Honouring Isabel Crook and carrying forward China-Canada friendship

The following op-ed, written by H.E. Cong Peiwu, Chinese Ambassador to Canada, pays tribute to Isabel Crook – the Canadian communist and lifelong friend of China who passed away in Beijing on 20 August 2023.

As well as summarising Isabel’s outstanding record in telling the truth about China and in developing foreign language teaching, Ambassador Cong describes how her life was “a vivid example of carrying forward China-Canada friendship.” In this context, the author references Dr Norman Bethune, the Canadian communist and brilliant doctor who worked on the front lines in China’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression, and about whom Mao Zedong wrote that “every Chinese communist must learn” from his spirit of internationalism.

Ambassador Cong concludes with a message to Canadians, but his words will resonate with people throughout the West at a time when imperialist governments and media are ramping up anti-China hostilities and McCarthyite repression:

I encourage all of you to experience China firsthand, and you will understand why many Canadians like Crook have forged such deep bonds with China and the Chinese people. I’m also confident that there will be more friendly personages like Isabel Crook and Norman Bethune, who will continue to nurture and carry forward China-Canada friendship.

This tribute was first published in The Canada Files.

The passing of Isabel Crook in Beijing at the age of 108, on August 20, has left us all saddened. Just like many of you, I have extended my condolences.

Crook’s life was a true reflection of people-to-people friendship between our two countries. Born in Chengdu, China, in 1915 to Canadian parents, she spent most of her life in China, and witnessed the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Crook once said, “I’m truly thankful to my parents for bringing me into this world in China.” Although she has passed away, her deeds and contributions continue to exert profound influence.

 Through her works, she provided Westerners with more insights into the real China. Most importantly, she demystified China for Westerners during her time, helping them recognize the significance of engaging with China and its people.

Isabel Crook witnessed China’s development and transformation throughout her lifetime. She cared about rural development in China, devoted herself to education, and nurtured numerous talents.

Having spent over 90 years in China, she witnessed monumental changes in Chinese society. She saw, experienced and participated in China’s tremendous transformation from standing upright to becoming prosperous and growing in strength. “I’m very fortunate to be an observer to this great era. I believe my beloved China is getting better and better,” Crook expressed. In 2019, in recognition of her outstanding contributions to China’s education and friendly exchanges with the world, the Chinese government awarded her the Friendship Medal of China, the country’s highest honor bestowed upon foreign nationals.

Crook’s entire life was a vivid example of carrying forward China-Canada friendship. She dedicated her glorious years to China, blazing a trail in English teaching in New China and nurturing countless foreign language talents. “We see the fruits of our work, batches of graduates, contribute their strength to building New China and the new world. We are very proud of them,” she remarked.

Friendship transcends borders, and she never walked alone. Henry Norman Bethune, a Canadian surgeon, made the ultimate sacrifice in China when helping the Chinese people resist Japanese aggressors during the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. Besides, there are also many other Canadian recipients of the Chinese Government Friendship Award who have actively contributed to China-Canada friendship.

As an old Chinese saying goes, “Peaches and plums do not talk, yet a path is formed beneath them.” Beginning as a seed of hope, her spirit has grown into a towering tree. I encourage all of you to experience China firsthand, and you will understand why many Canadians like Crook have forged such deep bonds with China and the Chinese people. I’m also confident that there will be more friendly personages like Isabel Crook and Norman Bethune, who will continue to nurture and carry forward China-Canada friendship.

Isabel Crook: An extraordinary life dedicated to the cause of the Chinese people

Following the death of Isabel Crook, veteran communist and staunch friend of China, in Beijing, on August 20, we received the following message from Michael Sheringham.

Michael’s family founded the famous Arthur Probsthain bookshop, which has stood as a family owned and run business specialising in books on Asia, the Middle East and Africa, on London’s Great Russell Street, directly opposite the British Museum, since 1903. He and all his family have been constant and good friends of China.

Michael wrote in part:

“I have seen the obituary for Isabel Crook which you wrote for Friends of Socialist China, which I thought is very good and comprehensive. She did indeed have a remarkably long and full life dedicated to the cause and love of China, where she spent most of her life, with David and her three sons.

