilities to some Ministers of political groups other than the CPC. After all, the class component of the Chinese democratic parties mirrored and still mirrors that of the Italian Social-Democratic, Socialist, Republican and Liberal Parties: national upper middle class, petty bourgeoisie in large and medium-sized cities, intellectuals and other types of citizens (patriots in China and opportunity-seekers in Italy).

The eight democratic parties recognised in China are the following:


Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang (Zhongguo Guomindang Gemingweiyuanhui)

After the start of the War of Resistance against Japan in 1937, the democratic members of the Kuomintang supported the National Anti-Japanese United Front promoted by the CPC and participated in patriotic activities. As of 1943, two Kuomintang factions planned to create the Sanminzhuyi (the Three Principles of the People) Comrades’ Federation and the KMT Association for Promoting Democracy (APD), respectively, to better carry out actions against the Japanese. The Sanminzhuyi held its first National Congress in Chongqing in the autumn of 1945, and the Kuomintang APD in Guangzhou in the spring of 1946. Each of them drew up its own political programmes, statutes and constitutions, and formally declared its own establishment. At the end of 1947 the two organisations joined together with further democratic elements of the Kuomintag and held the first Conference in Xianggang, which formally declared the establishment of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang (RCCK) on January 1, 1948. At the second Conference in November 1949, which was attended by independent personalities, the movement operated as a single political party. The RCCK is mainly made up of former KMT members and of those who had historical ties with the KMT itself, including a group of employees working in government organisations, as well as intellectuals in the fields of science, technology, culture, education and medicine (it has 101,865 members).

China Democratic League (Zhongguo Minzhu Tongmeng)

The predecessor of China Democratic League (CDL) was the China League of Democratic Political Organisations (CLDPO), founded on March 19, 1941 and consisting of the China Youth Party, the National Socialist Party, the Chinese Action Committee for National Liberation (later renamed the Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party), the Chinese Professional Educational Community, the Countryside Construction Association, and some independents. The CLDPO held a national Congress in Chongqing in September 1944 and decided to become a party, by replacing group membership with personal membership and changing its name to China Democratic League (CDL). After the War of Resistance against Japan, the CDL insisted on opposing the Kuomintang’s autocratic rule and demanding democracy. In October 1947, the Kuomintang administration declared that the CDL was an “illegal organisation” and forced it to disband. In January 1948, the CDL held the third plenary session of the first CC in Hong Kong, and set up provisional national headquarters. The meeting declared that the CDL would cooperate with the CPC to strive for the full achievement of a democratic, peaceful and independent society and a united New China (it has approximately 230,000 members).


China Democratic National Construction Association (Zhongguo Minzhu Jianguo Hui)

The Association was founded on December 16, 1945 by a number of industrialists and businessmen belonging to the national bourgeoisie, as well as by some intellectuals who were closely involved in manufacturing and trade during the war of resistance against Japan. At that time, they met and held informal talks on topical issues. In December 1945, the Association was founded in Chongqing. It is mainly composed of national industrialists and businessmen, as well as experts in the field (approximately 100,000 members).


China Association for Promoting Democracy (Zhongguo Minzhu Cujinhui)

Founded in Shanghai on December 12, 1945, its original members were mainly intellectuals in the fields of culture, education, publishing and science (as they still are today). They lived in the aforementioned city during the period of the War of Resistance. The aim of the Association is to “carry out the democratic spirit and push forward the realization of democratic politics in China” (it has approximately 100,000 members).


Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party (Zhongguo Nonggong Minzhudang)

The predecessor of the Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party was the Provisional Action Committee of the Kuomintang or “Third Party”, founded in November 1927 in Shanghai by Deng Yanda (1895-1931), a well-known Kuomintang left-wing leader, and by other comrades (Deng was shot by Jiang Jieshi in 1931). In 1933 the Provisional Action Committee of the Kuomintang was one of the protagonists of the Fujian rebellion. In November 1935, the Committee changed its name to the Chinese Action Committee for National Liberation. As seen above, it participated in the establishment of the China League of Democratic Political Organizations in 1941. In February 1947, it was renamed Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party. Most of its members are intellectuals in the fields of medicine, science, technology, culture and education (approximately 90,000 members).


China Justice Party (Zhongguo Zhigongdang)

The China Justice Party (CJP) derives from the Hung Society Zhigong Hall fraternity, based in San Francisco and composed of overseas Chinese. The said organisation was one of the decisive supporters of Sun Zhongshan’s revolutionary efforts to overthrow the Manchurian Qing [Ch’ing] dynasty.

The party was founded in October 1925 in the above stated US city and led by Chen Jiongming (1878-1933) and Tang Jiyao (1833-1927), two former Kuomintang warlords who had gone over to the opposition. Their first programme was federalism and pluralist democracy. The CJP moved its headquarters to Hong Kong in 1931 during the works of the Second Congress. After Japan’s coeval invasion of Manchuria, it began to engage in anti-Japanese propaganda and boycotts and devoted itself to mobilising the large crowds of Chinese expatriates to actively support the Chinese cause. The CJP was almost wiped out during Japan’s occupation of Hong Kong. The CJP shifted to the left at its third Congress in May 1947: it condemned the Kuomintang for fostering civil war and perpetuating autocratic rule. The headquarters were moved from Hong Kong to Guangzhou in 1950, and then to Beijing in 1953.

Its members are mainly returned overseas Chinese and their relatives, as well as experts, scholars and prominent figures with links and relations abroad (approximately 20,000 members).


“3 September” Society (Jiusan Xueshe)

Carrying on the spirit of the May 4th Movement of “democracy and science” and adhering to the aims of uniting to resist Japanese aggression and strive for democracy, a group of progressive intellectuals organised the “Forum on Democracy and Science” in Chongqing at the end of 1944. Later, in commemoration of the victory of the War of Resistance against Japan and the Axis powers on September 3, 1945, it adopted the name Jiu San Society (Jiusan means exactly “September 3”). On May 4, 1946, the “September 3” Society was officially established.

Its members are mainly intellectuals in the fields of science, technology, education, culture and medicine (approximately 100,000 members).


Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League (Taiwan Minzhu Zizhi Tongmeng)

The Taiwan Democratic Self-Government League was established in Hong Kong in November 1947 by Xie Xuehong. She had been one of the organisers of the uprising in February 1947 against the presence of the Kuomintang’s army on the island, which was suppressed with a massacre of the native population that resulted in 30,000 deaths. In fact, most of its founders are patriotic democrats originating from Taiwan. Its aim is to fight against imperialist aggression, and all regimes that support the separation of Taiwan from the mainland; to oppose the Kuomintang’s reactionary rule and promote the establishment of a people’s democratic dictatorship.

Its members are people who are either from, or have family roots, in Taiwan but currently live in China’s mainland (approximately 2,100 members).