Military Review

"Heart" of Chinese anarchists. How revolutionary ideas penetrated into the Middle Kingdom

The beginning of the twentieth century was a time of rapid spread of European revolutionary and socialist ideas in the countries of the Far East, primarily in Japan and China, and to a lesser extent in Korea. Following the development of close economic ties with the countries of the West and the Russian Empire, East Asia began to experience the influence of European culture, philosophy, and political ideology. The most widespread in Japan and China received various modifications of socialism and anarchism. Interestingly, anarchism has become particularly popular among Japanese and Chinese intellectuals. This was due to a certain consonance of European anarchist ideas in certain areas of traditional Chinese philosophy. As is known, Confucianism and Taoism coexisted in the Chinese cultural tradition. And if Confucianism was focused on strengthening the state and the power vertical, then Taoism was a proto-anarchist philosophy, which highlighted the "natural law" of Tao. The power of the state and the rulers seemed to the Taoists as an artificial overlap that impedes "natural law." Unlike Confucianists, whose ideal was a scholar - an official, the Taoists who propagandized renunciation of earthly blessings, painted other images to follow - monks, hermits, impoverished wanderers, even robbers. In the Middle Ages, Taoist sects often became the epicenters of popular peasant uprisings. So, Chinese anarchists of the beginning of the twentieth century could justifiably assert the presence of predecessors of their ideas in the Chinese philosophical and cultural tradition itself.

The spread of European anarchism in China began in the early years of the twentieth century — thanks to the penetration of the first anarchist literature from Japan. Japan, which was already fully modernized and had close ties with the West, was more advanced than China in terms of mastering European political ideas. The spread of radical ideas in Chinese society contributed to the systemic political crisis of the Manchu Qing Empire. The first circles of Chinese anarchists appeared in exile — among Chinese youth who studied in Japan and in France. By the way, France became the second country through which anarchist ideas were spread in China. Here at the beginning of the twentieth century. There were several hundred Chinese students who had the opportunity to learn about the activities of anarcho-syndicalists represented in the General Confederation of Labor of France. The Paris Anarchist Circle was headed by Li Shitzen (1881-1973) - a former attache of the Chinese Embassy, ​​who, on arrival in France, departed from the diplomatic field and engaged in biology.

Chinese anarchist circles in France and Japan published their own newspapers and magazines in which they promoted their social utopia. At the same time, a lot of space was given to the issues of the struggle for women's rights, the promotion of humanism, vegetarianism. At the same time, in France, in contrast to Japan, circles of Chinese anarchists sought to demonstrate a rejection of the Chinese cultural tradition proper and emphasized their orientation towards modern Western science and philosophy. Gradually, anarchist ideology penetrates into China itself, where underground groups are organized. Some of them aim at the physical destruction of the Manchu officials. Thus, anarchism merges with the practice of "secret societies" traditional for China.

In 1912, the Xinhai Revolution took place, overthrowing the rule of the Manchu dynasty. Numerous radical groups operating in China faced the question of how to build up their activities further and which goals to set for themselves. A rather active underground organization at that time operated in Guangdong, the southern province of China, and was called the Society of Guangzhou Chinese Terrorists. Before the Xinhai Revolution, society set itself the goal of fighting the Qing dynasty through attacks on Manchu officials. After the overthrow of the emperor, many members of this underground organization thought about the prospects for the further development of China, which they associated with the social revolution.

Among the Guangdong anarchists, Liu Shifu (1884-1915) gained the greatest fame. A native of the province of Guangdong, he came from a rich family and from his youth he had a great academic success. Suffice to say that Liu Shifu received his initial bureaucratic degree in 15 years, and in 20 years - in 1904 - went to study in Japan, like many of his peers from Chinese wealthy families. In Japan, by all appearances, Liu Shifu became acquainted with revolutionary ideas. In 1905, he became a member of the United Union - a national liberation organization that opposed the Manchu dynasty. In 1906, returning from Japan, Liu Shifu settled in Xiangang (Hong Kong), where he lived until 1907. In 1907, returning to Guangdong, Liu participated in the preparation of the assassination of one of the high-ranking Manchu military officials - the commander fleet Lee Zhong. But when the terrorists carried the bomb, an explosion occurred. It was Liu Shifu who was carrying the bomb - with an explosion all fingers on his left hand were torn off. Naturally, the explosion caught the attention of the police. Liu Shifu was arrested. Until 1909, he was imprisoned until a group of officials who respected his literary talent stood up for Liu. Liu was released and went to Xiangang again. In Xiangang, he created the "Guangzhou Chinese Terrorist Society." The fighters of society killed the Manchu general Fengshan. It was during this period that Liu Shifu met with anarchist ideas that attract his attention.