“While sad to learn of her passing away, I am gratified to have known her and David and the ‘boys’ since I started living in Beijing in 1972 – or rather since Isabel and David were freed from captivity in early 1973. I, with all the other foreign residents, attended the speech by Premier Zhou Enlai in the Great Hall of the People on March 8th, 1973, when he announced that those foreign friends who had been imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution were all (except Sidney Rittenberg at that time) exonerated and rehabilitated.

“I cherish the times we were able to see Isabel (and David), both in Beijing and London, and we met on many occasions during these years. Isabel came to visit my mother a couple of times in their later years. Isabel and David made great contributions to socialism in China, through their writing, teaching and dedicated work for the revolution.”

Additionally, the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) wrote on social media:

“SACU is saddened to hear of the passing of Isabel Crook. She died in Beijing in the early hours of Sunday morning, aged 107.

“Hers was an extraordinary life dedicated to the cause of the Chinese people, moved most especially by her compassion for the rural folk. Her experiences and studies spanned from the Chiang Kaishek era to Mao’s revolution and on to ‘reform and opening up’ – she paved the way for many of us from the West to understand the zigs and zags of China’s path. She was a good friend to SACU – as we mourn, we celebrate her life, aspiring to carry on her legacy.”

Many obituaries of Isabel have been published in mainstream newspapers, including in the British newspapers, the Guardian (written by veteran China specialist John Gittings), the Financial Times and the Times; the New York Times; and Canada’s Globe and Mail.

Love China all my life: Isabel Crook’s stories

In this very touching and poignant article, originally published by China Daily on June 1, 2022, Fang Aiqing and Huang Zhiling, assisted by Shen Zaiwang, introduce a biography of Canadian communist Isabel Crook, ‘Love China All My Life: Isabel Crook’s Stories’, published by author Tan Kai that year.

Isabel passed away in Beiing on August 20, 2023, aged 107.

In the book, which took him three years to write, Tan recalls many stories, in particular, of the friendships Isabel maintained over many decades with rural people in Sichuan province, including from the Tibetan, Qiang and Yi nationalities.

China Daily recounts:

“Crook also learned skills from the villagers, but when she saw women spinning wool into yarn by hand, she decided to return to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, to buy them a wooden spinning wheel, which they had never seen or heard of before.

“It took Crook at least seven days to travel to Bashinao from her base in Chengdu. Most of the time, she either walked or rode a horse. The route was full of hardships and danger. At one point, Crook and her companions had to traverse a cliff face for several kilometers as the Minjiang River flowed tempestuously below.

“They also relied on a zipline to cross the river. In one photograph in the book, Crook is captured clinging to the line, laughing with great excitement as she carries the spinning wheel.”

It was also in Chengdu that she first met the man who was to become her husband and lifelong companion, David Crook (1910-2000), described as a committed communist from Britain, as well as a friend of the famous Canadian communist and surgeon Norman Bethune.

“David proposed to her on the Luding Bridge, which spans the Dadu River-a revolutionary site he had always wanted to visit after reading about in Edgar Snow’s book Red Star Over China.”

On October 1, 1949, the Crooks were on the viewing stand in Tian’anmen Square for the founding ceremony of the People’s Republic of China, but Isabel had to return home for a short period to feed their eldest son, who was less than two months old.

Symbolising the couple’s deep attachment to China, China Daily writes:

“Even though David Crook was wrongly imprisoned for more than five years and his wife’s freedom of movement was restricted for three years during the ‘cultural revolution’ (1966-76), the couple didn’t leave China and continued their efforts to support the nation’s development.”

Tibetan woman Yangzom, 94, who comes from a rural area of Sichuan province, remembers learning the nursery rhyme Row, Row, Row Your Boat in English more than 80 years ago.

She mastered the words when Canadian expatriate Isabel Crook carried out an anthropological field study of Tibetan households in Yangzom’s home village of Bashinao, Aba Tibet and Qiang autonomous prefecture, Sichuan province, in 1939.

Details of Crook, who was born in 1915, visiting Tibetan and Qiang villages are recorded in Love China All My Life: Isabel Crook’s Stories, a biography recently published by author Tan Kai.

