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Unpacking The 100-Year History Of The Chinese Communist Party

As the Chinese Communist Party turns 100 this month, NPR's Ailsa Chang talks with historian Andy B. Liu about the mark it's made on the country.


One hundred years ago this month, a small group of revolutionaries founded the Chinese Communist Party in secret on a boat floating in a river near French-controlled Shanghai. So fireworks are lighting up the skies of Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities this month in celebration of the CCP's centennial. Now, 100 years is a long time. And to mark this moment, we wanted to have a conversation about the party's role in the past century of Chinese history. No small feat to assess this, and we'll do the best we can. And here to help us is Andy B. Liu, a historian of China at Villanova University. Welcome.

ANDY B LIU: Thanks. Thanks for having me.

CHANG: Thanks for being with us. So I want you to take us back to China a hundred years ago when the Chinese Communist Party was founded. What would you say were the main challenges that China was struggling with back then? And how did the CCP propose it would address those problems?

LIU: Yeah. So I think the first thing to talk about is China at the time was kind of carved up into what is known as the warlord era. A lot of independent provinces were kind of under the rule of independent military leaders. So the question of who could unify the country was a big concern for a lot of people.

The flipside of that would be fears of imperialism. European and then especially Japanese powers were seen as colonizing large territories, but especially large chunks of the economy of China dating back to treaties from the 19th century. But really with the Versailles Treaty and what becomes known as the May Fourth Movement, there's a sense of disillusionment with, let's say, like, Western European liberalism. And that's kind of that opening, that kind of opportunity that sparks interest in communism for a lot of intellectuals in China.

So I think, you know, the Communist Party was dedicated to revolution and class equality and end of exploitation and all those things we would expect. But in the context of China, it was also very much - they were aligned with broader concerns about national reunification and with anti-imperialism.

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