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Wang Ming

Wang Ming

Wang Ming (1904-1974) was the leader of the "Internationalist" group within the Chinese Communist Party that opposed Mao Tse-Tung's (Zedong's) nationalist "deviation" and favored, instead, disciplined compliance with each shift in the Comintern line. As such, Wang emerged as a major rival of Mao in the 1930s.

Wang Ming, the pseudonym by which Chen Shaoyu was commonly known, was born in Anwei province in Central China in 1904. Influenced by socialist ideas during his middle school years in Wuhan, in 1925 Wang entered Shanghai University where he became involved in the anti-imperialist agitation then shaking Shanghai. In November 1925 Wang was sent to Moscow by the newly founded Chinese Communist Party (CCP) for a two year course of study at Sun Yat-sen University, a school designed to train future Chinese cadre. In Moscow Wang rapidly mastered the Russian language and Marxist-Leninist theory, joined the CCP, and emerged as the leader of the foreign students at Sun Yat-sen University.

Wang formed close ties with a number of other Chinese students in Moscow, ties which were an important source of strength in his subsequent contest with Mao. He also became the star protegé of Pavel Mif, one of the Soviet Union's leading sinologists and rector of Sun Yat-sen University. From 1927 to 1929 Wang served as a Comintern functionary, acting as Russian language interpreter at the CCP's fifth and sixth congresses in 1927 and 1928 and assisting the Comintern's representative Borodin in Wuhan in 1927.

In 1930 Wang Ming led a small group of Chinese students from Moscow back to China, where they challenged the leadership of CCP head Li Lisan. Wang's "Returned Students" or "28 Bolsheviks" charged that Li's "political errors" were responsible for the setbacks the CCP had recently suffered in implementing the Comintern's directives. Although Li had in fact faithfully implemented Moscow's orders, he was made a scapegoat for the failures resulting from those orders, and in January 1931 he was ousted as leader of the CCP. Li's removal involved the direct intervention of Pavel Mif, who was then Comintern representative to China. Wang Ming's group took over leadership of the CCP from Li; a number of "Returned Students" were made Politburo members, and Wang became secretary general. In 1932 Wang returned to Moscow to serve as CCP representative to the Comintern, leaving his Returned Student followers Zhang Wentien, Qin Bangxian, and Shen Zemin in control of the CCP's central organs.

From 1931 through 1934 Wang Ming's group struggled to take over control of the peasant armies and rural base areas Mao Tse-Tung and Zhu De had built up in Jiangxi province. Years later, in 1945, the orthodox CCP interpretation of this period characterized it as "the third left deviation" and charged that Wang and his group wanted to use the Red Army to seize major cities so that the urban proletariat could be mobilized for the revolution, in line with Soviet teachings. From Moscow Wang wrote many articles applying the Comintern's line to Chinese circumstances. In 1933 Wang was elected to the Comintern's Central Executive Committee (CEC).

Comintern policy shifted as Stalin began to realize the threat posed to the U.S.S.R. by Nazi rule of Germany. By 1934-1935 Moscow desired collective security with the capitalist democracies to deal with the two-front threat posed by Nazi Germany and Japan. This meant that the attitude of the Comintern's "branch parties" toward the rulers of those capitalist democracies would have to be moderated. Wang Ming played a major role in interpreting and applying to China Moscow's new line of an "antifascist united front." He drafted the "August First Manifesto" of 1935 which set the CCP on a course of an anti-Japanese united front with Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist Party (or KMT) against Japan, thus dropping the previous line of revolutionary civil war to overthrow Chiang and the KMT. The Seventh Comintern Congress, which reoriented the Comintern toward the "anti-fascist united front," also elected Wang a member of the Presidium of the Comintern's CEC—a higher Comintern post than was held by any other member of the CCP.

During the Long March Mao won over key members of Wang's Internationalist faction and used the opportunity of severance of radio contact with Moscow to push aside Wang's people and have himself elected leader of the CCP at an expanded Politburo conference at Sunyi, Kueizhou province, in January 1935. Once the Long March was over and the CCP was ensconsed in Northern Shaanxi, Wang Ming attempted to use the Comintern's new united front line to undermine Mao's newly established leadership. From mid-1935 through the fall of 1938 there were important differences between Wang and Mao over the terms of the CCP-KMT united front.

These differences became acute once the Sino-Japanese war began in July 1937. The specific points in dispute were many and complex, but, in sum, Wang argued that the CCP should subordinate itself to the KMT for the sake of keeping the KMT in the war against Japan, to ensure a pro-Soviet foreign policy on the part of Chiang Kai-shek, and to facilitate collective security between the U.S.S.R. and Britain, France, and the United States. Mao, on the other hand, saw the destruction of KMT power in vast areas of north and central China as an unprecedented opportunity to expand Communist power and was unwilling to forgo this opportunity for the sake of Moscow's interests. At a critical juncture of the Sino-Japanese war in late November 1937, Wang Ming returned to China to try to force Mao to alter his radical line. After a year of complex maneuvering, Mao and Stalin finally reached a compromise. One aspect of this compromise was Comintern endorsement of Mao's leadership of the CCP and the demotion of Wang Ming at the Sixth Plenum of the CCP's Sixth Central Committee in the fall of 1938.

After 1938 Wang Ming never again posed a serious challenge to Mao, although he did continue to dispute Mao's policies. Wang's influence was progressively reduced after the fall of 1938 and became negligible after the 1942-1943 rectification campaign in the CCP against "foreign dogmatism" and "foreign formalism"— euphemisms for Wang's penchant for Soviet Marxism.

Wang held relatively unimportant posts through the 1940s and into the mid-1950s. As late as 1956 he was elected to the CCP's Central Committee, but he was listed last of the 97 Central Committee members. Wang returned to the Soviet Union in 1956, with the permission of the CCP and for reasons of "health." During the Cultural Revolution Wang was an active propagandist for Moscow, making Chinese language broadcasts to China and writing several books and articles condemning Mao's rule. He died after an illness in Moscow on March 27, 1974, at the age of 70.

Further Reading

Wang Ming's life is discussed in the standard biographic dictionaries of China: Donald W. Klein and Anne B. Clark, Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism, 1921-1965 (1971); Howard L. Boorman, Biographic Dictionary of Republican China (1967); and Who's Who in Communist China (Hong Kong, 1969). An unpublished doctoral dissertation discusses Wang's early years in the Soviet Union: Zora A. Brown, The Russification of Wang Ming (Mississippi State University, 1977). Wang's conflict with Li Lisan is discussed in Robert North, Moscow and the Chinese Communists (1953) and Charles B. McLane, Soviet Policy and the Chinese Communists, 1931-1946 (1958). Tetsuya Kataoka discusses the wartime conflict between Wang and Mao in Resistance and Revolution in China (1974). This is also discussed by Gregor Benton in "The 'Second Wang Ming Line' (1935-38)," in China Quarterly (March 1977). □

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