Continue reading Love China all my life: Isabel Crook’s stories

Arise, Africa! Roar, China!: Black and Chinese citizens of the world in the twentieth century

We republish below a review by Joel Wendland-Liu of the important and fascinating 2021 book Arise, Africa! Roar, China! Black and Chinese Citizens of the World in the Twentieth Century, which explores aspects of the historic linkages between progressive African Americans and the Chinese revolution.

As noted in the review, the book “documents the experiences of five individuals – W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Liu Liangmo, Si-lan Chen Leyda, and Langston Hughes – through the lens of their relations to China, with African America, racism, U.S. government persecution, and anti-imperialist working-class struggles for freedom.”

Joel’s review, originally published in People’s World, summarizes some of the key themes in the book, including the extensive work carried out by Liu Liangmo to promote understanding of China in the US; Paul Robeson’s longstanding and consistent support for the Chinese Revolution; the extraordinary life of Afro-Chinese dancer Sylvia Si-lan Chen Leyda; and W.E.B Du Bois and Shirley Graham Du Bois’s eight-week trip around China in 1959, of which W.E.B. Du Bois wrote: “We saw the planning of a nation and a system of work rising over the entrails of a dead empire.”

Also discussed is Langston Hughes’ famous trip to Shanghai in 1933:

Hughes differed from most Western visitors by refusing to stay within the racist cocoon that comprised the international concession zone in the city. He ate street food, enjoyed Chinese theater, and interacted with working-class Chinese people like humans. While these activities may seem normal today, at the time they set him apart from Euro-Americans who spread racist stereotypes about Chinese people, enforced Jim Crow rules, and typically viewed Chinese people as diseased, dangerous, and untrustworthy. Hughes’s experience in China, along with his political support for the revolutionary struggle, impacted his poetry, novels, and short stories over the next decade or so.

Joel observes that the book “gives new insights into the interactions and political relationships of revolutionary Chinese and African-American intellectuals, pointing frequently to new connections across cultures and languages that deserve even more scholarly scrutiny.”

We have previously carried an interview with the author, Gao Yunxiang.

When the slender, affable Chinese man took the podium in Harlem’s posh Golden Gate ballroom on a late autumn afternoon to denounce three recent lynchings in Mississippi, the audience’s FBI informant perked up. Liu Liangmo, a public speaker employed by United China Relief, a non-partisan charity that raised funds to aid China during a brutal Japanese invasion, proceeded to denounce racism as a system: lynchings, poll taxes, and Jim Crow apartheid. He highlighted white supremacy’s links to fascism and imperialism and called for equality and self-determination for all peoples. The bespectacled Liu took his seat to the applause of several hundred at an event sponsored by the Negro Labor Victory Committee, the Negro Quarterly, and the actor Orson Welles. As a professional public speaker, Liu’s task was to promote a deeper understanding of China to American audiences. In the age before television, public speaking events were among the most important ways an organization that couldn’t afford to make a movie or publish a newspaper could share its ideas. In his nine years in the U.S., Liu believed he had traveled 100,000 miles across most of the country.

Historian Gao Yunxiang is a Professor of History at Ryerson University in Toronto. In this original and well-researched book, Arise Africa! Roar, China!: Black and Chinese Citizens of the World in the Twentieth Century, she documents the experiences of five individuals—W.E.B. Du Bois, Paul Robeson, Liu Liangmo, Si-lan Chen Leyda, and Langston Hughes—through the lens of their relations to China, with African America, racism, U.S. government persecution, and anti-imperialist working-class struggles for freedom. Liu, persecuted by the FBI and the immigration regime, left the U.S. in 1949 to serve as a leader of the Chinese Democratic League, one of the several non-communist parties that continues to serve in the country’s National People’s Political Consultative Conference. He also helped to mobilize the Chinese Christian community in support of resistance to Japanese occupation and the ultimate revolutionary transformation of the country.

Continue reading Arise, Africa! Roar, China!: Black and Chinese citizens of the world in the twentieth century

Friendship Medal awardee Isabel Crook dies in Beijing at 108

Our dear friend, comrade and mentor Isabel Crook passed away peacefully in Beijing on August 20 at the age of 107 (108 according to the Chinese method of calculation).

