li jishen

The Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (中国国民党革命委员会 / 中國國民黨革命委員會)

The Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (RCCG; simpl. 中国国民党革命委员会; trad.: 中國國民黨革命委員會; pinyin: Zhōngguó Guómíndǎng Gémìngwěiyuánhuì) is one of the eight non-Communist Parties of the People’s Republic of China. It was founded in 1947 by a left-wing faction of the Guomindang. It is a member of the United Front under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It is committed to the construction of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” and to the peaceful reunification of China and Taiwan. 

The Origins of the RCCG

The Guomindang was founded in 1912 by Sun Yat-sen, the revolutionary who had advocated the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China (ROC). Sun’s aim was to modernise China according to his Three Principles of the People, i.e., Nationalism, Democracy, and Socialism. After the 1911 revolution led by Sun’s followers and the proclamation of the Republic of China, the Guomindang became China’s first democratically elected parliamentary majority. 

However, in 1912 general Yuan Shikai seized power, and in 1913 he plotted the assassination of Song Jiaoren, a prominent Guomindang politician, and outlawed the Guomindang. Sun Yat-sen and many members of his party were forced to flee or go underground. As I explained in my post about the Leninist roots of the Guomindang, Sun Yat-sen realised that the 1911 revolution had created a Republic only in name. The Guomindang was too weak to defend the Republic against Yuan Shikai and, after his death in 1916, regional warlords.

At this point, Sun became convinced that the only way to achieve national unity and implement his Three Principles was to reorganise the Guomindang, establish a strong army, and impose a period of military rule during which China could be prepared for full economic reconstruction and democratisation. 

Sun turned to Moscow for  help. He was impressed by the ability of the Russian Communists to create a powerful revolutionary state and a strong military. Sun did not agree with the main principles of Communism: class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat. However, he wanted to emulate the Bolsheviks’ revolutionary methods in order to achieve his own goals.

In 1923, Sun Yat-sen and Adolf Joffe, the Comintern representative, negotiated the so-called First United Front between the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party (June Grasso, Jay P. Corrin, Michael Kort: Modernization and Revolution in China, 1991, p. 89). This alliance made Soviet-Guomindang cooperation possible. The Soviets helped the Chinese revolutionaries with arms, funds, and training. Thanks to Soviet help, Sun Yat-sen established the Whampoa Academy (Huangpu), headed by Chiang Kai-shek, and improved discipline within the party’s ranks, according to the Soviet model.
However, the CCP-Guomindang alliance split the Guomindang into a right-wing and a left-wing faction. Chiang Kai-shek, for instance, was a staunch anti-Communist. In 1923, he was asked by Sun Yat-sen to visit Moscow. The Soviet regime left a negative impression on Chiang. “I became more convinced then ever that Soviet political institutions were instruments of tyranny and terror and basically incompatible with Kuomintang’s political system“, he wrote in 1957 (Chiang Kai-shek: Soviet Russia in China, 1957, p. 20). In a letter to Liao Zhongkai from 1924, Chiang warned against the Communists: “The Russian Communist Party, in its dealings with China, has only one aim, namely, to make the Chinese Communist Party its chosen instrument. It does not believe that our Party can really cooperate with it for long for the sake of ensuring success for both parties” (ibid., p. 23).

Sun Yat-sen statue in Nanjing. The Sun Yat-sen cult is shared by both the Revolutionary Guomindang in the PRC and the Guomindang in the ROC (Taiwan). However, the interpretations of his doctrines differ on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

The United Front was held together by Sun’s charisma and authority, but when he died in 1925, the contradictions of this political cooperation became apparent. Chiang Kai-shek soon became the most powerful man in the Guomindang, mainly thanks to his military ability. Under his leadership, the National Revolutionary Army defeated the warlords and by 1927 it had united China

But Chiang had another aim apart from China’s unification: the suppression of Communism. He deeply mistrusted the Communists, believing that they were only waiting for the right moment to sabotage the Guomindang’s Nationalist revolution and ignite a Communist revolt. Therefore, he launched a major campaign against his former allies: 

On April 12, 1927, he initiated the White Terror, a day still commemorated in the People’s Republic of China. Communist headquarters, the Workers’ General Union, and other union organizations were raided and their members executed. Crowds of demonstrators who protested were met with gunfire. A reign of terror continued for weeks in Shanghai, while Chiang, with the help of urban gangsters, notably the notorious “Green Gang,” recruited for the Guomindang cause, ordered additional executions carried out in Guangzhou and Nanjing. On April 18 the new Nationalist government, firmly under Chiang’s control, was established in Nanjing (Grasso, Corrin, Kort 1991, p. 94).

