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The Human Rights Discourse and its Changes during the Early Establishment of the Communist Party of China: From 1921 to 1927
November 07,2021   By:CSHRS
The Human Rights Discourse and its Changes during the Early Establishment of the Communist Party of China: From 1921 to 1927
 
HAN Dayuan*
 
Abstract: During the early establishment of the Communist Party of China, human rights became the ideal and goal pursued by the Chinese Communists, and the discourse of human rights was vividly reflected in multiform Party documents. The centennial history of the CPC parallels that of the Chinese people’s exploration, struggle, and practice of human rights. Based on the literature review of the changes of the CPC ― human rights discourse from its founding period to the Great Revolution period, this paper expounds on the CPC’s human rights discourse and its expressions in the early days after the Party was founded.
 
Keywords: human rights ·Communist Party of China ·civil rights ·Soviet-Russian Constitution
 
I. Research Question
 
It is widely recognized in academia that the concept of “human rights” is not endemic to China, but imported from Japan.1 Historical documents indicate that Kang Youwei was the first Chinese scholar to introduce the phrase “human rights” from kanji (Chinese characters) in Japanese. In 1897, Kang Youwei introduced the Identification of Falsehoods in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen translated by Nobutaka Kusano in his work Record of Japanese Books. Later, Liang Qichao mentioned “human rights” in his essay On the Similarities and Differences of Chinese and European State Systems published in 1899. In 1902, Kang Youwei used the phrase “human rights” in his Book of Great Harmony.2 To be fair, it has been more than a century since the introduction of the term “human rights” in China, which has become one of the most influential terms in Chinese society and manifesting social changes and progress in the past more than 100 years.
 
From the perspective of the academic evolution of human rights, a systematic analysis of the Communist Party of China’s understanding of human rights and the process of human rights becoming an important proposition of the Party is essential for us to understand China’s history of human rights. Despite their distinctive characteristics of the times and ideological connotations, human rights have long been integrated into the public life of Chinese people through a century of evolution and development, becoming values and goals shared with the human community. Since the day of its birth, the CPC has held high the banner of human rights and made obtaining, establishing, and safeguarding human rights one of its goals. The Party has constantly enriched the connotations and realization methods of human rights. Just as Chinese President Xi Jinping, who is also general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, has stated, “The CPC and the Chinese government have always respected and protected human rights. Over the years, China has adhered to integrating the general principles of human rights with Chinese realities, constantly advanced economic and social development, improved people’s well-being, enhanced social fairness and justice, strengthened the law-based protection of human rights, and strived to promote the comprehensive and coordinated development of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, significantly enhancing the protection of the people’s rights to survival and development and blazing a path of human rights development that suits China’s national conditions.”3
 
Since the establishment of the CPC, human rights been an important pursuit and innate gene of the CPC. The centennial history of the CPC parallels that of the Chinese people’s exploration, struggle, and practice of human rights. Based on the literature review of the changes of the human rights discourse from the founding of the CPC to the end of the Great Revolution in 1927, this paper expounds on the CPC’s human rights discourse and its expressions in the early days after it was founded.
 
II. Early Human Rights Discourse of the Founders of the CPC
 
General Secretary Xi Jinping pointed out in his speech at the conference to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx that “Marxism has not only profoundly changed the world, but also China.”4 In the mid-19th century, Marxism exerted enormous influence on the whole of European society, and began to spread widely around the world. After the May Fourth Movement of 1919, early Chinese Communists and founders of the CPC, including Li Dazhao, Chen Duxiu, Mao Zedong, Li Da, Li Hanjun, Qu Qiubai, and Cai Hesen, began to study and translate Marxist and Leninist works for the purpose of seeking a path to save the nation and the people. Moreover, they consciously integrated the theories with China’s communist movement, and sent forth the earliest voice on human rights on behalf of Chinese Communists. This indicates that protecting human rights has been a red gene and innate value pursuit of Chinese Communists since the very beginning.
 
As early as 1919, Mao Zedong expounded on his understanding of mankind in an article on sports: “Human beings are animals, so they advocate physical movement; Human beings are animals with rationality, so their physical movement has reasons.”5
 
An essay on personhood that Mao Zedong published in the same year demonstrates his initial awareness of human rights. In November 1919, Mao Zedong successively published 10 commentary articles in Ta Kung Pao and Bell for Women to respond to public concern for Ms. Zhao’s suicide, an incident that evoked wide attention in society. In “Criticism of Ms. Zhao’s Suicide,” Mao pointed out that a person’s suicide is entirely determined by circumstances, of which the paramount factor is China’s social circumstance. Ms. Zhao initially intended to seek life, but no matter how hard she tried, she had to end up with death. He believed that “the incident happened because of the shameful system of arranged marriages, because of the darkness of the social system, the negation of the individual will, and the absence of the freedom to choose one’s own mate.”6 In On Ms. Zhao’s Personhood, Mao analyzed the incident from the perspective of personhood. He said, “Personhood can exist only when it is respected by the rival. Its precondition is free will. Did Ms. Zhao enjoy free will? No, she didn’t.”7 Mao noticed the importance of social background for the realization of a person’s free will. After comparing Chinese and Western family systems, he concluded that “In a Western family organization, parents admit the free will of their children; it’s different in China, where parents’ mandates and children’s free will are totally unequal.”8 In The Shian Kian Weekly Review he founded that year, Mao published his own views on topics related to the emancipation of the mind since the Renaissance period, including “how human beings should live” as well as religious freedom, power, and freedom. In the early period, Mao paid attention to a broad range of questions concerning human rights, and he understood and analyzed those questions from perspectives such as humans’ free will and social attributes. Although he didn’t directly mention the phrase “human rights,” his core ideas were immersed with care for human values and humanity.
 