Isabel was born on December 15, 1915 in Chengdu, the daughter of Canadian missionaries. From her early years she identified with the Chinese people, especially the rural poor, in their struggle for dignity and liberation. Following studies in Canada, she made her way to Britain, where she met and married David Crook, a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), who had been a member of the International Brigades in Spain. Isabel, too, joined the CPGB in 1943 and devoted the rest of her life wholeheartedly to the cause of communism.

She and David traveled to the liberated areas of China in 1948 and the country became their home for the rest of their lives. They shared the destiny of the Chinese people and the Chinese revolution, whether in good times or bad, but never lost their faith in the Communist Party of China and the bright future of China’s revolution, nor their passionate commitment to the liberation of working and oppressed people everywhere, but particularly in those countries groaning under the iron heel of imperialism, colonialism and hegemonism. In 2019, President Xi Jinping personally presented Isabel with the Friendship Award, China’s highest honour for foreigners.

Isabel was, and will remain, an inspiration to us and to everyone else who was privileged to know her. We extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to her sons, Michael, Carl and Paul, and to her whole extended family, and many comrades and friends.

The following article, which was originally published in the Chinese newspaper, Global Times, gives a small but poignant flavour of her extraordinary life and of the love rightly cherished for her by the people of China.

On Sunday, Isabel Crook, recipient of the Friendship Medal of China, pioneer in English teaching in China, and International Communist fighter and advisor of Beijing Bailie University, China’s earliest private university, died in Beijing at the age of 108, Beijing Bailie University reported.

Isabel Crook, a Canadian, was born in Chengdu, Southwest China’s Sichuan Province on December 15, 1915. During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression (1931-45), she plunged into China’s rural development. Later, she went to Britain and married David Crook (1910-2000), who was a member of the Communist Part of Great Britain, and took part in the international anti-Fascist war. She joined in the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1943, and came to China to observe and study the land reform in the Liberated Area of Shanxi, Hebei, Shandong and Henan provinces. 

In 1948, Isabel (as her Chinese friends always call her) was invited to teach at the Central Foreign Affairs School (the forerunner Beijing Foreign Studies University, BFSU) in Nanhaishan village, North China’s Hebei Province in 1948 at the invitation of the Communist Party of China. After the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, Isabel had taught in BFSU for more than 70 years, and trained a great number of scholars and diplomats for China.

As a scholar in anthropology and sociology, she wrote several books, including Revolution in a Chinese Village: Ten Mile Inn, and Xinglong Chang:Field Notes of a Village Called Prosperity 1940-1942, in which she observed and recorded the Chinese revolution and development through her own eyes and in her own way to the West and the whole world at large, making an outstanding contribution to China’s foreign friendly exchanges with other countries.

In 2007, she was awarded the title of “Tenured professor emeritus” by Beijing Foreign Studies University, and honorary doctoral degree by Toronto University. She also received other honors such as “One of the Top Ten Meritorious Foreign Teachers” by the Chinese government and the “the Most Influential Foreign Experts at the 40th Anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening-up” in 2016 and 2018 respectively. In September 2019, she won the Friendship Award of the People’s Republic of China, the highest medal of honor in China for foreigners. 

Isabel had shown great concern to China’s rural development and dedicated herself to English teaching with numerous students. She died peacefully with her faith for the international Communist cause, and the love for the Communist Party of China and the Chinese people. According to her own will, no funeral will be conducted and her body will be donated for medical research. Our beloved Isabel is immortal!

China and DPRK mark 70th anniversary of historic victory over US imperialism

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) organized a number of grand celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice agreement, on July 27 1953, that ended just over three years of bitter fighting in the Korean War. Known as the Fatherland Liberation War in the DPRK and as the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea in China, July 27 is considered in both countries as a triumphant day when the two fledgling socialist states scored a historic victory over US imperialism and its satellite forces. 

A high-level Chinese party and government delegation, led by Li Hongzhong, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), attended the celebrations at the invitation of the Korean side, between July 26-30.

