Xiang Zhongfa

Xiang Zhongfa

Infobox_President | name=Xiang Zhongfa

order=2nd General Secretary of the Communist Party of China
predecessor=Chen Duxiu
successor=Li Lisan
death_date=death date|1931|6|24|df=y
party=Chinese Communist Party

Xiang Zhongfa (Chinese: 向忠发) (1880 - June 24, 1931) was one of the early senior leaders of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Early life

Xiang was born in 1880 in Shanghai to a poor family. He dropped out of elementary school to move with his parents to Hubei, where his ancestors lived. When he was 14 years old, he became an apprentice in an arsenal factory in Hanyang, a county of Wuhan. When the factory closed, Xiang had to work for a landlord in Jiangxi as a servant. Three years later, he was recommended by his employer to work for a liner company in Wuhan. He received a quick promotion to Second Mate only 4 months later and became Chief Mate after 2 years. After living several years in hardship, Xiang transferred to a ship of the major liner company, Han Zhiping, and was elected to the labor union of that company for his literacy and activity in worker movements. In 1921, Xiang became the Vice Chairman of Han Zhiping's labor union and joined the CCP.

Rise to power

With the Northern Expedition, the army of KMT took over some parts of Hubei and marched towards Wuhan. To support this action, Xiang and another famous CCP activist, Xu Baihao, mobilized workers for strikes against local warlords and set up the labor union of the Hubei province, greatly assisting the attack of the KMT army. After the CCP headquarters had moved to Wuhan, Xiang was elected member of Central Committee of CCP for his contributions. Xiang was then among the most prominent worker activists with Su Zhaozheng, Wang Hebo and Deng Pei.

The CCP-KMT alliance was facing uncertainty with occasional conflicts arising between these two parties. Xiang expressed his discontent directly, which compared to the compromised attitude of Chen Duxiu who didn't attach importance to worker leaders. The irreconcilable standpoint of Xiang had a great impression on the Comintern, which issued a telegram on July 14, 1927 to denounce the central organs of CCP had indicated signs of opportunism in its compromising policy on relation with KMT and all CCP members should fight against this opportunism, with the basic task of reform "should make leaders of workers and peasants have decisive influence in the CCP.

As a result, in the August 7 Conference of the CCP in 1927 , the CCP fired Chen Duxiu and selected Su and Xiang as interim members of the politburo of the CCP to be consistent with the idea of " [putting] workers into leadership". However, the new leadership of Qu Qiubai and Li Weihan of the CCP after the August 7th Conference was still different from the Comintern's ideal type of leadership for workers, because it was still dominated by intellectuals.

In October 1927, the Comintern asked the CCP to organize a delegation to Moscow to attend the celebration ceremony of 10th anniversary of the October Revolution. While many CCP leaders still took refuge in Guangdong and Hong Kong after the failure of Nanchang Uprising, and Su, Li Weihan were still on their way from Wuhan to Shanghai, with the CCP central organs being disfunction at that time in practice, Xiang was elected to be the director of this delegation in a plain sail.

In October 15, 1927, Xiang and eight other delegates went to the Soviet Union. When they reached Moscow in November, they had a warm welcome from their Russian counterparts. Xiang attended the celebration ceremony and several major conferences of Comintern and communist activities. He also gave talks on radio. His experience and understanding of workers' movements in China earned him prestige in the Comintern. The Eastern Department of the Comintern was happy to have Xiang help them handle Chinese affairs, such as when Xiang stopped a Chinese student protest in Moscow Eastern University.

At the same time, the interim politburo of the CCP had an extended meeting in Shanghai with the new elected Zhou Enlai and Luo Yinong being intellectuals too, and with Wang Hebo being executed by the KMT early before and Su coming to Moscow as delegate to Comintern, there was no representative of worker in this central organ of CCP, which should be a direct violation of Comintern policy.

In January 1928 Xiang wrote two letters to Stalin and Bukharin, denouncing the wrong ways of the CCP. These letters won attention of Stalin and Bukharin for the problem pointed out by Xiang being their concerns. Then in March 1928, Comintern asked the CCP to hold its 6th National Congress in Moscow, which should have reshuffled the leadership of the CCP. With the opening of this congress in June 18th, Xiang was appointed as the chairman of the opening and closing sessions, which implied that his prominence and promotion was at hand. In this congress, Xiang attacked both the leftism of Qu Qiubai and the rightism of Zhang Guotao, which meant he was the only orthodox representative of Chinese revolution. The day before the closing session of this congress, Pavel Mif, the minister of Eastern Department of the Comintern, also known as the president of Moscow Sun Yat-sen University and mentor of 28 Bolsheviks, on behalf of the Comintern brought forward a list of candidates for the Central Committee of the CCP, which consist of 36 members with 22 workers of them, stressing the obedience of Comintern’s policy. Xiang was elected as member of politburo and General Secretary of the CCP in no surprise. This happy ending was a certainty from the beginning, for the 84 delegates attending this congress, 50 of them being proletariats, compared with the last congress two years ago 71 of the whole 82 delegates being intellectuals. So it was no wonder that Zhou Enlai would express his discontent by saying there were a lot of mobs in this 6th National Congress.

Decline and fall in Shanghai

As Xiang was elected as paramount leader of the CCP, it was inappropriate for him to stay in Moscow any longer. So Xiang came back to Shanghai to run daily work of the CCP headquarters in Shanghai with new member of politburo Cai Hesen and alternate member Li Lisan after he handed over his work to new delegates of CCP in Comintern Qu Qiubai, Zhang Guotao, who both were in custody for confession of their wrong routes in fact.