In the essay “Non-Suicide” that he published on November 23, 1919, Mao clearly expressed his “rejection” of suicide, saying that “suicide is groundless from an ethnic, psychological, physiological and biological perspective, so the penalty laws of all countries have stipulations against suicide.”9
 
When talking about the Constitution of Hunan Province, Mao Zedong criticized the draft provincial constitution. He held that its “biggest shortcoming is its lack of stipulations on people’s rights” and argued that “properties are the foundation, and all other things such as education, employment, and marriage are inferior.”10 In 1920, Mao put forward some views on human rights. For instance, in terms of the protection of political rights, he pointed out that “as long as a person is above 15 years old (the age he considered being grown-up I suggest) and has no mental problems, he or she shall enjoy the right to speech, regardless of being a farmer, worker, merchant, student, teacher, soldier, police officer, or even beggar.”11 On April 25, 1921, Mao Zedong published an essay on the right to subsistence in Ta Kung Pao, in which he wrote: “The stipulation of the people enjoying the right of freely choosing their jobs is to include the people’s right to subsistence in the Constitution and make it under the protection of the Constitution.”12 He summarized people’s right to freely choose their jobs, their right to work, and the right to education in the right to subsistence. This was the first time that Mao expounded on the right to subsistence, and he is considered the “first person in China discussing the right to subsistence.”13
 
In 1922, Mao Zedong published the essay “Issues that Need Greater Attention” in Ta Kung Pao, calling on the whole society to pay attention to three issues concerning laborers: “first, laborers’ right to subsistence; second, laborers’ right to work; third, laborers’ right to fully enjoy the benefits of their labor.”14 Mao clearly put forward the concept of the right to subsistence in this essay.
 
Seven decades later, in 1991, the Chinese government released the White Paper on Human Rights in China, which stressed that “subsistence is the paramount human right for Chinese people” and put the right to subsistence at the top of the list of human rights in China. The process from Mao Zedong’s early statements on human rights to the white paper on human rights issued by the Chinese government reflects the evolution of the CPC’s human rights thought. In fact, the development of the CPC’s human rights outlook keeps pace with that of the modern Constitution. The CPC’s human rights practice and theoretical thinking have undoubtedly enriched the diversified development of global human rights, and maintained distinctive memories of Chinese history.
 
Chen Duxiu was one of the Communists who introduced the concept of human rights into intraparty life. His early human rights outlook can be summarized as individual departmentalism. In 1915, Chen mentioned the phrase “human rights” three times in “To the Youth with Respect,” the foreword he wrote for the inaugural issue of The Youth Magazine (which was renamed The New Youth from its second volume).15 He wrote: “Everyone shall have the right to make their own decision… Without being self-centered, individual independence and equality that comprise personhood will be dissipated. Since the popularization of public awareness of human rights and equality, no one of hot blood has been able to endure being slaved.” Chen pointed out that “Chinese people intend to shake off the age of barbarism because they feel shameful to be ignorant; they should do all they can to catch up and advocate science and human rights.” In the early period of the New Culture Movement, democratic activists represented by Chen Duxiu advocated individualism, freedom, and equality, and their human rights thoughts conformed to the first-generation Western human rights outlook in the 17th and 18th centuries. Chen said, “Freedom of speech and thoughts aims to seek the development of individualism. Everyone is equal before the law. A person’s freedom and rights should be written into the Constitution, which should not be deprived by other State laws. This is called human rights.”16 He also talked about questions related to science and human rights, saying that “scientific prosperity and the concept of human rights play an equal role in making European countries superior to other nations in modern times, which are like two wheels of a vehicle.”17 As for China’s national conditions at that time, Chen stressed that the country should “attach equal importance to science and human rights.”18 Chen’s understanding of human rights is part of his thought on State and social governance, representing the systematic views on democracy and science at that time.
 
Li Dazhao’s human rights research mainly involved the relationship between freedom and democracy. He held that freedom is the foundation of democracy, and compared with freedom, democracy has instrumentality. He believed that “freedom is a necessary need for human subsistence, and a person’s life would be meaningless without freedom.” Freedom is a natural attribute of personhood, and one of the most basic rights for humankind. Li argued that suicide is just an embodiment of human beings’ wisdom; humans choose to commit suicide because they have wisdom, and other animals won’t choose to commit suicide just because they have no wisdom. Apart from wisdom, suicide is closely connected to the progress of civilization. “The growth rate of suicides is proportional to the process of civilization because the more civilized and progressive a person is, the greater desire he or she may have, and the person would rather die than live humbly if his or her desire isn’t fulfilled.”19 Li believed that extreme behaviors like suicide should be a person’s due freedom, and others have no right to encourage or condemn such behaviors. “For the phenomenon of suicides, we should only attribute it to defaults in the social system and research what we can do to fix them.”20
 