The only other foreign delegation to participate was led by Sergei Shoigu, Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation. The former Soviet Union provided crucial assistance to the Korean and Chinese peoples during the war, most notably through the deployment on active service in Korean skies of its air force fighter pilots.

These were the first foreign delegations to visit the DPRK since the country closed its borders as a preventive measure against the spread of the Covid-19 virus at the start of the pandemic.

Top leader of the DPRK, Kim Jong Un gave a reception for the Chinese delegation on July 28.

Repeatedly expressing gratitude to the respected Comrade Xi Jinping for having dispatched a party and government delegation to the significant celebrations of the victory common to the DPRK and China and sending his personal letter with best wishes, he extended heartfelt thanks to the Communist Party of China, the PRC government and all the Chinese people that helped the DPRK’s revolutionary war at the cost of their blood and have invariably supported the just cause of the WPK [Workers’ Party of Korea] and the people of the DPRK.

He said that the Korean people would always remember and praise the militant feats and historic contribution of the service personnel of the Chinese People’s Volunteers who provided the excellent tradition of winning victory in the staunch anti-imperialist revolutionary spirit and with the revolutionary unity while heroically fighting in the same trench with the Korean army in the most difficult period of the DPRK.

Being very rejoiced over the fact that the Chinese party and government have made world-startling achievements in the new course of comprehensively building a modern socialist country with Chinese characteristics and the international position of the PRC is growing higher with each passing day, he expressed conviction that the fraternal Chinese party and people would surely realize the Chinese nation’s dream of great prosperity under the wise leadership of Xi Jinping.

Earlier, Comrade Kim Jong Un had met the Chinese delegation just prior to a concert held in the early hours of July 27. 

There, Li Hongzhong handed Kim Jong Un the personal letter from Xi Jinping, in which the Chinese leader pointed out that 70 years ago, the Chinese People’s Volunteers (CPV), together with the people and army of the DPRK, achieved a great victory in resisting US aggression and aiding Korea, and forged a great friendship bound by blood. No matter how the international situation may change, it is always the unswerving policy of the CPC and the Chinese government to maintain, consolidate and develop China-DPRK relations, Xi Jinping wrote.

Expressing his thanks, Kim Jong Un told Li Hongzhong that the significance of July 27, the war victory day common to the Korean and Chinese peoples, was further highlighted as they were present together to celebrate it. Noting that Xi Jinping dispatched a party and government delegation to the DPRK in the current crucial period, he said that it showed the general secretary’s will to attach great importance to the DPRK-China friendship.

Saying the Korean people will never forget the fact that the brave soldiers of the Chinese People’s Volunteers shed blood to bring about the war victory and their noble spirit and soul, though many years have passed and that generation has been replaced with a new one, he affirmed that the WPK and the DPRK government will as ever strive to further strengthen the friendship and solidarity with the fraternal Chinese people and always advance hand in hand with the Chinese people in the struggle for socialism.

Previously, on the day of their arrival, the Central Committee of the WPK and the government of the DPRK had invited the Chinese delegation to a welcome reception at which Kim Song Nam, head of the WPK’s international department, made a speech.

Referring to the fact that the CPV made a historic contribution to bringing about the war victory, an unprecedented event in history, through militant unity and comradely cooperation, he said that the Korean people would never forget the heroic feats and merits of the brave soldiers who recorded a brilliant page in the history of the great victory in the Fatherland Liberation War and the history of DPRK-China friendship.

The Korean people are rejoiced over the achievements made by the Chinese people in building a modern socialist state with Chinese characteristics in the new era, he said, expressing conviction that the Chinese nation’s dream of great prosperity will surely come true, thanks to the steadfast leadership of the Communist Party of China with General Secretary Xi Jinping as its core and the devoted efforts of the Chinese people rallied around the Party.

Replying, Li Hongzhong said that China is very rejoiced over the fact that the socialist cause of the DPRK has steadily gained momentum with each passing day through thorough implementation of the resolutions made at the 8th Congress of the WPK and the plenary meetings of the Party Central Committee. He hoped that the Korean people would continue to achieve fresh successes by promoting the cause of socialism under the leadership of the WPK headed by General Secretary Kim Jong Un.