However, it must be pointed out that Chiang mistrust wasn’t groundless. The Communists Party, which was at that time headed by Chen Duxiu, a famous late-Qing and early Republican intellectual as well as founder of the Chinese Communist Party, was already planning radical peasants’ and workers’ revolts. Chen Duxiu’s strategy was to ally himself with the left-wing of the Guomindang, thus steering the revolution in a Communist direction (Hans J. Van De Ven: War and Nationalism in China 1925-1945, 2003, p. 105).

In 1926 Chen Duxiu set up the Peasant Movement Committee of the CCP Central Committee and appointed the young Mao Zedong as its secretary (ibid., p. 112). In March 27, the Communists established Peasant Association Self-defence Forces. They created self-government units and called for peasant uprisings against feudal elements. It was at that time that Mao Zedong visited Hunan Province to observe the peasants’ revolutionary movement. He then wrote his famous ‘Report on an Investigation of the Hunan Peasant Movement‘. Mao defended and praised the radicalisation and violent actions of the peasants:

At the slightest provocation [the peasants] make arrests, crown the arrested with tall paper hats, and parade them through the villages, saying, “You dirty landlords, now you know who we are!” Doing whatever they like and turning everything upside down, they have created a kind of terror in the countryside. This is what some people call “going too far”, or “exceeding the proper limits in righting a wrong”, or “really too much”. Such talk may seem plausible, but in fact it is wrong … [A] revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another … To put it bluntly, it is necessary to create terror for a while in every rural area, or otherwise it would be impossible to suppress the activities of the counter-revolutionaries in the countryside or overthrow the authority of the gentry. Proper limits have to be exceeded in order to right a wrong, or else the wrong cannot be righted

In the cities, too, the Communists were planning uprisings. For instance, they had planned to establish a ‘citizens government’ in Shanghai and were organising troops to unleash a ‘Red Terror’ (Van De Ven 2003, p. 117). Assassinations of suspected ‘running dogs’ within the labour movement were carried out. According to Zhou Enlai, the Communist-led insurgents possessed 13,000 arms (ibid.). 

The Guomindang was undermined by the Communists’ strategy. In October 1926, a left-wing Guomindang government was established in Wuhan, claiming to be the rightful government of the Republic of China. A Temporary Joint Council was set up, with Michail Borodin as its Soviet Political Adviser. Borodin was opposed to Chiang Kai-shek and sought to replace him (ibid., pp. 107-108). Chen Duxiu allied himself with Wang Jingwei (汪精衛), one of the leading figures of the left-wing Guomindang. Thereupon, Chiang Kai-shek decided to strike against the Communists and the leftist members of the Guomindang.

This is how Chiang Kai-shek himself explained his anti-Communist crackdown from his own perspective:

By March 1927 the Communist International in Moscow realized that in view of the totally unexpected progress made by our Revolutionary Forces, it would be difficult openly to defy the Central Authorities at Nanking, destroy our Party and sabotage our Northward Expedition by merely relying on the Joint Conference and the leftist organizations at Wuhan. Consequently it asked Wang Ching-wei [=Wang Jingwei], then in France, to return to China by way of Moscow. Shortly after his arrival in Shanghai, Wang issued a joint statement with Chen Tu-hsiu [=Chen Duxiu], advocating the establishment of a “democratic dictatorship of all oppressed classes in order to suppress the counterrevolution.” This was actually a reiteration of Stalin’s policy. Whereupon Kuomintang and the National Government in Nanking decided to purge the Party of Communists (Chiang 1957, pp. 48-49).

Another leftist Guomindang leader was Li Jishen (李济深 / 李濟深). According to his daughter Li Xiaotong, who was interviewed in 2010 by China Economic Weekly, Li Jishen believed all his life in Sun Yat-sen’s Three Principle’s of the People. This, however, did not prevent him from siding with the Communists and overthrowing the Republic of China. In a letter Mao Zedong even called him ‘brother’.