In the late period of the New Culture Movement, the rise of socialist thought and the transition in the concept of “social person” exerted a huge influence on the emergence of the concept of human rights during the New Culture Movement. The human rights thoughts of Li Dazhao and other Communists gradually changed. As a result, the concept of human rights was further enriched, and individualism-based human rights ideas gradually transformed into socialist human rights ideas. For example, Chen Duxiu advocated social equality and the abolition of private ownership while proposing political equality. Li Dazhao combined individualism and socialism. In his essay “Freedom and Order” published in 1921, Li clearly pointed out that “individuals and society do not conflict with each other, nor does individualism and socialism.”21 He believed that individuals are inseparable from society, and advocated and demanded the protection of people’s economic and social rights, especially the rights of laborers. He suggested that “future economics should be centered on labor and laborers” and supported the “transition from individualism to socialism and humanism.”22
 
It is safe to say that during the New Culture Movement, the early founders of the CPC carried out extensive publicity and discussion on human rights such as freedom of speech, political rights, right to work, right to suicide, and right of personality, in an effort to awaken public awareness of human rights. Discussions on human rights at that time mainly focused on the liberation of personality and the implementation of democratic politics, recognizing personal value, freedom, and dignity and acknowledging that individuals enjoy various kinds of rights. To be fair, such human rights thoughts demonstrated a strong appeal for national salvation, that is, they acknowledged personal freedom and personal value and connected them with the fate and development of the nation, country, and society. By doing so, they made human rights important carriers and goals for national renewal and prosperity. The human rights thoughts of those CPC founders not only considerably enlightened the people as a theoretical weapon for the CPC to lead the people in the fight against feudal oppression in the early period of its establishment, but also bestowed on the newly founded CPC a strong awareness of human rights and the historic mission to protect human rights.
 
III. The 1918 Soviet Constitution’s Influence on Early Chinese Communists’ Human Rights Discourse
 
Under the influence of the 1918 Soviet Constitution, the Weimar Constitution of Germany was adopted in 1919. As the two earliest written constitutions in modern times, they marked that human society has since entered a new stage of dual development of the right of personal freedom and social right. As the first socialist constitution, the 1918 Soviet Constitution reflected socialist human rights ideas and became one of the ideological foundations for the CPC to seize State power and build a new regime. In 1919, the Chinese version of the Soviet Constitution was published in Shanghai. In 1920, China’s first communist group was established in Shanghai. In July 1921, the First CPC National Congress was convened in Shanghai. The founding of the CPC has both domestic and international implications. It not only marked that an advanced political force mounted onto the historical stage in China, but also represented an important component of the international communist movement. In this sense, the human rights ideas of the CPC are closely connected with the influence of the October Revolution of 1917 and the Soviet Constitution. Just as Mao Zedong stated in On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship: “The salvos of the October Revolution brought us Marxism-Leninism.”23 As a form of Marxist-Leninist political system, the Soviet Constitution cast a profound influence on the CPC and its revolutionary and economic development causes, and helped reshape the CPC’s human rights outlook.
 
Before the establishment of the CPC, Zhang Junmai translated the Soviet Constitution into Chinese and published it in Shanghai, which soon spread to Beijing and Guangzhou. Back then, Li Dazhao mainly organized activities in Beijing, and Chen Duxiu in Shanghai and Guangzhou. As scholars and Marxists, Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu paid close attention to the research of the Soviet Constitution, which was Marxism’s first constitutional practice. In the essay Further Research on Problems and Isms, Li Dazhao mentioned that he once read the article The New Constitution of Russia that Zhang Weici published in June 1919. This is one of the first academic articles on the Soviet Constitution. Li said, “The several papers on Russia’s new Constitution, Land Law and Marriage Law that Mr. Zhang Weici published in our magazine can provide references for us to study issues related to Russia.”24 Li Dazhao and other early Chinese Communists already paid attention to the socialist constitution as they accepted socialist theory and practice from Soviet Russia.
 
Although Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu didn’t publish essays and articles dedicated to the research of the Soviet Constitution, the Soviet Constitution had drawn the attention of many members of the Communist Group before the founding of the CPC. Among the 53 founding members of the CPC, many were committed to studying the Soviet Constitution and received the influence of its stipulations on the protection of basic rights. For instance, in May 1919, Chen Gongbo translated the Soviet Constitution based on an article published in a foreign-language magazine in February of the same year. The essay The Reconstruction of the Laboring People’s Russia, translated by Hu Yuzhi, introduced Lenin’s speeches, saying that “more than 3.6 million copies of the Constitution of the Laboring People’s Russia had been printed and distributed everywhere for publicity.” Russell’s View on New Russia translated by Hu Yuzhi talked about “communism and the Soviet Constitution” and noted that “the soviet system is a new feature of New Russia.” My View on Russia translated by Yuan Zhenying held that “the laboring people’s government of Russia has high existential values.” In his article Criticism of Russell’s View on Soviet Russia, Yuan stressed that “the Bolsheviki political theories are the most important administrative philosophy of the Soviet government.” In addition, The Communist, a journal launched by the Shanghai communist group for which Li Da served as editor-in-chief, published many articles introducing Soviet Russia’s constitutional system.25
 
In general, soon after the CPC was established, discourse on the Constitution and rights in Shanghai’s media circle and the communist group reflected the October Revolution’s influence on the development of human rights in China. In this context, the CPC expressed its recognition of the Soviet system in the Party program adopted at its First National Congress, which indicated that the Soviet Constitution exerted significant influence on the CPC’s human rights thought and became an important source of the CPC’s human rights thought. Actually, the name, nature, goals, and basic tasks of the CPC that were determined at the First National Congress of the Party are in line with the spirit of the Communist Manifesto and the Soviet Constitution.
 