After Xiang officially ran the headquarters of the CCP from Sept 1928, there were some great events under his direction. First, he sacked Cai's membership in politburo for his extremism in the direction of Sunzi Division of the CCP, which resulted in extreme democracy and discontent over the CCP center. Second, Xiang issued the Paper of Central Committee of the CCP to all CCP members, in which he emphasized the incorrect ideas in the revolution should be corrected, and the CCP should fight against danger of bourgeois. Third, Xiang proposed a series reform of CCP organs, such as a merger of labor union with worker committee, propaganda department with peasant committee, and establishment of military committee in politburo; the boldest one was the CCP headquarters taking over the work of Jiangsu Division of the CCP, which was very near Shanghai. But this last proposal was objected to by Zhou Enlai, who won supports from other leaders. Xiang had to give up this proposal at last.

During the reign of Xiang, Li Lisan played an important role gradually. When Xiang sacked Cai, he chose Li to replace Cai, who became one of the only four standing members of the politburo and minister of the Propaganda Department of the CCP in Oct 1928. When the Far East Bureau of the Comintern issued an order for anti-rightism and blaming the CCP for not being active in this way in 1929, Xiang protested against this decision, and he knew Li was an appropriate candidate for doing the communication work because he was eloquent and energetic. Thus, Li took the job of handling conflicts with the Comintern. When Xiang sent Zhou Enlai to Moscow for further explanation, Li took Zhou’s charge in organization too, which gave Li a large enough stage to prove his talent.

When Xiang knew the Comintern’s decision on anti-rightism, he claimed that the Chinese revolution was in the peak period. Li turned this blindness into extremism, which was later known as the Li Lisan line, calling for armed uprising in the cities and extension of revolution to whole country. From June 1930, the Li Lisan line matured under the support from Xiang. The CCP gave up the daily operation from its headquarters to divisions in all provinces, setting up action committee in all provinces , and preparing for the full-scale uprising in October. But the Comintern expressed its discontent by stating that it was working out systemic policies for Chinese revolution, and that the CCP should concentrate on the uprising in one or several provinces instead. Xiang stood by Li to refute that it was zero hour of Chinese revolution. In several rounds of discussion, the tension between Xiang, Li, and the Conintern rose greatly. The suspicion and criticism by the CCP towards the Comintern was the same as betrayal in the eyes of the Comintern.

As a result of the extremism and blindness of the Li Lisan line, the CCP suffered great losses. The Comintern sent Qu Qiubai and Zhou Enlai back to China to enforce its policies. The 28 Bolsheviks sent back by their mentors to take charge of the Chinese revolution took advantage of this opportunity to denounce Li. Xiang and Li still didn’t realize the clear and present danger and criticized these young immature students heavily. Then the Comintern sent a telegram recalling Li to Moscow to account for his policies. Pavel Mif went to Shanghai as an envoy of the Comintern too. Under Mif’s direction, the 4th Plenary Meeting of 6th National Congress of the CCP was held, Li was replaced by Mif’s protégé Wang Ming, and his associates in 28 Bolsheviks took other important jobs. Although Xiang sought to tender his resignation, the Comintern and other senior leaders of the CCP, such as Qu and Zhou, thought Xiang’s symblic value as worker among the CCP leadership might still be helpful to the revolution, so they blocked his resignation.

But Xiang’s role as paramount leader was put to an end with the key work of the CCP changing from cities to Soviet territories in the countryside, which Xiang was unfamiliar with and had no experience at all. Wang Ming, then serving as the leader of the CCP, despised the old CCP members, leading labor activists He Mengxiong (Chinese: 何孟雄 ) and Luo Zhanglong (Chinese: 罗章龙 ) to attempt to set up a rival Party center. Although this effort failed with He and the other 24 members of this group arrested and executed by KMT later, the CCP’s power in Shanghai was greatly weakened. For being a puppet, Xiang lost confidence in revolution and communism. He changed his interest to women and luxurious life. Using the party expense, Xiang lived in villa with his mistress, which brought about great criticisms from CCP members and made Zhou Enlai nervous, for it was tough for Zhou to fulfill his task of ensuring the security of senior leaders.

Xiang’s extravagant life lasted only a short time. With the arrest and defection of one of Zhou’s senior subordinates, Gu Shunzhang(Chinese: 顾顺章), who was the security guard boss of the CCP at that time, in 1931, Gu sold Xiang out. Xiang was arrested on June 21, 1931 in the jewelry store he used as a front in the French Concession in the city of Shanghai. Xiang was captured in the company of his mistress, Yang Xiuzhen, a cabaret dancer at local Shanghai nightclubs. In short order, Xiang revealed all he knew to his KMT captors. However, the KMT knew Xiang was useless to them as a puppet, and as a result Chiang Kai-shek ordered his execution.

Xiang’s role

Being the only General Secretary to defect to and be executed by KMT, Xiang was regarded as a disgrace of CCP history; they tried to erase any memory of him. It was said he had been dead at that time only with his body still alive; he used to be an ambitious and active revolutionist, but the power struggle made him desperate.

During the early stage of the CCP, Xiang was not alone. In the 6th National Congress, the Central Committee elected 22 members from workers, 14 of which defected to the KMT later. It was no surprise that after Xiang’s arrest and execution, another member of politburo Lu Futan (Chinese: 卢福坦), who came from the workers also, expressed his wish to succeed Xiang as General Secretary. The Comintern rejected the proposal and chose students such as Wang Ming and Bo Gu, who studied in the Soviet Union. They were seen as more trustworthy to take the leadership of the CCP, although they had no experience compared to the worker activists.


* "The Documents of Central Committee of CCP"
* "Xiang’s letter to Bukharin"
* Gao Jun."Some issues on the defection of Xiang"
*"The Selected Works of Zhou Enlai"

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