During their stay, the Chinese delegation also attended the huge military parade held in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, met with other senior leaders of the DPRK party and state, and visited the birthplace of the DPRK’s founding leader Kim Il Sung, the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum, the Martyrs Cemetery of the Chinese People’s Volunteers, which includes the grave of Comrade Mao Zedong’s son, Mao Anying, and the Friendship Tower, which honors the fallen Chinese internationalist fighters.

In the days leading up to the anniversary, Kim Jong Un also visited the Chinese People’s Volunteers cemetery. The DPRK leader said that the noble soul and spirit of sons and daughters of the Chinese people who supported the Korean people in the sacred anti-imperialist, anti-US struggle with their heroic sacrifice, and made an important contribution to the war victory, are obviously recorded in history as a foundation and model of the DPRK-China friendship to be immortal along with the socialist ideal.

Noting that the hard-fought Fatherland Liberation War was a war of justice to defend their dignity, honor and sovereignty as well as the world peace and security and an acute political and military confrontation with the imperialist dominationist forces which was staged on behalf of the peace-loving forces and progressive humanity, he stressed that the great victory won by the peoples of the DPRK and China at the cost of their blood is invariably displaying its great vitality still now, century after century.

Also, at the end of June a remodeling of the interior of the Friendship Tower was unveiled. Speaking at the ceremony, the DPRK’s Minister of Urban Management, Im Kyong Jae, said that the  militant unity and comradely cooperation between the DPRK and Chinese peoples, displayed in the joint struggle against the US-led imperialist allied forces, set a living example of internationalism, and the historic contributions made by the officers and men of the Chinese People’s Volunteers, who rendered assistance to the just cause of the Korean people at the cost of their lives will always remain in the hearts of the peoples of the two countries. He noted that Kim Jong Un personally initiated the work for remodeling the interior of the Friendship Tower on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the war victory and gave detailed instructions on its layout, new art pieces and exhibits and guided the work for successfully completing the project.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Yajun expressed sincere thanks on behalf of the Chinese party and government to the Korean party and government and people over the fact that the interior of the Friendship Tower was excellently remodeled under the personal attention and guidance of General Secretary Kim Jong Un.

The Chinese party and government will remain unchanged in their firm stand to successfully defend, consolidate and develop the China-DPRK relations no matter how the international and regional situations may change, the ambassador said, adding that the Chinese side is willing to thoroughly adhere to the common understanding reached by the top leaders of the two parties and the two countries and thus provide the peoples of China and the DPRK with better happiness and make new and bigger contributions to the regional and global peace, stability and prosperity, together with the DPRK side.

In an article carried on China Daily, Liu Qiang, a prominent Chinese academic, wrote that fighting aggression and assisting the DPRK had been the right decision. He noted:”Some people have questioned China’s decision to aid the DPRK and resist US aggression, and have questioned whether the cost in lives was worth it. It is not difficult to answer these questions if we consider the situation at that time.

“Although it was at the request of the DPRK that China’s leadership decided to send the Chinese People’s Volunteers force to the peninsula, China also had to safeguard its own national security… As the US bombed border cities and towns on the border between China and the DPRK, it posed a threat to China’s national security, with some in the US calling for the war to be extended into China.

“Since the expansion of the war into China would have had severe consequences for the newly founded People’s Republic, Chairman Mao Zedong announced that China needed to restore peace on the Korean peninsula.”

He added: “Some people think the hostilities ended in a stalemate because after the signing of an armistice, the two sides returned to their respective pre-war positions separated by the 38th Parallel. But the fact that the ill-equipped Chinese People’s Volunteers force, who made huge sacrifice during the war, did not retreat in face of the US-led forces, which had the most advanced weapons and equipment, shows that the Chinese side was the victor in the war.”

Pointing out that, by fighting the war, China minimized the risk of a direct military attack on China at the height of the Cold War, Liu Qiang concluded:

“Some countries led by the US are hyping up the ‘China threat’ theory nowadays as part of their strategy to contain China. China is not a threat to any country, it pursues a defensive defense policy. However, should its sovereignty, national security and development interests be threatened, the spirit of the Chinese People’s Volunteers force will inspire the people to firmly defend the motherland.”