In 1912, Mr. Liu Shifu and several of his associates in the Guangzhou Chinese Terrorism Society announced the creation of a new organization. She received the name "Xin She" - "Heart." The ideology of this secret society was influenced by traditional Chinese philosophy. According to Liu Shifu and his associates, it was possible to achieve social transformations through the development of a person’s moral and ethical qualities. Even a specific “moral code” of the “Heart” comrades was developed, combining anarchist principles with traditional Taoist and Buddhist ones: 1) do not eat meat, 2) do not drink alcohol, 3) do not smoke, 4) do not have servants, 5) do not marry , 6) not to use a surname, 7) not to enter the civil service, 8) not to serve in the army and navy, 9) not to move on rickshaws and palanquins, 10) not to join political parties, 11) not to participate in parliamentary activities, 12) do not practice any religion.

"Heart" of Chinese anarchists. How revolutionary ideas penetrated into the Middle Kingdom
- Guangzhou early twentieth century

Society "Heart" in the modern sense was not a political organization, because it did not even have a program and charter, not to mention a formal organizational structure. In the early stages of its existence, the “Heart” rather resembled a Buddhist or Taoist community. The “Heart” comrades spent time talking about self-improvement. However, gradually, getting acquainted with the literature and critically evaluating the political situation in China, society became politicized. In August, 1913 “Heart” began publishing its own organ - a magazine with the strange name “Pre-dawn rooster crowing”. As the members of the society themselves explained the meaning of the name of their organ, if the rooster shouts without ceasing, the time of social change will come closer. However, the 7 of September 1913 of Guangzhou was already occupied by the troops of Yuan Shikai.

The magazine “Predawn of the Rooster” was banned. Fearing arrest and punishment, Liu Shifu and his associates fled to nearby Macao, where they published two issues of the magazine "Minh Sheng" - "Voice of the People". But soon the Macao authorities expelled them from the city under pressure from the Guangdong administration. Liu Shifu moved to Japan, where 1914 resumed publication in April. But he didn’t have peace in the new place - the Japanese police constantly harassed Chinese political immigrants. In the summer of 1914, Mr. Liu Shifu was forced to leave Japan. He settled in Shanghai - on the territory of the French concession, where he again continued to issue the journal. By this time, the magazine had openly positioned itself as an anarcho-communist publication. Around him was the unification of like-minded people from other cities of China.

In September, 1914, the editors of the Voice of the People magazine, headed by Liu Shifu, created a new organization called the Shanghai Anarchist Communists Fellowship. It proclaimed its goal to build a free communist society in which private ownership of the means of production and exploitation would be destroyed. In fact, the Shanghai partnership has become the ideological center of Chinese anarchism. By the way, the Voice of the People magazine, published in Shanghai, was distributed not only in China itself, but also among Chinese diasporas in Japan, the USA, Canada, France, Great Britain, Ecuador and many other countries. The publication of the works of Peter Kropotkin, the leading ideologue of anarcho-communism, began in the journal. There was also a reorientation of the group of Liu Shifu from traditional Chinese philosophy to modern European science. To substantiate his political doctrine, the group Liu Shifu sought to rely on biology, using Kropotkin's concept of mutual aid in nature. According to the publishers of the Voice of the People magazine, in an ideal society, freely organized groups will become the only form of organization of people, while all modern institutions - the state, the army, the court, the police, the penitentiary system - will be eliminated.

The partnership linked the construction of a free communist society exclusively with the social revolution, however, it stressed the need for a ripening revolution in society and abandoned the desire to bring it closer by “volitional actions”. Shanghai anarchists reasoned in categories of class struggle, dividing society into two classes - “working people” and “rich”. The former included peasants, workers, artisans, servants, as well as intellectuals who did not possess property, and the latter included officials, landowners, entrepreneurs, industrialists, and political figures. Considering working people as the driving force of revolutionary transformations, supporters of Liu Shifu, at the same time, were not in a hurry to identify the revolution with a simple uprising, insurrection or military coup, but linked it with the development of self-consciousness of the popular masses.

