Persecution in troubled times

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 July, 2011, 12:00am


When the Communist Party took control of the mainland, only two of the party's 13 founding members, Mao Zedong and Dong Biwu, made it to the Tiananmen rostrum for a grand ceremony to mark the founding of the People's Republic on October 1, 1949.

Mao, who had led the country to the verge of collapse by the end of his 27-year reign, died at the age of 86 in September 1976, while Dong, a Mao loyalist, was among the few to escape waves of purging within the party orchestrated by Mao before dying at age 90 in 1975.

Liu Renjing, the party's youngest founding member, and Li Da, a renowned Marxist theorist, lived longer into the republic, but remained in obscurity.

Liu, who embraced Trotskyism in opposing Stalin in 1929, was allowed to work for a government publishing house after he denounced his past in the official People's Daily shortly after the founding of the republic. He was the last founding member to die - in a car accident in Beijing in August 1987.

Li, who hailed from Hunan as Mao did, quit the party over political infighting in 1923 but rejoined it in December 1949. He never entered politics, instead becoming a prominent academic in Marxism studies. However, he failed to escape political upheaval and was persecuted as a traitor by the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. A dying Li, 78, wrote to Mao in July 1966 saying the persecution was unwarranted, but it was too late by the time the letter reached Mao a month later, as Li died on August 23.

Infighting also drove Li Hanjun to leave the party after its second congress in July 1922. In spite of that, he was killed for his role in communism on the orders of warlord Hu Zongduo in 1927. Mao inducted Li posthumously as a revolutionary.

Three other founding members, Deng Enming , He Shuheng and Chen Tanqiu , also died at the hands of warlords and the Kuomintang in a crackdown after the bipartisan alliance broke up in late 1927 and in the ensuing civil war.

Party pioneer Wang Jinmei also did not live to see the People's Republic, succumbing to lung disease at the age of 27 in August 1925.

Adding political intrigue to the party's legacy, three of its founding members, Zhang Guotao, Chen Gongbo and Zhou Fohai , defected to the rival KMT. Chen and Zhou joined a faction led by Wang Jingwei, who helped set up a puppet government with the Japanese. Zhang fled to Hong Kong in 1949, then resettled in Canada with his family in 1966 and never returned to China. Chen was executed by the KMT for treason in April 1946, while Zhou was given life in prison in March 1947, then died a year later.

The only founding member who was unable to attend the first party congress, Chen Duxiu , sent a Wuhan party representative in his place to the July 23, 1921, meeting in Shanghai. He was elected party secretary in his absence.

Professor Hu Zhaojue, from Xian's Municipal Committee Party School, called Chen indispensable in the formative years of the party. He said Chen was passionate about democracy and science, and was a leading figure in milestone events in contemporary history, including the anti-imperial 1911 revolution and the May Fourth Movement.

'He was a person with pride and dignity,' Hu said. 'He devoted his whole life to looking for a way out for the country, but he ended up selling second-hand books in the streets for a living and languished in poverty.'

Expelled from the party in August 1929 for embracing Trotskyism after the break-up of the bipartisan alliance, Chen failed to rejoin it and died in Sichuan in 1942, aged 63.