Not a lot of people in China can tell you by whom, when, and where the Chinese Communist Party was founded. Some people believe this happened in 1949 in Peking, and its founder was, of course, world’s most famous Mao Zedong.
In fact, the Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai in 1921 by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. Together with some comrades, they met at today’s Museum of the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on July 23, a Western styled building in Xintiandi, in the Huangpu district of the historical city of Shanghai.
But why did they choose this particular location? Why Shanghai? Why the Huangpu district? And why in 1921?
I will leave the significance of this date for a future post (or you can read Bruce Elleman’s book, Wilson and China (London, 2002)). The reason the Chinese Communist Part
y was founded in that part of Shanghai is that it was part of the French Concession of the city, that is to say, it was “invaded territory”.
Since the end of the Qing Dynasty, China has been humiliated with a number of foreign concessions, parts of the coast that were controlled by evil foreign countries like England or France. And they were so wicked and corrupt that, once cities like Tianjin or Shanghai came under the control of Europe or the United States, Chinese citizens decided to run away… INTO THEM.
And as you may have guessed already, it was so because foreign concessions not only enjoyed full economic freedom, but also freedom of expression, creed and association. That is why all major publications at the very beginning of the 20th century were published in Tianjin. Writes and translators like Yan Fu, Lin Shu or Liang Qichao, well-known to any Chinese connoisseur, left their Southern cities looking for freedom and a better life. So did Liu E, the author of the most important Chinese novel of all times, The Travels of Laocan, who wrote it to raise money for a friend who took refuge in Tianjin to avoid government persecution.
And so did Chen Duxiu. The Chinese Communist Party was founded in a foreign territory because it was the only place in China where they enjoyed freedom of association.
It is indeed ironic, isn’t it? Especially when you claim to have endure one hundred years of national humiliation on the hands of the British and the French while killing your own people.