Li Jishen was Chiang Kai-shek’s Chief-of-Staff during the Northern Expedition. He commanded the 4th Army of the National Revolutionary Army (Van De Ven 2003, pp. 105-106). He played an important role during the expedition, fighting several decisive battles. On 10 October 1926, on the anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising that overthrew the Qing Dynasty, Li captured the city of Wuchang in what was then a symbolic victory for the Guomindang forces (ibid., p. 107).

The relationship between Li Jishen and Chiang Kai-shek demonstrates the disunity that existed within the Guomindang and eventually caused its downfall. Li often disagreed with Chiang’s policies. In 1928, Li tried to mediate between Jiang and the leftist Guangxi Clique of the Guomindang. As a consequence, he was put under house arrest and expelled from the party along with members of the Guangxi Clique. 

However, after the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, Chiang was forced by public opinion to reinstate Li. Li Jishen was an advocate of a CCP-Guomindang patriotic alliance directed against the Japanese, while Chiang Kai-shek firmly believed that the Communists were China’s deadliest threat, and they had to be annihilated before China could effectively fight against the Japanese (John K. Fairbanks [edit.]: Republican China, 1986, p. 148). Li’s and Chiang’s opposed views tore the Guomindang apart for years.

During the War of Resistance against Japan, Li Jishen held various important posts, but Chiang never stopped to see him as an enemy. In 1932 Chiang had three of Li’s advisers assassinated. Shortly thereafter, Li Jishen fled to Hong Kong. 

In 1933 Cai Tingkai and Chen Minshu, two Guomindang leaders in Fujian Province, set up the “People’s Revolutionary Government of China” (中华共和国人民革命政府 / 中華共和國人民革命政府, pinyin: Zhōnghuá Gònghéguó Rénmín Gémìng Zhèngfǔ), a separate government that was opposed to Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang central government in Nanjing (Suisheng Zhao: Power by Design: Constitution-Making in Nationalist China,1996, p. 135). The Fujian government demanded “tariff autonomy, abolition of unequal treaties, freedom of strikes, religious liberty, state ownership of lands, forests and mines, and militant resistance against the Japanese” (Robert Carver North: Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Elites, 1954, p. 15). Li Jishen joined the anti-Chiang revolt, but the Fujian rebellion was soon put down and he was again expelled from the Guomindang.

However, Chiang’s anti-Communism continued to anger a large section of the Guomindang. Many Chinese wanted to fight the Japanese, not the Communists. In December 1936, Guomindang generals that had been ordered to fight the Communists revolted and kidnapped Chiang Kai-shek at Xi’an. According to Li Xiaotong, her father met Chiang Kai-shek at Xi’an and tried to persuade him to accept an anti-Japanese United Front with the Communists. Chiang yielded to pressure from both the Communists and his own party’s left wing, and he formed a new CCP-Guomindang alliance (ibid.).

In 1941, Li Jishen, the ex-leaders of the Fujian rebellion Cai Tingkai and Chen Mingshu, and other members of the Guomindang, created the China National Revolutionary League (中华民族革命同盟 / 中華民族革命同盟, pinyin: Zhōnghuá mínzú gémìng tóngméng) in Hong Kong. This faction de facto infiltrated and spied on the Guomindang, and it had close ties with the Communists (Gerry Groot: Managing Transitions – The Chinese Communist Party, United Front Work, Corporatism, and Hegemony, 2004, p. 36).

After the end of World War II, Chiang tried to win Li Jishen over and invited him to Lushan. According to his daughter, Li Jishen told Chiang that he had deviated from Sun Yat-sen’s ideals. Later, Li wrote a 19-page long letter to Chiang, urging him to stop the Civil War. He secretly contacted Song Qingling (宋庆龄/宋慶齡), Sun Yat-sen’s wife and a Communist sympathiser, and Dong Biwu (董必武), one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party, and asked them to join him in creating a ‘democratic faction’ of the Guomindang. In March 1947, Li Jishen went to Hong Kong, and in 1948, he set up the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (RCCG), of which Li himself became the chairman and Song Qingling the honorary chairwoman. 

This was de facto a pro-Communist Guomindang faction that claimed to represent the ‘true’ Guomindang and uphold the Three Principles of the People. 

