However, one also finds names of people who were not members of the Communist Party: Song Qingling (宋庆龄 / 宋慶齡), the wife of Sun Yat-sen, the man who had founded the Republic of China which the Communists had long fought to overthrow; Zhang Lan (张澜 / 張瀾), the founder of the China Democratic League; and Li Jishen (李濟深), the chairman of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (RCCG).
In fact, the PRC was founded – at least in theory – as a multi-party state under the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The authorised parties of the PRC are known as Democratic Parties and Groups (DPGs). Most of them were founded between the 1920s and 40s, and their affiliation with the CCP can be traced back to the latter’s United Front policy during the Chinese Civil War.
Today, members of the DPGs sit in the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a state organ that the government-run newspaper China Daily describes as “a patriotic united front organization of the Chinese people, serving as a key mechanism for multi-party cooperation and political consultation under the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and a major manifestation of socialist democracy“. As of today, China has eight legal non-Communist parties:
2) China Democratic League (中国民主同盟; traditional Chinese: 中國民主同盟; pinyin: Zhōngguó Mínzhǔ Tóngméng): It was founded on March 19, 1941, in Chongqing, then war-time capital of the Republic of China. Zhang Lan was the chairman of the party. The main purpose of the party was to mediate between the Guomindang and the CCP. In fact, the anti-Japanese cooperation between China’s two biggest parties had suffered a serious blow following the so-called Wannan Incident (皖南事变), in which fighting broke out between Nationalist and Communist troops, who accused each other of treachery. In October 1947, the Guomindang government outlawed the Democratic League, a step that only strengthened the ties between the League and the CCP. In 1948, representatives of the two parties met in Hong Kong and declared a common goal: to strive to overthrow the Guomindang ‘reactionary’ government and create a democratic, peaceful, independent and unified new China. After the foundation of the PRC, the League followed the leadership of the CCP, but during the Cultural Revolution it became the target of repression and de facto ceased to exist. The League was revived after the arrest of the “Gang of Four” and the rise of Deng Xiaoping.Today, the Democratic League defines itself as an organisation made up of ‘high and middle-level’ intellectuals who work in the fields of education, culture, science and technology (see also Yongnian 2010, p. 69). It “accepts the leadership of the CCP” and works for the realisation of “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” As of 2013 the League had 247,000 members from all over China.
3) China Democratic National Construction Association (中国民主建国会; traditional Chinese: 中國民主建國會; pinyin: Zhōngguó Mínzhǔ Jiànguó Huì): It was formed in Chongqing in 1945 and its main purpose was to reconcile the Guomindang and the Communists. During the Civil War, it sided with the latter. The Association defines itself as an organisation that “holds high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics” and is “devoted to the development of the productive forces of society and the promotion of a socialist economy, policy, culture, society, and environment“.
The Association caters to educational, cultural and business elites (Seymour 1987, p. 20). It has 90,000 members.
5) Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party (中国农工民主党; Pinyin: Zhōngguó Nónggōng Mínzhǔdǎng): It traces its origin back to the so-called “Third Party”, which was established in 1927 by left-wing members of the Guomindang after Chiang Kai-shek had ended the United Front with the Communists. The actual name of the party was Chinese Revolutionary Party. It sought to reconcile Sun Yat-sen’s ideas with Marxist materialism (Groot 2003, p. 6). The party assumed its current name in 1947 and sided with the CCP against the Guomindang.
6) China Zhigongdang (中国致公党; traditional Chinese: 中國致公黨; pinyin: Zhōngguó Zhìgōngdǎng): It was founded in San Francisco in 1925. The party has close ties with overseas Chinese and business groups, links of which it took advantage after the beginning of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up policies. The party recognises the leadership role of the CCP and works for the realisation of socialism with Chinese characteristics. Wan Gang, the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Zhigongdang, acted as Vice-chairperson of the 12th National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), and he was Minister of Science and Technology, being the first non-Communist politician to hold a ministerial post.
7) Jiusan Society (九三学社; traditional Chinese: 九三學社; pinyin: Jǐusān Xuéshè; literally: “September Third Society”): During the War of Resistance against Japan, a small group of intellectuals founded in Chongqing the Democracy and Science Symposium, a group inspired by the ideals of the May 4th Movement, the belief in science and progress, anti-imperialism and the struggle against feudalism. On 3 September, 1945, it changed its name into Jiusan Society to commemorate the victory against Japan and Fascism (Seymour 1987, p. 21). During the Civil War, the Jiusan Society supported the CCP against the “Guomindang dictatorship”. Answering the CCP’s call for a United Front, delegates of the Jiusan Society took part in the first Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference on September 1949.
8) Taiwan Democratic Self-government League (台湾民主自治同盟; 台灣民主自治同盟; pinyin: Táiwān Mínzhǔ Zìzhì Tóngméng): After the 228 Incident of 1947 and the subsequent crackdown of the Guomindang government, members of the Taiwanese Communist Party fled Taiwan for the British colony of Hong Kong. There they founded the Taiwan Democratic Self-government League. After the foundation of the PRC in 1949, the League moved to the mainland. The League describes itself as
a government alliance formed by people from Taiwan Province. Its members are socialist workers devoted to the great task of building socialism, supporting socialism and patriotism. It recognises the leading role of the Chinese Communist Party and cooperates closely with it … [It] upholds the principles of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics, Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the ‘Three Represents’ Theory, and the Scientific Outlook on Development … [It] carries on the glorious tradition of patriotism and love for the native soil of the Taiwanese people, unites all members of the alliance and the affiliated Taiwanese compatriots in order to complete the unification of the country and the struggle for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
The party caters to residents of Taiwan and Taiwanese who live on the mainland. It is – as the party’s self-description shows – a vehicle of the PRC’s policy of reunification of Taiwan and the mainland. It has 2700 members in 18 provinces.