IV. The CPC’s Human Rights Discourse in Its Early Period
 
The CPC was established in July 1921, for the purpose of helping the Chinese people shake off oppression, establish democratic politics and achieve human liberation.
 
The First CPC National Congress adopted the Party’s first program and resolution and clarified the Party’s nature, tasks and goals. The Party’s first program adopted in July 1921 stipulated that the Party shall work to eliminate capitalist private ownership and confiscate the means of production such as machines, land, factories, and semi-finished products to make them owned by the public.26 The Party’s first resolution clarified that the basic task of the CPC was to set up trade unions of various industries, and particularly stressed that “we should have a completely independent foothold to solely protect the interests of the proletariat and should not establish any relations with other political parties in political struggle, in the struggle against warlordism and bureaucracy, and in the struggle to seek freedom of speech, the press, and assembly.27 Freedom of speech, the press, and assembly were the internationally recognized rights of freedom at that time. The 1918 Soviet Constitution and the 1919 Weimar Constitution cast widespread influence on Eastern countries. Meanwhile, based on concern for social rights, the CPC organized workers to launch strikes and demonstrations and motivated more people to realize “many intolerable phenomena of social unfairness and the miserable economic and social conditions they suffered, all of which are factors conducive to ignite the eruption of revolution.”28
 
According to the Party’s early theories and practice, human rights have been a goal pursued by the CPC since the day of its birth. As a lofty ideal of the CPC, the concept of human rights was manifested in the Party’s early program and literature. The CPC first officially put forward a slogan on human rights in the “Declaration on the Longhai Railway Strike” on November 20, 1921. On November 8, 1921, the No.8 Gate Incident occurred in the Tongshan Station of Longhai Railway. Railway workers in Xuzhou sent representatives to unite forces with the railway workers in Luoyang, Zhengzhou, Kaifeng, and other major railway stations. The Party organization of Beijing dispatched Luo Zhanglong to Luoyang to lead the strike. On the early morning of November 20, all railway maintenance workers at Tongshan Station launched a strike, and published the Declaration on the Longhai Railway Strike, which put forward slogans such as “Fight against Oppression” and “Fight for Human Rights.”
 
In July 1922, the Second CPC National Congress passed the Declaration of the Second CPC National Congress, which clarified the Party’s nature in the chapter “The CPC’s Missions and Current Struggle,” stating that “the Communist Party of China is a proletarian political party in China which aims to organize the proletariat to build a political system featuring laborers’ dictatorship, eliminate private property ownership,and gradually achieve a communist society by means of class struggle.”
 
The Declaration of the Second CPC National Congress called on the Chinese people to “fight for freedom and independence”29 and systematically clarified the relationships between human rights and State power, between human rights and sovereignty, and between human rights and the social system. The declaration also enumerated key rights and freedoms that comprise human rights in the goals it set, e.g. “Sixth, workers, and peasants, male or female, shall have unlimited right to vote in all levels of parliaments and city councils and shall enjoy absolute freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, and strike; Seventh, laws to protect the rights and interests of workers, peasants and women shall be formulated:…. E. abolish all laws restraining women and ensure women enjoy equal political, economic, social and educational rights.”30 In the resolution “International Imperialism & China and the CPC,” the Party set the goal of fighting for “various kinds of rights” and called for “formulating laws to protect workers, peasants, women and children.” In terms of laborers’ rights, the Party suggested that “trade unions carry out economic reform campaigns for laborers by advancing the labor legislation movement.”31 In August 1922, the China Trade Union Secretariat enumerated human rights in its draft outline of the Labor Law, including: in terms of political freedom, the State shall admit laborers’ rights to assembly and association, allied strikes, contract signing, and international association; in terms of economic freedom, the State shall limit the working hours of laborers and acknowledge laborers’ right to participate in the labor management; in terms of cultural freedom, the State shall ensure workers, male and female, enjoy opportunities for training and education.32 In addition, the resolution particularly emphasized the “protection of female workers and child laborers.”33 This clearly embodied the CPC’s specific propositions in human rights protection in various realms, and put forward the democratic revolution program to radically oppose imperialism and feudalism for the first time in the history of modern China’s human rights thoughts.34
 
In February 1923, when leading the famous Beijing-Hankou Railway Workers Strike, the CPC clearly called for “fighting for freedom and human rights.” In June of the same year, the Third CPC National Congress adopted the Draft Program of the Communist Party of China, which reiterated the protection of rights of the people in ethnic minority areas and raised the question about human rights and autonomy, laying a theoretical foundation for setting the principle that all ethnic groups are equal before the law. The CPC also put forward the “minimal Party program” at the congress, the content of which related to human rights include: implement unlimited general election on public holidays; protect the people’s freedom and rights of assembly, association, speech, and the press; men and women enjoy equal rights according to both public and private laws; citizens shall have the rights to provide suggestions on State affairs and depose unqualified officials; formulate a labor insurance law with binding force, etc.35 In August of the same year, Chen Duxiu, then general secretary of the CPC, delivered a report at the Third National Congress of the Party on behalf of the CPC Central Committee. He said, “Since the Second National Congress decided to carry out the civil rights movement, many places including Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shandong, and Jiangxi have established alliances to fight for civil rights.” In Beijing, the majority of the members in those new groups were students, while those in Shandong and Guangzhou were workers.36
 