A similar tone was struck in an editorial carried by the Chinese newspaper Global Times, which noted that, prior to the 70th anniversary, “a US nuclear ballistic missile submarine visited Busan, South Korea, the first visit by a US submarine since 1981. Some US congressmen have openly claimed that this move is not only a warning to North Korea but also a deterrent against China.”

The paper observed that: “The Korean War is one of the most profound regional conflicts following World War II, and it is regarded as the ‘biggest defeat in the history of the US Army.'”

However, “some American political elites have drawn completely wrong lessons from the Korean War, using them to misguide the US’ foreign policy today, leading the country to proactively incite and provoke crises, and even wars.”

In this regard, the paper critiqued an article entitled ‘Why America forgets – and China remembers – the Korean War’, written by Mike Gallagher, Chairman of the recently established neo-McCarthyite “House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party”, and carried in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, the house journal of the US foreign policy establishment.

Global Times writes: “His arrogance and madness are comparable to that of Douglas MacArthur.” (MacArthur was the US commander in Korea, who even the US administration felt constrained to dismiss following his advocacy of the mass use of nuclear weapons not only in Korea, but also against the major cities of both China and the Soviet Union.)

Global Times issued a serious warning to the United States, writing:

“The US should never underestimate China’s determination and ability to defend its homeland. Disregarding these… lessons happens to be the prominent characteristic of current American hegemonism. The Korean War inflicted a painful price on the US, but if the US fails to learn from it, it will make even greater mistakes in the future.”

Before China decided to resist the US aggression and aid North Korea during the Korean War, it had repeatedly sent stern warnings that if US forces crossed the 38th parallel China would not sit idle. However, the US did not take it seriously, thinking that China was only making empty threats and would not take action. As a result, they were caught off guard when they encountered the Chinese People’s Volunteers Army on the battlefield. Today, a similar major misjudgment toward China is occurring in Washington. The biggest difference between now and the Korean War era is that China’s strength has greatly increased. The consequences of infringing upon China’s security interests and national sovereignty will undoubtedly be much more severe… it must be clear that if there is another strategic misjudgment this time, the price it will pay will surely be much higher than 70 years ago.”

The following articles were originally carried on the websites of the Xinhua News Agency, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), China Daily and Global Times.

Continue reading China and DPRK mark 70th anniversary of historic victory over US imperialism

Book review: IF Stone – The Hidden History of the Korean War

Written to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, this book review by Carlos Martinez of IF Stone’s recently re-issued The Hidden History of the Korean War seeks to identify the lessons to be learnt from the so-called “forgotten war”, and to draw out parallels between the original Cold War in the Pacific and the New Cold War in the Pacific.

A shorter version of this review was published in the Morning Star.

The 27th of July 2023 marks 70 years since the signing of the armistice agreement at Panmunjom, finally bringing about a cessation of hostilities in a war that was extraordinarily destructive but which has been largely ignored.

As Bruce Cumings writes in his preface to I.F. Stone’s classic The Hidden History of the Korean War – first published in 1952 and recently reissued by Monthly Review Press – the Korean War is a forgotten war, “remembered mainly as an odd conflict sandwiched between the good war (World War 2) and the bad war (Vietnam).”

For those seeking to build a peaceful and prosperous future for humanity, the lessons of the Korean War must not be forgotten. Indeed re-reading The Hidden History it becomes clear that there are several crucial parallels with today’s world.

Stone’s meticulous investigation provides abundant proof that most of the key players in the US government and military actively wanted the Korean War; that it was the right war, in the right place and the right time in terms of US imperialist interests.

Top US generals have since admitted that their “police action” in Korea gave them just the excuse they needed to construct the military infrastructure of Cold War in the Pacific: a vast network of overseas bases; large-scale, long-term deployments of US troops in Korea and Japan; and the permanent stationing of nuclear warheads in the region.

