Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Telling the Story of the Chinese Communist Party

Timothy Cheek, Klaus Mühlhahn, Hans van de Ven

How to tell the story of the Chinese Communist Party? It’s the biggest, oldest, and most powerful Communist Party in the world today and it turns 100 this year. It runs China, and that alone should get your interest. You’ll be hearing a good deal about it, as well. The Chinese Communist Party and its paramount leader, Xi Jinping, have already started the extravaganza that is set to reach its peak in July 2021, the anniversary date for the founding of the Party. It will be a beautiful story, full of “positive energy.” But the stories in international media will form a counterpoint. They will focus on the cost of China’s revolution, the mistakes and tragedies of Party rule, and the dangers apparent in China’s current Party-state. It will be an ugly story and an alarming one, too. After decades of cautious hope in Western halls of power around China’s entry into the WTO in 2001, expectations that China might become “more like us” have been dashed. At least some of the intensity of criticism of China today can be traced to the sense of betrayal by those who nourished such illusions – and made their careers from sustaining them.             

So, is that it—black or white? We think not. A group of scholars in the West and inside China came together to tell a different story, well really, different stories of life in and with the Party in China. In The Chinese Communist Party: A Century in Ten Lives we present a mosaic, made up of ten scenes, ten microhistories, from the century of the Party, as lived by particular individuals at particular moments. This is not a comprehensive history, but rather a series of snapshots to reflect how different the Party was in different decades and how different the Party could be for different Chinese people over the century. You will meet ten Chinese, one for each decade beginning in the 1920s. Some are famous leaders, others less well known but evocative of something significant in the life of the Party. We see successes and failures, hopes and regrets, and mostly poignantly the contingency of history—what happened was not inevitable. It is a living history that leaves traces of multiple story lines—some have come to dominate the public story, some have been submerged but reappear in different decades, some were plausible but have been crushed. Our goal is to leave the reader with a more intense, more nuanced, more human sense of a century of Chinese revolution and state socialism under the Chinese Communist Party, and with sufficient information to assess grand narratives, whether of the Party as Saviour or the Party as Demon.

The Chinese Communist Party is edited by Timothy Cheek, Klaus Mühlhahn and Hans van de Ven and publishes on 6th May 2021. The book features ten engaging personal histories designed to introduce readers to what it was like to live in and with the most powerful political machine ever created: the Chinese Communist Party. These essays reveal the Party’s one-hundred year history, reflecting on power, setbacks, adaptability and change, and illuminating possible paths for China’s future.

About The Authors

Timothy Cheek

Timothy Cheek is Director of the Institute of Asian Research and Louis Cha Chair Professor of Chinese Research at the University of British Columbia....

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Klaus Mühlhahn

Klaus Mühlhahn is Professor of Modern China Studies and President of Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen....

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Hans van de Ven

Hans van de Ven is Professor of Modern Chinese History at the University of Cambridge....

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