In November 1924, in the Proposition of the Communist Party of China on the Current Situation, the CPC put forward: “For the liberation of the entire nation, the soldiers and peasants under suppression, and the specific rights of workers, merchants, and intellectuals, the Party will make the current minimum request to the Interim Nationalist Government and the Nationalist Assembly.”37 The statement actually expanded the scope of human rights subjects and made national liberation a prerequisite for the fight for human rights, demonstrating the Party’s clear stance on human rights.
 
In this period, CPC leaders often used the term “civil rights” to talk about their understanding of human rights and held that “the civil rights movement is, in fact, one aspect of the ongoing class struggle of Chinese peasants and workers… Currently, China’s working class is fighting for civil rights with their own strength, requesting the establishment of a national parliament based on the general election, and demanding political freedom of assembly, association, speech, the press, strike, etc…”38 This indicates that at that time the CPC incorporated the connotation of political freedom contained in the concept of human rights into the concept of civil rights, in an effort to construct a conceptual system for human rights that is different from the Western one. It heralded the beginning of the gradual systemization of the CPC’s human rights thought.
 
V. The Changes in the CPC’s Human Rights Discourse
 
A. The right to pursue freedom
 
In the early days after the establishment of the CPC, the Party already made “political democracy” a goal that it pursued. In the essay Democracy and Ergatocracy, Li Dazhao pointed out that “democracy” excluding women who accounted for half of the population from the people and excluding most proletarian men from the people “isn’t a real democracy, but democracy for the middle class,” which doesn’t conform to the spirit of socialism. He added that “real democracy aims to eradicate the relationship between the ruler and the ruled and break the social system of taking advantage of other people like tools; this is also the purpose of socialism.”39 In Clear Up Doubts on Socialism, Li strongly refuted capitalism’s oppression of the people and called for reforming Chinese society into a socialist society. He said, “Under a socialist system, people work in a happy and comfortable way, instead of working hard like cattle and feeling no happiness in life as they do in the current capitalist system.” Li also pointed out that “under the current capitalist system, laborers have no freedom, which is only enjoyed by a few capitalists. They own buildings, cars, carriages, and everything. Laborers work diligently like cattle, but they still haven’t enough food and clothing to support their families.” Only socialism can give people freedom, especially economic freedom, so “we must reconstruct society to embark onto a path toward happiness, instead of poverty and non-freedom.”40
 
However, under the autocratic rule of the Beiyang government, Chinese people led a miserable life due to frequent wars between warlords and political darkness. Common people, especially the proletariat, were deprived of political rights. It required an arduous struggle to realize human liberation, protect human rights, and achieve political democracy. In July 1922, the Second CPC National Congress decided to launch the Party’s official political journal The Guide Weekly. The foreword of its inaugural issue stated: “How did the so-called ‘modern politics,’ namely democratic politics and constitutional politics, emerge? What is its core value? Frankly and simply, citizens shall enjoy freedoms and rights of speech, assembly, association, the press, and religious belief. Therefore, some call the Constitution a certificate of rights that the State issues to the people. The most important ‘rights’ actually refer to the above-mention freedoms.”41 The CPC hereby clarified that the goal and essence of political struggle is to fulfill such important rights as freedoms of speech, assembly, association, the press, and religious belief, and the Constitution is a necessary constitutional guarantee for achieving this goal. The foreword also pointed out that “the few freedoms are necessities in our lives, rather than dispensable luxuries.” As for the domestic situation of warlords implementing the autocratic rule in the name of republicanism, it called on the people to seize those freedoms through revolution: “We have not only been actually deprived of freedom by warlords, but also been shackled by the security police regulations which were actually formulated for the sake of Yuan Shikai in terms of the law. Therefore, we common people, especially citizens around the nation, must have the determination to sacrifice our lives for those necessary freedoms.”42 The organizational form for achieving political democracy is to convene the “national assembly” that represents the interests of all social classes. If the political slogan remained “empty instigation” in the early days after the establishment of the CPC, the Party’s political propositions had become very clear in the middle and late periods of the Great Revolution.
 
In this period, CPC leaders clearly voiced opposition against the anarchist thoughts prevalent in society at that time, gained a clear understanding of the importance of legislation, and held that law should be the fundamental rule for social unity. Since it realized the extreme importance of fighting for political rights, the CPC considered it the most important human right, which should be seized through struggle. The Party also gained a clear understanding of the actual conditions of the Chinese revolution: on the one hand, the social conditions for political right needed to mature through revolution; on the other hand, political freedom should not slide into anarchism, and only through respecting public desire could we provide effective organizational force for revolution and truly protect human rights.
 