At this point, Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang was in full disarray. The economic conditions of post-war China were disastrous. Corruption was endemic. And Chiang’s forces were overwhelmed by the Communists. Many officials, soldiers, businessmen and intellectuals were deserting it. The CCP recognised that the RCCG represented a useful link between the Communists and ex-Guomindang members, sympathisers, or other non-Communist groups (Groot 2004, p. 59). 

On May 1, 1948, the CCP issued an appeal to non-Communist parties and groups to constitute a United Front:

Laboring people of the entire country, unite, ally with the intelligentsia, liberal bourgeoisie, all democratic parties and groups, social luminaries and other patriotic elements; consolidate and expand the united front against imperialists, feudal and bureaucratic capitalist forces; fight together to destroy the Guomindang reactionaries and build a new China. All democratic parties and groups, people’s organizations and social luminaries speedily convene a Political Consultative Conference, discuss and carry out the convoking of a People’s “Representative Assembly to establish a Democratic Coalition Government” (Groot 2004, pp. 57-58).

The CCP, the RCCG, and the Democratic League called for a coalition government of different parties and groups. The response of many was favourable. The CCP, however, maintained a leadership role. For instance, although up to one third of the seats in inter-party consultative conferences could be allotted to members of non-Communist groups and parties, the CCP always retained a comfortable majority (ibid., p. 60).

On September 21, 1949, 662 delegates inaugurated the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) (ibid., p. 62). As the name suggests, this body has only consultative functions and its powers are limited. The CCP allowed the existence of non-Communist parties and groups only on three conditions: they had to accept the leadership role of the CCP; the revolution had to be completed through the overthrow of the Guomindang government; the CCP was going to establish a ‘people’s democratic dictatorship’ that would not tolerate counterrevolutionary activities (ibid., p. 61).  

The years that followed the proclamation of the PRC were difficult for the DPGs. They never had much power, and they were the target of fierce attacks in the most radical phases of Communist state-building, for instance during the Cultural Revolution (it’s not possible here to discuss those complex years of the history of the PRC. A comprehensive analysis can be found in: James D. Seymour: China’s Satellite Parties, 1987, Chapter 6). 

In the late 1970s, with the opening up and reform policies of Deng Xiaoping, the DPGs were somewhat revitalised. Nowadays, they are once again used by the CCP as an important link between the party and professional, intellectual, as well as business elites that do not identify with the CCP. Moreover, they are powerful instruments that aim at spreading CCP ideology among hostile groups, the most notable examples being the RCCG and the Taiwan League, which both serve as platforms for the PRC’s pro-unification policies with Taiwan.

In the 1980s James D. Seymour conducted interviews with members of the DPGs. He explained that people who wanted to join these organisations had to have a politically ‘standard’ attitude, support socialism and the four modernisations (Seymour 1987, p. 73). A member of the RCCG made some interesting remarks about why he had joined that party, showing how the DPGs served both as a valve through which to channel dissatisfaction with the CCP, and as institutions of political subordination to the general party line and the primacy of the CCP over all other groups of society:

I don’t admire the Communist Party. I would consider it shameful to become a member, which would mean becoming a member of the privileged elite. By joining a DPG I can participate in public affairs without belonging to the CP.

I want to promote China’s modernization, particularly in the field of education. Being a member of a sanctioned organization provides a measure of political protection. In 1957, when I was a teen-age deputy head of my Youth League unit, I criticized some students for not attending classes, and I advocated certain reforms. As a result, I was declared a “rightist,” a label that was not removed until 1979. I did not feel that my final vindication came until 1984, when I was allowed to join this DPG. 

For many years I had had contacts with the Revolutionary Guomindang. What finally prompted me to join were the local chapter’s plans to participate in commemoration activities for a national leader of the Republican era, Feng Yuxiang. A more general reason for joining was to help restore the good name of the Guomindang [the point being that although they came to be dominated by a reactionary faction, the Nationalists were not all bad].

I hated the Cultural Revolution; this is my way of reacting against it. I am a strong believer in moderation, especially in political tactics. I still oppose student demonstrations, even when the students’ goals may be correct (Seymour 1987, pp. 73-74). 

Today, the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang has 101,865 members. It claims to represent the true patriotic, progressive and revolutionary spirit of Sun Yat-sen. It is also committed to achieving peaceful reunification of China and Taiwan. It can therefore be seen as a powerful – and to many people, a dangerous – link between the Communist-controlled establishment of the PRC and pro-unification forces in Taiwan. 


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