In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section The Chinese Communist Party to 1949

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Resource Guides and Handbooks
  • Archives
  • Documentary Collections
  • Biographies and Biographical Chronologies
  • Selected Works and Ideology
  • Memoirs and Diaries
  • Research Journals
  • Organization
  • The Countryside
  • The Cities
  • The United Fronts and Social Forces
  • The Comintern
  • The Shaan-Gan-Ning Border Region, Yan’an
  • Outside the Revolutionary Center
  • The Chinese Communist Party at War

Chinese Studies The Chinese Communist Party to 1949
Tony Saich, Nancy Hearst
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0013


There is a vast array of materials available to assist in the study of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) before 1949. In China this is aided by the presence of a large number of officially employed researchers at party research centers and related archives. To earn their keep, these researchers have to put out publications. Availability of materials was boosted by the start of reforms in 1978 and preparations for the 1981 official party history. Given that, especially in the early years of reform, when expression of personal opinions could be dangerous, many of the released publications were documentary collections or chronologies. These came in several different varieties, based on either historical periods, particular events, or the lives of key individuals. These materials were complemented by memoirs of key figures who wanted to ensure that their version of history was in the public eye. This makes selection very difficult. Some of the works that follow are a must for students and scholars; others are personal favorites of the compilers and should be treated as exemplary of the types and varieties of sources that are available for the study of the CCP before 1949. More recently, materials from China have allowed researchers to conduct more detailed research on the social and economic transformations wrought by CCP presence and the difficulties the party had in maintaining local support. This has meant that, in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, we have seen fewer monographs that attempt to paint the broader picture of the sweep of the CCP revolution. Instead, there are many fine-grained analyses of particular events or CCP activities in specific locales that reveal the extremely complex and multifaceted nature of the Chinese revolution.

General Overviews

Despite, or perhaps because of, all the materials that have become available more recently, there have been very few general, interpretative histories of the CCP up to 1949. Scholarly work has focused on particular events or on periods of time to enhance our understanding of the revolution. One attempt to bring together perspectives that take into account the materials published in China and the greater accessibility of interviews is Saich and van de Ven 1995. The most comprehensive, analytical account is Chen 2001. A major debate in the scholarship has been the primary reason for CCP victory. Bianco 1971 argues that, although the war with Japan may have been the catalyst for revolution, social problems and the mobilization of the peasantry were critical to CCP success. Saich 1996 asserts that a combination of factors, including the organizational capacity of the CCP, the lack of alternatives, and the acquiescence of key elites, all contributed to the ultimate success of the CCP. Another much debated question has been the extent to which the Comintern influenced the course of the revolution. Dirlik 1989 contends strongly that Comintern influence was crucial in the nascent period for forging a CCP identity. By contrast, van de Ven 1991 highlights the indigenous roots of the Communist movement. Zhongguo gongchandang biannian shi shi bian wei hui 2002 has the best chronology, whereas Zhonggong zhongyang dangshi yanjiushi 2002 gives the most comprehensive official history.

  • Bianco, Lucien. The Origins of the Chinese Revolution, 1915–1949. Translated by Muriel Bell. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1971.

    An important analysis of the revolution, offering a complex explanation that combines the view that resistance to Japan was key to success, with an emphasis on the socioeconomic program of the CCP.

  • Chen Yong-fa 陳永發 (Yung-fa Chen). Zhongguo gongchan geming qishi nian (中國共產革命七十年). 2d ed. 2 vols. Zuijin liangbainian Zhongguo shi (最近兩百年中國史). Taibei: Lianjing chuban shiye gongsi, 2001.

    Volume 1 of this seventy-year history covers the pre-1949 period and gives the most comprehensive recent account of the history of the Chinese Communist revolution. Chen stresses how the CCP was able to build support and develop an effective, victorious military strategy. He shows how the CCP organized local power and the importance of ideological control and reform.

  • Dirlik, Arif. The Origins of Chinese Communism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

    Picking up on and developing earlier accounts that examine the role of the Comintern in the formation and development of the CCP, Dirlik demonstrates how Comintern notions of organization were crucial in forging the disparate elements of the indigenous Communists.

  • Saich, Tony, ed. The Rise to Power of the Chinese Communist Party: Documents and Analysis. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1996.

    This collection offers the most extensive English-language translations of CCP documents covering this period. There are central party documents as well as those from the localities; for example, reports on early party activities in Beijing, Guangdong, and Shanghai and in base areas, such as the E-Yu-Wan Soviet, the Xiang-Exi Soviet, and the Jin-Cha-Ji border region. The volume also has overview essays for each section.

  • Saich, Tony, and Hans J. van de Ven, eds. New Perspectives on the Chinese Communist Revolution. Papers presented at a conference held at Leiden University and the International Institute of Social History, Leiden and Amsterdam, 8–12 January 1990. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1995.

    The articles in this edited volume make use of the more recent sources to provide fresh insights on the Communist revolution. Subjects include gender in party construction, the building of orthodoxy in Yan’an, the Futian Incident, peasant response to mobilization, elite leadership struggles, and trends away from the party center.

  • van de Ven, Hans J. From Friend to Comrade: The Founding of the Chinese Party, 1920–1927. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.

    Van de Ven makes use of the materials that became available in the 1980s to highlight the diversity and indigenous roots of the Communist movement and how they influenced the first decade of the CCP.

  • Zhonggong zhongyang dangshi yanjiushi (中共中央党史硏究室). Zhongguo gongchandang lishi, diyi juan, 1921–1949 (中囯共产党历史, 第一卷, 1921–1949). 2 vols. Beijing: Zhonggong dangshi chubanshe, 2002.

    An indispensable official history of the CCP from 1921 to 1949, published on the occasion of the eightieth anniversary of the party; alerts the reader to many key sources.

  • Zhongguo gongchandang biannian shi bian wei hui 中国共产党编年史编委会. Zhongguo gongchandang biannian shi (中国共产党编年史). 12 vols. Taiyuan, China: Shanxi renmin chubanshe, 2002.

    The first four volumes of this twelve-volume collection focus on the pre-1949 period. This is the most detailed chronology of the CCP available that covers the entire pre-1949 period.

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