B. Protecting laborers’ rights
 
Since its establishment, the CPC has made striving for the interests of the proletariat its mission, and has firmly relied on the working class, called on workers to set up trade unions and carry out the worker movement to realize the fights of workers. “Our effort to organize trade unions is neither meaningless nor just for making them organizations for entertainment, education, and assistance. Our purpose is to leverage the organized force of the working class to struggle for improving our conditions.”43
 
In August 1922, the China Trade Union Secretariat released the Outline of the Labor Law. The Outline consisted of 19 articles, which stipulated the workers’ rights to assembly, association, strike, participate in enterprise management, etc., called on implementing the 8-hour workday system, a minimum salary for workers, labor insurance, and protection of female and child workers. The Outline also stipulated that enterprises should not hire child workers, male and female, below the age of 16, arrange workers below the age of 18 to do jobs that require heavy labor and undermine health, force workers to work longer than their stipulated working hours, or arrange female workers or male worker below the age of 18 to work at night, etc.44
 
Under the rule of the Beiyang government, the political status of workers was extremely low. They hadn’t freedom of association, strike, assembly, speech, the press, etc. The CPC proposed fighting for the freedom to establish trade unions as well as the appeal for other rights and interests such as the standard of a minimum salary, maximum working hours, and other social rights. In May 1925, the Party put forward in the Resolution on Economic Struggle that the State should stipulate the minimum salary standards based on the living conditions of different places and implement the 8-hour workday system, noting that “the maximal capacity of each worker is to work no more than eight hours a day, and the number may decrease but shall never increase. For instance, underground miners shall not work for more than six hours a day, and stokers on trains shall not work for more than four hours a day.”45
 
In February 1923, under the leadership of the China Trade Union Secretariat, the world-shocking Beijing-Hankou Railway Workers Strike (also known as the February 7th Strike) broke out. Although the strike ended up with a failure, it made Chinese Communists realize that “we feel more deeply that freedom is our second life since the February 7th Strike. Without freedom, we would not establish and develop trade unions; without trade unions, we would not obtain and defend our economic interests. Therefore, freedom is urgently needed and indispensable for the working class, which is as crucial as food, fire, and water.”46 The Party continued to lead the worker movement and made tireless efforts to realize the freedom of establishing trade unions, the freedom of assembly and speech, and the freedom of allied strike. As the vanguard of the proletariat, the CPC is committed to striving for the interests of the working class. “The work of the CPC should permanently focus on safeguarding the interests of the working class, and reform the organization of the whole society by means of revolution… A major task of the CPC is to organize workers and guide them to firmly strive to improve their living conditions, increase their incomes, implement the 8-hour workday system, and achieve absolute, unlimited freedom to form workers’ organizations and the trade unions of the working class, unrestricted right to strike, and oppose and eliminate the slavery of workers without any power and rights.”47
 
C. Fighting for peasants’ rights
 
The CPC clearly realized that “the peasant issue occupies an important position in the world revolution led by the proletariat, especially in national revolutionary campaigns in the East.”48 Chinese peasants had long “suffered the combined suppression from imperialism, warlords, landlords, corrupt officials, despotic gentry and military marauders,”49 which was severely unmatched to their huge population.
 
Essentially, the process of the CPC mobilizing peasants to carry out political struggle was a process of advancing political enlightenment for peasants as well as a process of awakening the people to pursue their rights. On the one hand, through clarifying the social statuses, interests, and needs of various social classes, the Party inspired peasants’ passion and consciousness for revolution. In An Analysis of the Social Classes in China, Mao Zedong pointed out that “the owner-peasants belong to the petty bourgeoisie, the semi-owner peasants and the poor peasants belong to the semi-proletariat, and laborers hired by the year, the month or the day belong to the rural proletariat” and “they are our closest friends who can become revolutionary forces.”50 The CPC proposed uniting the middle peasants, tenant peasants, poor peasants, and hired peasants to oppose large landlords in the revolutionary struggle, and particular attention was given to preventing the middle peasants from becoming allies of large landlords and safeguarding the special interests of the poor peasants and the hired peasants. The slogan that the CPC put forward for the peasant movement at that time was: “All peasants unite to fight against corrupt officials and despotic gentry and oppose exorbitant taxes and levies imposed by the warlord-controlled government.” In July 1926, the Party clearly put forth the economic and political demands of the peasant movement in the Resolution on the Peasant Movement. In terms of economics, it required limits on the maximum land rental, restricted exploitation through usury, opposed pre-collection of taxes in the forms of cash and grain and other levies, proposed collection of grain at the market price, unification of measurements, and a ban on hoarding and profiteering. In terms of politics, it required the freedom of assembly and association for peasants, the election of county magistrates by the people, villager-elected rural autonomous bodies and other public organizations, disclosure of local fiscal information, opposition against civil corps executing juridical power such as arrestment and judgment, and ban on seeking brides;51 In terms of organizational form, the CPC actively mobilized peasants to establish their own organizations such as peasant associations and make them the most important organizational form for the peasant movement.
 
