The Anarchist Movement in China (from 1922)

Europe’s revolutionary proletariat gets little or no information about developments in the Far East. The only news about the Chinese workers’ movement derives from Bolshevik sources. So it may be of some use to all comrades if a few fragments are transcribed from a letter from comrade Hun-De-Bai, a member of the Peking Students’ Union, a letter written last August [i.e. August 1922] to a comrade in Germany and published in Alarm (Hamburg):

 

Not until 1911 the year of the revolution were Chinese workers roused from their inertia. When the Manchus were toppled from the imperial throne, the proletariat enthusiastically switched to the republican camp of the Guo-Min-Dang,[Kuomintang] abiding by the orders from its leader Dr Sun Yat Sen. Unfortunately, the young Chinese Republic quickly reverted to the despotic rule of the past, except that instead of a single despot, the emperor, there were about fifty mini-despots, the military governors of the different provinces. Right from the outset the anger of Chinese student youth (which had been organised as long ago as 1902 into two major associations, the Chinese Student League and the Peking Student and Scholars’ Union) bridled at their reactionary intrigues. Whereas the CSL, whilst professing to be neutral in political matters, is Nationalist-Republican on the ground and bourgeois- or social democratic, the PSSU organisation has made no bones about being socialist ever since it was established. Its founder, Cai Yuan Pei, on his trips to America, found out about and studied anarchist communism, becoming its supporter and active propagandist in the student ranks. So much so that its XVIth congress in 1918, the Peking Union embraced the social theories of Proudhon, Bakunin and Kropotkin as its principles.

That Union, which has a membership of around 22,000 publishes a daily paper, Sin Aschar (or New Life) and a scientific weekly review. Weak and powerless, the Chinese government not only had to leave these young anarchists to do as they pleased, but was even obliged by the threat of a student strike to recognise the election of Cai Yuan Pei as rector of Peking University.

Not until 1914 was Cai Yuan Pei presented with the opportunity of starting to spread anarchist ideas among the peasantry. Yet in a short time broad swathes of the land-toilers were being drawn in, so much so that these days every hamlet has its own anarchist group. In the countryside the anarchist influence outdid every other school, of thought, be it Bolshevik or Nationalist-Republican.

From 1917 on, the main heartland of the anarchists was Fujian province in southern China. There, the leader of the glorious republican uprising of 1911, Cian Dsiun Ming, had taken power; on the advice of the renowned anarchist propagandist Shi Fu, he had sent out the call to all of China’s influential libertarians to help launch an anarchist commune across the entire province. Autonomous workers’ organisations were set up and workers’ council operated in every provincial town; right now, peasant cooperatives and workers’ unions jointly regulate the whole of production. According to Shi Fu, in a few years’ time the whole of Fujian will have become one huge anarcho-communist federation.

That startling outcome will certainly be chalked up largely to comrade’s Shi Fu’s indefatigable propaganda efforts: with the aid of his friend, ex-general Cian Daiun Ming, he set up in Cian-Ciu (the provincial capital) [Quanzhou] institutes for the propagation of anarchist and syndicalist thought. That organisation set about establishing and funding the annual running costs of a higher school for social studies, and another training propagandists, with the cream of Chinese revolutionaries serving as instructors. At present these cater for the training of 2,000 comrades who then, by means of talks, pamphlets, newspapers and handbills go around spreading the idea of anarcho-communism in all of the vast provinces of China.

It was from the city of Cian Ciu, the anarchist capital of far-off China that the great initiative aimed at boycotting Japan in 1920 emanated and to this day it is creating problems for foreign exploiters, since, in China, most capitalists are foreigners British, American and Japanese and tend to treat the Chinese like slaves deserving only of contempt and these foreigners are little by little laying claim to all of China’s resources. Earning them the hostility of the whole population, regardless of party loyalties. In order to steer and endow such hostile feelings towards a proper purpose, the Fujian anarchists put themselves at the head of a campaign to boycott every foreign industry, the object being to wipe out the whole of the foreign owned capitalist industries.

In some ways that boycott worked a treat: in a number of cities Chinese workers took over the factories belonging to their exploiters and set about running them for themselves; elsewhere, as in, say, Shanghai there were killings of Japanese, attacks on warehouses and street-fighting between the masses and Chinese troops. In Cian Ciu there were mass demonstrations by 100,000-strong crowds ‘with red and black flags and bands playing ‘The Internationale’ and the ‘Anarchist March’, demonstrations at which thousands of leaflets and handbills written by Shi Fu, Cai Yuan Pei and other comrades were distributed. Demonstrating yet again the triumphant power of Bakunin’s “popular socialism”. Comrade Yuan Pai Tsen, until recently a follower of the bourgeois Guo Min Dang, solemnly announced to a delighted crowd that he could not stand in the way of the triumphant progress of anarchist ideas across the country and declared himself ready and determined to fight under Bakunin’s black flag for the freedom and happiness of China. He declared that the only path to that ideal was Bakuninist anarchism; only anti-authoritarian socialism can give the peasant back his land and make him love it, because it hands back to the entire people the land, the factories and the science hitherto monopolised by the few. Yuan Pai Tsen ended his speech with these words: “As a child of the people, I am for relentless class struggle against all home-grown and foreign exploiters. As the people may become equal, just and achieve self-mastery only through anarchist communism, so I am a Bakuninist.”

So even in Nationalist quarters in this country of ours, our ideas are spreading and making headway, especially among the industrial workers. In 1921 anarchists led a strike by 20,000 miners. The strike failed: but one year later, 80,000 coolies went on strike in the Kaylan coal-mining area, and this time they succeeded. And we have a foothold in the port cities: in Canton, upwards of 40,000 people answered our call for a 1st of May demonstration last year. The workers have realised that direct action and revolution are their only salvation.

For the same reason, the bolshevists also have a very large following among the workers, mostly because they work in concert with Dr Sun Yat Sen’s Guo-Min-Dang revolutionary party. The latter is coming to distrust the worker masses, who more readily follow the anarchist movement in Cian Ciu than the bolshevists’ orders from Moscow. We have never been able to have dealings with the Communist Party because we still cannot operate legally.

Our best hope lies in the young. The 25,000 Chinese students who work with us have launched Mutual Aid Youth Leagues nationwide and anarchist propaganda and discussion groups. Up to 100,000 have joined the young workers in the tea and rice industries, students banded together in such leagues. They are the ones who will conjure up the new China.. ”

Comrade Hun De Bai closes his letter with an exhortation to concerted effort and above all suggests the prompt launch of an anarchist youth international, not as a subsidiary of some communist or syndicalist international, but as living and independent witness to the spread of the young anarchist spirit worldwide.

H. Godwin-Grimm

La Antorcha (Argentina) 1 December 1922

[A version From Cultura Obrera [New York], Jan 20, 1923, p. 3. , Translated by Jesse Cohn can be found at https://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/h-godwin-grimm-the-anarchist-movement-in-china-1]

From: La Antorcha (Argentina) 1 December 1922. Translated by: Paul Sharkey.