Shanghai anarchists criticized Sun Yat-sen (in the photo) and his understanding of the development of Chinese society. According to Liu Shifu, the stateization of the economy propagated by Sun Yat-sen could not lead to the socialist reorganization of Chinese society, just as the second measure proposed by Sun Yat-sen is the land tax. On the other hand, unlike the Kuomintang people, the anarchists did not have a program of real economic transformation of Chinese society, their plans to improve public life were more speculative than practical.

Influenced by Chinese anarchists who returned from France and fell under the influence of anarcho-syndicalist theories, Liu Shifu began to consider syndicalist activities as the most important practice of anarchism, and therefore called for the creation of trade unions and educational work among workers. The working class enlightenment, Liu Shifu, connected with the organization of schools for workers and peasants, including women workers, and the education in these schools should have been organized in a generally accessible "national language" understandable to ordinary people. In eliminating the illiteracy of the working population, Liu Shifu saw one of the main foundations of the subsequent social changes. Influenced by the ideas of Liu Shifu, real “going to the people” began among the intelligent youth of Guangdong. Many young people went to the workers' districts to teach ordinary people literacy and instill in them a basic knowledge of self-organization and the protection of their economic interests. On the Shanghai-Sichuan Railway, sympathetic to anarchists, Su Ainan created a free school for working men and women.

Anarcho-syndicalist trade unions appeared in Guangdong. The propaganda of the Shanghai partnership had even more serious influence on the ethnic Chinese who worked or studied in Southeast Asia - Burma, the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), Malacca, Singapore, where anarchist circles with their own publications and syndicalist trade unions also began to appear. Another important activity of Chinese anarchists, followers of Liu Shifu, was the popularization of the international language Esperanto in China and the countries of Southeast Asia. It was precisely comrades Liu Shifu that established groups to study Esperanto in Shanghai, Xiangang, Guangzhou, and some other cities. Esperanto was considered by Chinese anarchists as a very necessary tool for uniting the working people of all countries of the world, which is why so much attention was paid to the study of the "international language" in China (and in Japan, by the way, too).

After Liu Shifu died of tuberculosis in 1915, just at the age of 31, many supporters continued his work, preventing the relay started by the Guangdong thinker and revolutionary from stalling. The ideas of the Chinese anarchists had a significant influence on the whole course of the subsequent political stories Of china. In many ways, precisely because of the anarchist groups of the first quarter of the twentieth century, China began to spread Marxist ideology, which played a key role in the political and economic modernization of the country in the twentieth century. Mao Zedong himself later spoke about his great interest in anarchism. It is difficult not to notice the contribution of groups of Chinese anarchists to the organization of public education and the development of the trade union movement in backward China 1910's - 1920's. Finally, we should not forget about the significance of the anarchist criticism of the feudal order of old China, which impeded the full development of the country.

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  1. Mikhail Matyugin
    Mikhail Matyugin 2 June 2016 07: 51
    The author raised a rare and unusual subject! He’s done great!

    But how to stop China's growth and prevent it from absorbing our Siberia and the Far East? it’s simple - it is necessary to provoke another civil war there - for example, between supporters of orthodox Maoism and opportunists, supporters of Xiao Ping.

    Or actively promote the ideas of anarchism - it will also be interesting!
    1. The comment was deleted.
    2. Aryan
      Aryan 2 June 2016 12: 41
      What is anarchism and what in particular did he bring in China in a language accessible to schoolchildren Boris Yulin explained
  2. Reptiloid
    Reptiloid 4 June 2016 19: 30
    Thanks a lot, Ilya! Glad I read your article! There is always a lack of information on this topic! Such a huge country! Such an ancient country! How many peoples live there! And there are more hieroglyphs than in any other civilization!
    I think, in fact, communist ideas have long been in China. Recall Buddhism with its idea of ​​universal equality.
    Or the Revolt of the Yellow Stripes, which was started (as Lev Gumilyov wrote) by the leader of a secret Taoist sect. He said that if he defeated, "the blue sky of cruelty will be replaced by the yellow sky of Justice" (blue is the color of Confucianism, yellow is Taoism) , that is, fertile ground for the germination of communist ideas. The rebels executed the emperor. The leader became new, but --- did not die a natural death. That was long before Cromwell, but later than in ancient Egypt.