The land problem held the key to the peasant movement, which was also the fundamental field in which the CPC united and led the peasant class in the revolutionary struggle. In 1927, when discussing questions such as “the peasant regime” and “the importance of solving the land problem” at the first enlarged meeting of the Land Affair Commission of the Kuomintang Central Committee, Mao Zedong pointed out that solving the land problem could produce three important outcomes: first, it could liberate peasants and eradicate the exploitation and oppression by landlords and all other oppressing classes; second, it could enhance the productivity of the economically backward country; third, it could strengthen the forces to safeguard the revolution, and solving the land problem was helpful to solve the financial problem and the military problem. Moreover, solving the land problem was conducive to abolishing feudalism, advancing China’s industrial development, and accelerating the country’s cultural progress.52 Thus, it is safe to say that “the main task of the revolution for now is to promptly solve the land problem. The prompt settlement of the land problem (namely, land reform) is necessary for consolidating the revolutionary alliance of the workers, peasants and petty bourgeoisie.”53
 
During the nationalist revolution period, the CPC’s basic stance on the land problem was: “State ownership of land and equalization of land rights.” The Fifth CPC National Congress in 1927 pointed out that the State must “completely redistribute the land in the principle of equal sharing of land rights, and only by doing so can it solve the land problem and gradually achieve State ownership of land.”54
 
The congress put forth specific measures to solve the peasant problem: first, the State should confiscate all public land as well as land formerly owned by ancestral temples, schools, temples, churches, and agricultural companies and land rented by landlords to peasants, and distribute them to peasants, with all land under the management of the land committee; second, peasants who rent confiscated land from the State should be free of any miscellaneous levies except for the land tax that would grow alongside the increase in the area of rented land, and the rental rate of nonconfiscated land should be reduced to the level equal to the cumulative land tax. In addition, peasants who rent non-confiscated land should be free of all levies except for pre-designated land rental, and enjoy the right to rent the land permanently; third, the State should cancel all political privileges and government power formerly enjoyed by the landlords and gentry, and set up peasants’ rural autonomous governments subject to villager councils comprised of all oppressed classes in rural areas. Moreover, congress made claims such as forming the peasant self-defense army, establishing a national agricultural bank and peasant cooperatives, and abolishing high-interest debts.
 
In the late nationalist revolution period, the CPC gradually realized the importance of the rural revolution and pointed out that “the Chinese revolution has entered a new stage with the rural revolution as the center.” At the same time, it noted that particular emphasis should be laid on seizing peasants’ power and establishing peasants’ government throughout the rural revolution: “The rural revolution is undoubtedly the central issue in the peasant movement, but it is a process, in which the key characteristic of the current period is the struggle for peasants’ government.”55
 
D. Equal rights for men and women
 
Achieving equality between men and women, protecting women’s rights, and fighting for the interests of all women under oppression have been a revolutionary goal of the CPC since the day of its establishment. Moreover, the Party considered the liberation of women an integral part of the proletarian revolution. Before the proletariat seized State power, the CPC described the goal for the liberation of women as helping women obtain the right to vote in the general election and all other political rights and freedoms, protecting the interests of female and child workers, and breaking the shackles of all feudal codes and ethics of the old society.56 The CPC also held that the “liberation of women should proceed alongside the liberation of laborers”57 and thus called on women to participate in the proletarian revolution and eliminate the private ownership of properties, so as to achieve the goal of complete liberation. “We are fully aware that the slavery of women in modern times is the result of private ownership. Women will not be completely liberated unless the private ownership is abolished. The laborer liberation movement is processing toward the abolition of the private ownership, so the liberation of women is closely connected with the liberation of laborers.”58
 
In the process of leading the women’s liberation movement, the CPC put forward a series of guiding principles. For instance, the goal for women’s liberation set in the “Resolution on the Women’s Liberation Movement” adopted at the Second CPC National Congress in July 1922 was to “help women obtain the right to vote in the general election and other political rights and freedoms, protect the interests of female and child workers,” etc. In the Resolution on the Women’s Liberation Movement adopted in June 1923, the Party put forth slogans such as “Eradicate feudal codes and ethics enslaving women,” “Equal right to education for men and women,” “Vocational equality for men and women,” “Women shall enjoy the right to inheritance,” “Freedom in marriage and divorce,” “Equal pay for men and women,” “Protect the mothers” and “Help working women.”59
 
The Party’s Resolution on the Women’s Liberation Movement adopted in January 1925 retained the above-mentioned slogans and added the claim that “women shall have the right to participate in State governance.”60 On May 1, 1927, the Fifth CPC National Congress issued a public letter commemorating May Day, which reiterated the eight-hour day movement and called for “formulating and enacting the Labor Law as quickly as possible and participating in the supervision on the implementation of relevant stipulations of the Labor Law, such as working hours, workplace sanitation, minimum salary, and protection of female and child workers.” In addition, it made “Protect female and child workers” the slogan for that year’s May Day campaign.61
 
Ⅵ. Conclusion
 
Within the six years from the founding of the CPC to the failure of the Great Revolution, the CPC convened five national congresses, with the number of its members expanding from about 50 to nearly 58,000. Moreover, the Party accumulated a huge public base. After the failure of the Great Revolution, the CPC, which remained in its infancy at that time, encountered the severest challenge since its establishment. Starting in August 1927, the CPC led the Chinese Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army and the Chinese people to carry on the revolutionary struggle to oppose the counterrevolutionary rule of the Chiang Kai-shek clique of the Kuomintang, eradicate the feudal land system, and establish the workers’ and peasants’ democratic regime.
 
From June to July 1928, the Sixth CPC National Congress was held in Moscow. Congress passed a series of resolutions and designated “winning the support of the masses” as the primary task of the Party. From then on, Chinese Communists represented by Mao Zedong gradually shifted the focus of the Party’s work from cities to rural areas. They built revolutionary bases, carried out the land reform, and established revolutionary armed forces and workers’ and peasants’ regimes in the countryside, blazing a new path of encircling cities from rural areas and seizing the power by armed forces. The opening of the Sixth CPC National Congress in June 1928 marked that the development of the CPC’s human rights theory and practice entered a new stage.
 
