In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Marxist Thought in China

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Classical Marxism and Nationalism
  • Chinese Marxism and Nationalism
  • Founding of the CCP to the War with Japan, 1920–1937
  • Formal Doctrinal Statements of the Protagonists
  • War with Japan to Mao Zedong’s Conquest of Power, 1937–1949
  • The Great Leap Forward
  • Great Leap Forward to the Death of Mao, 1961–1976
  • Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1959–1976
  • Rise of Deng Xiaoping, 1970–1985
  • Rule of Deng, 1980–1995
  • Post-Deng Period, 1995–2000
  • Marxism of Post-Deng China
  • Archives

Chinese Studies Marxist Thought in China
A. James Gregor, Susan Xue
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0176


Throughout the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), disagreement has existed concerning the extent to which Chinese Communism might be considered authentically Marxist. In general, most of the available literature tends to simply accept the Chinese Communist self-identification as Marxist. No binding consensus among independent Sinologists, however, is found and resistance has taken on a variety of forms throughout the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—some partisan and some genuinely analytic. The academic literature produced during the entire period of CCP rule in China has been characterized by wide differences in the acceptance of its Marxist authenticity. It has always been tacitly or explicitly accepted that the Marxism of the CCP at its founding in 1920–1921 was in a form acceptable to the Bolshevik rulers of revolutionary Russia. Having been founded directly through the influence of the Third (or Leninist) International, the CCP had to conform to the Bolshevik interpretation of Marxism. Since Lenin had taken “creative” liberties with the original doctrine, some have maintained that the Marxism of the CCP had never been truly Marxist. To add further difficulty to any analysis of the Marxism of the CCP, it is generally understood that Mao Zedong, who gradually assumed the leadership of the CCP, was not particularly well versed in any variant of Marxism. Over the years and under the pressure of circumstances, Mao delivered varied formulations of his revolutionary ideology. How much those formulations accorded with any variant of Marxism became a matter of interpretation. Some scholars hold that by the time of the “Great Leap Forward,” Mao had devised his own ideology. All of this speculation generated controversy within the CCP leadership. By the time of Mao’s demise in 1976, the doctrine of a “second revolution” animated Deng Xiaoping and his followers. It is still a matter of considerable controversy whether that post-Maoist doctrine, in any sense, is Marxist in content or aspiration.

General Overviews

About the time of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), classical Marxism was fairly well formulated. Kautsky 1988 (originally published in 1927) has left a fully articulated version of the Marxism that had been officially accepted by Marxists in Europe during the 1920s. What Chinese theoreticians actually made of those materials is contained in works such as Chen 2009, Hu 1991, Huang 1989–1996, Li 1959, and Qu 2011. Zhang 1991 provides one of the first post-Maoist analyses that attempts to trace the features of Maoism as they evolved. Meisner 1967 remains one of the more insightful treatments of the early Communist Party attempts to formulate a Chinese Marxism. Van de Ven 1991 narrates an account of the development of the CCP under the tutelage of Lenin’s Bolsheviks. Gregor 2014 argues that classical Marxism never constituted a component of Chinese Communist doctrine.

  • Chen Duxiu 陈独秀. Chen Duxiu zhu zuo xuan bian (陈独秀著作选编). Shanghai: Shanghai ren min chu ban she, 2009.

    A collection of writings by a co-founder of the CCP in 1920–1921 and first general secretary of the Communist Party serving from 1921 to 1927.

  • Gregor, A. James. Marxism in the Making of China: A Doctrinal History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

    An argument is advanced that the material from this early period establishes what Marx and Engels understood Marxism meant for China. It is maintained that China never employed traditional Marxism to fashion policies or govern its behavior.

  • Huang Nansen 黄楠森. Makesi zhu yi zhe xue shi (马克思主义哲学史). Beijing: Beijing chu ban she, 1989–1996.

    This edited eight-volume work is a comprehensive study of the history of Marxist philosophy as it was understood throughout the Maoist period.

  • Hu Sheng 胡绳. Zhongguo gong chan dang de qi shi nian (中国共产党的七十年). Beijing: Zhong gong dang shi chu ban she, 1991.

    As one of the prominent Marxist theorists, Hu Sheng participated in drafting some critical documents in the Chinese Communists Party history, including Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China (Hu Sheng, et al. 1981, cited under Rise of Deng Xiaoping, 1970–1985). This work, edited by Hu Sheng, Gong Yuzhi, Jin Chongji, and other scholars, documents the evolution of the CCP doctrine from 1921 to 1991.

  • Kautsky, Karl. The Materialist Conception of History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988.

    DOI: 10.2307/j.ctt22725xj

    This is an orthodox rendering of traditional Marxism and provides a standard against which Chinese “Marxism” can be responsibly measured. Originally published in German as Die materialistische Geschichtsauffassung (Berlin: Dietz, 1927).

  • Li Dazhao 李大钊. Li Dazhao xuan ji (李大钊选集). Beijing: Ren min chu ban she, 1959.

    This collection contains the selected writings of Li Dazhao, intellectual and co-founder of the CCP in 1920–1921. Li influenced the May Fourth Movement that marked the origins of Chinese communism. He saw the Bolshevik movement in the Soviet Union as a model for China.

  • Meisner, Maurice. Li Ta-chao and the Origins of Chinese Marxism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967.

    DOI: 10.4159/harvard.9780674180819

    One of the better treatments of the thought of Li Dazhao, one of the most important of the founders of Marxist thought in China.

  • Qu Qiubai 瞿秋白. Qu Qiubai zuo pin quan ji (瞿秋白作品全集). Heilongjiang, China: Haerbin chu ban she, 2011.

    The collected works of Qu Qiubai, a Communist Party leader in China in the late 1920s who had considerable intellectual influence.

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

    The volume is a responsible treatment of a particularly complex period of China’s doctrinal history.

  • Zhang, Jingru 张静如. Zhongguo gong chan dang si xiang shi (中国共产党思想史). Qingdao, China: Qingdao chu ban she, 1991.

    Among the many works on the doctrine and history of the Chinese Communist Party, this work distinguishes itself by arguing that CCP doctrine includes three parts: (1) Mao Zedong’s thought—the core part of party doctrine; (2) alternative, unformed notions; and (3) incorrect “left” and “right” interpretations that have been the source of political error.

  • Zhongguo gong chan dang li ci dang zhang hui bian bian wei hui中国共产党历次党章汇编编委会. Zhongguo gong chan dang li ci dang zhang hui bian, 1921–2002 (中国共产党历次党章汇编 1921–2002). Beijing: Zhongguo fang zheng chu ban she, 2006.

    This collection includes the CCP Constitution and revisions made at all the Central Committee conferences. The revisions of the Constitution reflect the evolution of Marxism in China as well as changes in Chinese Communist Party doctrine.

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