Talking Politics Guide to ... The Chinese Communist Party

We talk to historian of China Hans van de Ven about the origins of the CCP and its extraordinary rise to power. How has it managed to adapt to the changes of the last forty years and what lessons will be drawn as it approaches its one hundredth birthday?


Talking Points:


The Chinese Communist Party is an incredible success story. A group of students met in Shanghai; 30 years later, they were running a vast country.

  • A lot of luck was involved. If the Japanese hadn’t invaded, they never would have gone anywhere.


The CCP didn’t become a Maoist party until the Second World War.

  • Communist parties are supposed to thrive in cities, but Mao turned his attention to the countryside.
  • Mao was a great tactician of violence. He was heavily influenced by Clausewitz.
  • Mao was also able to draw in both the youth and the intellectuals.


The West tends to see Mao’s death as the decisive shift, but Mao himself allowed new people to come to the fore, including Deng Xiaoping.

  • Tiannamen was an existential threat to the Party, and it extended far beyond Beijing.


The Party is still the dominant institution in Chinese life. Although Chinese life is more pluralistic under market reform, the Party still calls the final shots.

  • China has always been highly commercialized. Viewing reform as “Westernization” may not be the best approach.


A key element of the Chinese political tradition is a direct connection between the highest and the lowest rungs of society. New technology makes this easier. 

  • The leadership is extremely concerned with what people are thinking.


As the 100th anniversary of the Party approaches, the leadership faces a dilemma: taking the history of the Party seriously could threaten its present legitimacy.

  • How do you explain all of the suffering? You can’t just ignore it.



Further Learning:


Recommended Reading: 

Red Flags: Why Xi's China is in Jeopardy, George Magnus (Yale, 2018)

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