(Translated by LI Haile)
 
* HAN Dayuan ( 韩大元 ), Professor at the Law School of Renmin University of China, and Director of the Human Rights Center, Renmin University of China. This paper is a phased result of the key research project “History of Chinese Human Rights Thoughts” (20XNLG02) undertaken by Renmin University of China.
 
1. Han Dayuan, Research on History of Chinese Constitution Theories (second half) (Beijing: China Renmin University Press, 2012), 549.
 
2. Ibid., 550.
 
3. Xi Jinping, “Congratulatory letter for the 2015 Beijing Forum on Human Rights”, Xinhuanet.com, September 16, 2015, accessed July 10, 2021. http://www.xinhuanet.com/politics/2015-09/16/c_1116583281.htm.
 
4. Xi Jinping, “Speech at the conference to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx”, People’s Daily, May 4, 2018.
 
5. Mao Zedong, Early Works of Mao Zedong (June 1912-November 1920) (Hunan: Hunan People’s Publishing House, 2008), 59.
 
6. Mao Zedong, Early Works of Mao Zedong (June 1912-November 1920) (Hunan: Hunan People’s Publishing House, 2008), 377.
 
7. Ibid., 378.
 
8. Ibid.
 
9. Ibid., 391.
 
10. Mao Zedong, Annals of Mao Zedong (1893-1949), vol.1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, third edition, 2013), 81.
 
11. Mao Zedong, Early Works of Mao Zedong (June 1912-November 1920) (Hunan: Hunan People’s Publishing House, 2008), 467.
 
12. Mao Zedong, Annals of Mao Zedong (1893-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, third edition, 2013), 81.
 
13. Xu Xianming, Tracing the Origin of People’s Constitutionalism (Shandong: Shandong University Press, 1999), 6.
 
14. Mao Zedong, Collected Works of Mao Zedong, vol. 1 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1993), 8.
 
15. No.1 issue of the first volume of The Youth Magazine (September 15, 1915).
 
16. Chen Duxiu, “The Differences of Fundamental Thoughts of Eastern and Western Nations”, The Youth Magazine 1 (1915).
 
17. Chen Duxiu, “To the Youth with Respect”, The Youth Magazine 1 (1915).
 
18. Chen Duxiu, “To the Youth with Respect”, The Youth Magazine 1 (1915).
 
19. Li Dazhao, The Complete Works of Li Dazhao, vol. 4 (Hebei : Hebei Education Publishing House, 1999), 16.
 
20. Ibid., 134.
 
21. Li Dazhao, The Complete Works of Li Dazhao, vol. 3 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2013), 326.
 
22. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 396.
 
23. Mao Zedong, Selected Works of Mao Zedong, vol.4 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 1991), 1471.
 
24. Li Dazhao, “Further Research on Problems and Isms”, The Pacific 1 (1919): 14.
 
25. Han Dayuan, “The Spread of the Soviet Constitution in China and Its Implications in Contemporary Times”, Chinese Journal of Law 5 (2018): 198.
 
26. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 1.
 
27. Ibid., 6.
 
28. Ibid., 14.
 
29. Ibid., 133-134.
 
30. Ibid.
 
31. Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee and the State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China, Selected Archives and Documents of the Second National Congress of the Communist Party of China, (Beijing: Party History Press, 2014), 12 and 19.
 
32. Ibid., 88.
 
33. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 133.
 
34. Wu Zhongxi, History of China’s Human Rights Thoughts (Shanghai: Xuelin Publishing House, 2004), 147.
 
35. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 253-254.
 
36. Chen Duxiu, Collected Works of Chen Duxiu, vol.2 (Beijing: People’s Publishing House, 2013), 394.
 
37. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 2 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 170.
 
38. Xiao Zhoulu, Zhu Ziliang and Wang Yan, Collection of Materials on the Party’s Human Rights Theory and Practice during the Democratic Revolution Period (Xi’an: Northwestern Polytechnical University Press,1992), 12.
 
39. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 112 and 115.
 
40. Ibid., 332-333.
 
41. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 179.
 
42. Ibid., 180.
 
43. Ibid., 66.
 
44. Party History Research Center of the CPC Central Committee and the State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China, Selected Archives and Documents of the Second National Congress of the Communist Party of China, (Beijing: Party History Press, 2014), 88.
 
45. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 2 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 355.
 
46. Ibid., 342.
 
47. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 4 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 418. This document was adopted at an emergency meeting of the CPC Central Committee (August 7th Meeting).
 
48. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 2 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 239.
 
49. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 3 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 144.
 
50. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 2 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 602-608.
 
51. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 3 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 300-301.
 
52. Ibid., 168.
 
53. Ibid., 183.
 
54. Ibid., 191.
 
55. Ibid., 317.
 
56. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 161.
 
57. Ibid.
 
58. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 2 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 250.
 
59. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 1 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 266.
 
60. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 2 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 253.
 
61. The State Archives Administration of the People’s Republic of China and Literature Research Office of the CPC Central Committee, Selected Significant Works since the Founding of the CPC (1921-1949), vol. 3 (Beijing: Central Party Literature Press, 2011), 225 -226 and 227.
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