The great founding myth of China’s Communist Party

By Victor Escribano

Jiaxing, China, Jun 18 (EFE).- China’s Communist Party is one of the political formations with the most affiliates in the world, but its foundation, 100 years ago, was marked by the secrecy of a first congress celebrated in a small boat, which has now become a founding myth.

The party currently has almost 92 million members, but in 1920, in its embryonic phase, there were only 58 young people, all of them well-educated, wealthy, and from well-off families.

A year later, prompted by representatives of the Communist International, the First Congress of the Party was convened, attended by 13 representatives from seven different areas of the country, including Mao Zedong, then 28 and eventually China’s founder.

However, Mao, the most internationally remembered figure, was not elected secretary general, a position that went to Chen Duxiu, who was unable to attend the meeting. Of the 13 representatives, only Mao and Dong Biwu were present at the proclamation of the People’s Republic in 1949.

The congress began Jul. 23, 1921 in one of Shanghai’s popular “shikumen” (low stone houses), in the now popular Xintiandi shopping and tourist area.

The plan was for it to last six sessions and, in the last session, on Jul. 30, 1921, Dutchman Henk Sneevliet (whose pseudonym was Maring) delivered a speech that was to precede the vote on the party’s first political program.

However, an unknown person broke into the headquarters and representatives decided to suspend the meeting for fear of reprisals from the police. Xu Lianlin, an expert on the history of the founding of the party said that “back then, trying to found a party was putting your own life at risk.”

Then, the wife of Li Da, one of the emissaries, proposed that they all move to her native Jiaxing, a well-known tourist town located about half an hour by bullet train from Shanghai. There, representatives, disguised as tourists, rented a small pleasure boat on which they officially formed the party and approved their first political project Aug. 3, 1921.

One of the curiosities of this story is the date: if the party was founded on Aug. 3, why is the anniversary on which it is commemorated on July 1? Asked by EFE,, Xu said that during the civil war against the nationalists (1927-1949), Mao’s lieutenants proposed to him to celebrate the anniversary of the party, but neither he nor Dong exactly remembered the First Congress’ dates.

These were discovered years later in Soviet archives, but then Mao — who only remembered that it had been in July — personally made the decision to celebrate it on Jul. 1, the official anniversary since 1941.

Although the original boat is not preserved, since 1959 there has been a replica of a 16-meter vessel that has become one of the main attractions of the city, to which more than 40 million tourists arrived in 2018 after the visit of current President Xi Jinping.

The one known in China as “Red Boat” is a milestone in the party’s history and a cause for celebration for Xi, who published an article extolling the values ??of “innovation, hard work and dedication” in the history of the foundation during his stage as governor of Zhejiang province (2002-2007), where Jiaxing is located.

In recent weeks, China has been decking itself to mark the party’s centennial, with major propaganda campaigns and museum openings about its history.

Huge museums have been opened in both Jiaxing and Shanghai celebrating the party’s successes — for example, China’s first atomic bomb, tested in 1964 — and neglecting dark episodes such as the Great Leap Forward or the Cultural Revolution.

In Shanghai, a few meters from the “shikumen” where the First Congress began, a good portion of the exposure is reserved to the situation prior to the founding of the party, in which harsh rhetoric is used against Western powers and their occupation of parts of the country in the early 20th century.

There, hundreds of Party members take group photos with the communist flag and loudly pronounce the oath that every member must take when they join the party.

Part of him recites “I will protect the party’s secrets, I will be loyal to the party, I will strive and fight for communism throughout my life, I will always be ready to sacrifice everything for the Party and for the people, and I will never betray the party.” EFE


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