90 years later, journal that helped bolster spirits in the revolution remains a beacon

In the journal's inaugural issue, it was set out clearly that "Bolshevik" would become a bulwark against pernicious bourgeoisie, imperialist and warlordist influences...

A section of Yuyuan Road in downtown Changning District is lined by memorials and former residences of historical personalities.

A nondescript villa tucked away in an old-style neighborhood named “Heng Chang Li” is one among many.

Now a heritage site housing revolutionary artifacts, this villa was originally the editorial office of a flagship Communist publication called “Bolshevik” about 90 years ago.

“Bolshevik” was started in 1927 and ceased publication in 1932. Its inception was partly a reaction to the horrifying purges started by the Kuomintang on April 12, 1927. Those purges saw countless Communists and left-wing Kuomintang members arrested and killed. The short-lived honeymoon between the KMT and the Communist Party of China ended in a brutal showdown.

At a meeting called on August 7 to discuss ways to save the precarious revolution amid the KMT’s reign of terror, it was decided that Chen Duxiu, then the CPC Party leader, should be replaced because his “right-leaning, defeatist” tendencies were responsible for leading the Party astray. If anything, the Party also learned a lesson, that “land revolution and armed rebellion against the KMT rule and its slaughter of the masses should become the doctrine of the Party in a new era.”

Specifically, uprisings were plotted in Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan and Guangdong provinces, with the local Communist posses readied for a major uprising during the autumn harvest in 1927.

Following the meeting, the headquarters of the CPC Central Committee were relocated to Shanghai from Hankou in Hubei.

In October, the CPC top brass made a decision to publish a new journal to build up the spirits of demoralized revolutionaries and their sympathizers.

Qu Qiubai, a prominent CPC member who was promoted to its top echelons, was given the job of overseeing the operation of Communist publications.

After considering resuming the publication of “The Guide Weekly” or “La Jeunesse” (The Youth), Qu concluded he needed a new journal to spread the Communist thought. Hence the birth of “Bolshevik.” It was so named because the journal was meant to signify that the “Chinese revolution is from now on a part of the socialist revolution.”

It took a while for the young Communists to find a prime spot for the editorial office. After the KMT’s purges, areas like Hongkou and Zhabei were no longer a safe haven for underground CPC operators. They had to conduct secret activities from new locations.

The Communists soon realized that they could operate in the relative safety of Shanghai’s foreign Concessions thanks to their extra-territorial status.

“We set out from the Jing’an Temple, walked past one road after another, and finally arrived here (Heng Chang Li),” said Zheng Chaolin, one of the founders of “Bolshevik.” In the journal’s inaugural issue, it was set out clearly that “Bolshevik” would become a bulwark against pernicious bourgeoisie, imperialist and warlordist influences as well as a vanguard of the revolution.

Qu, acting as its first editor-in-chief, wrote in the inaugural issue that “the KMT has betrayed their own ‘Three Principles of the People,’ spelling the demise of the overhauled KMT.

“The KMT people see now is not a revolutionary party anymore, but one that slaughters peasants and workers, oppresses revolutionary thought, perpetuates the exploitation by landowners and capitalists,” he wrote.

The tone of Qu’s article was fiercely militant, as was the language of many Communist writings from that period.

For instance, an essay also carried in the inaugural issue expressed fury at attempts to strangle the nascent socialist revolution. Titled “The Implications of the August 1 Revolution and the Military Failure of Ye and He’s Army,” the essay by Mao Da said that everything went well in the initial days after the August 1 Rebellion in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi Province.

The date is now commemorated as the birth of the CPC military.

The entrance to the former editorial office of “Bolshevik,” a flagship journal of the Communist Party of China, which was launched by Qu Qiubai (1899-1935) .

Ideological divides

The Communist troops, led by He Long and Ye Ting, crushed resistance on their way into Guangdong and were cheered by peasants and workers nationwide.

This sent a chill down the spine of imperialists, warlords and other capitalist reactionaries, Mao Da wrote, and “they shelved their differences to unite in defeating the Communist troops.”

He justified the eventual defeat of CPC troops by saying that they were outnumbered and out-armed; somehow they redeemed their honor through bravery and sacrifice. Nevertheless, the fact that military victory was not “guaranteed” was no reason for taking an “opportunistic” stance on the uprising, and those skeptical of it in hindsight were not true revolutionaries and should be purged, said Mao Da. Obviously, the CPC had ideological divides within its own ranks and the group advocating a tough line on the KMT prevailed.

Qu was a firm supporter of the Party’s leadership of newspapers and journals. On his watch, “Bolshevik” grew rapidly, with its editorial board expanding from five to 26 men, and later further enlarged to include 37 members after the CPC’s Sixth National Congress in 1928.

The journal, however, was never far from the danger of being censored and banned. Its editors had to occasionally publish it under the disguise of a different periodical, with covers bearing titles such as “A Study on Expensive Gold and Cheap Silver” and “Romantic Young Lady.” In spite of these measures, the journal starting as a weekly then came out less regularly, publishing then twice a month, then once a month, and then irregularly. After running 52 issues, it stopped appearing in print.

Historians today commend the journal’s role in popularizing the Marxist-Leninist thought and fostering the socialist revolution, while also criticizing its occasionally ultra-leftist views.

Mao Zedong, once on the journal’s editorial board, was an avid reader and wrote his superiors in praise of the journal. Since its designation in 1984 as a heritage site, the editorial office of “Bolshevik” has been restored to its past glory, with old furniture and items moved in to remind visitors of how this place looked decades ago.

Visitors today are greeted by old furniture, chequered sheets and peeling paint in the bedrooms, as well as a tag saying that Luo Yinong, one of those chiefly behind the founding of “Bolshevik,” lived here before his capture and execution by the KMT.

According to Yang Fang, curator at the memorial, similar villas in “Heng Chang Li” were once occupied by employees of the famous Sincere Company and Wing On Department Store. The opulence of their dwellings contrasted sharply with the drabness and austerity of the homes of the Communists.

They couldn’t care less. Personal comfort was the last of their concerns — all they wanted was to rekindle the sparks of a faltering revolution, awaken the masses and find a new beacon for disillusioned comrades and fellow travellers.

Ninety years on, the memorial remains a beacon. And with the CPC now emphasizing the importance of the “Red Legacy,” it has seen a surge of interest, receiving 12,000 visitors from January to November last year.

Many were young people who came to take their Party admission oath and renew the faith of their revolutionary forebears who risked it all for the well-being of their fellow countrymen.


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