The Korean War set the whole military-industrial complex in motion. It created the national security state. It was the first major test case for the Truman Doctrine of “support for democracies against authoritarian threats” and helped establish the US in its self-assumed role of global policeman. By forcing through a United Nations endorsement of its invasion, the US was able to establish its dominance of the UN-based international system.

Reading Izzy Stone’s reporting today, it’s striking the extent to which these mechanisms of Cold War still exist and are being used to wage a New Cold War. The military bases, the troop deployments, the nuclear threats that aimed to contain socialism and prevent the emergence of a multipolar world in the 1950s continue to serve the same purposes in 2023.

Stone’s book emphasises that peace was very much an option in 1950.

The Soviet Union of course wanted peace; having lost 27 million lives and sustained incredible damage to its infrastructure in the course of saving the world from Nazism, the Soviets needed space to rebuild. The People’s Republic of China also wanted peace; having only been founded in October 1949 after long years of civil war and struggle against Japanese occupation, the last thing the new state needed was to become embroiled in another war. (In the event, nearly 400,000 Chinese volunteers gave their lives fighting in Korea).

Continue reading Book review: IF Stone – The Hidden History of the Korean War

Rest in power Comrade Tongogara

Comrade Tongogara (born Danny Morrell), one of Britain’s staunchest and most outspoken supporters of Mao Zedong and friend of socialist China, passed away on May 11 2023. Born in Jamaica, he spent most of his adult life in north London, a life he devoted to the struggle for black liberation, socialism and communism, working tirelessly and supporting every progressive struggle. His belief in Mao’s concept and practice of the mass line made him many friends and comrades across a wide range of revolutionary and progressive organizations and campaigns, among different communities, and people from various walks of life. Alongside Marx, Lenin and Mao, he was equally inspired by the struggles of the Jamaican people, of the African liberation movements and of such African-American revolutionaries as George Jackson.

In 1970, he was a founding member of the Black Unity and Freedom Party (BUFP), whose newspaper was Black Voice. In a paper presented to the 15th Forum of the World Association for Political Economy (WAPE), hosted by Shanghai’s International Studies University in December 2021, the editors of this website cited the BUFP as one of the organizations that, “collectively constituted the mass proletarian base for China friendship and solidarity in Britain.” 

In his last years, Tongogara especially devoted his energies to the Free Mumia Campaign UK, which he launched at a meeting in Brixton, south London, in 2008. One of the most high-profile political prisoners in the United States, Mumia Abu-Jamal, a revolutionary journalist who first joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 at age 14, was originally sentenced to death on trumped up charges in 1982 and has been held in US prison hell holes ever since.

On being informed of Tongogara’s passing, FoSC co-editor Keith Bennett, who had been his friend and comrade since 1976, wrote in part:

“He was a staunch and constant supporter of Mao Zedong and his work embodied and bore testimony to Comrade Mao’s profound and powerful observation that the evil system of colonialism and imperialism arose and throve with the enslavement of black people and the trade in black people, and it will surely come to its end with the complete emancipation of the black people.

“Tongogara’s life and work helped bring that day closer. He will be remembered and honored.”

The below article was originally published in Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! and was written by comrades in the Mumia UK Campaign.

`Brother Tongogara (born Danny Morrell) passed away peacefully in Barnet Hospital on Thursday 11 May 2023. Born in Jamaica in 1942 on 6 February (he was proud to share a birthday with Bob Marley), he lived in Tottenham, London, for most of his adult life. A long-time friend and supporter of many campaigns across London and internationally, Comrade Tongogara will be well known to many FRFI readers. He was an untiring campaigner, omnipresent at events such as Africa Liberation Day, May Day, taking political messages to Notting Hill Carnival, picketing the Home Office and outside the BBC for Irish prisoners. He supported the free Leonard Peltier campaign as well as regularly protesting outside the US embassy and the high court.

In 1970 he was a founding member of Black Unity and Freedom Party which later became the African People’s Liberation Organisation in 1998. In the 1990s he supported the work of the Colin Roach Centre in Hackney, campaigning against deaths in police custody and highlighting the racist violence of the state.  He also brought learning to the movement, organising lectures with Caribbean Labour Solidarity, and celebrating Claudia Jones with an annual event. Alongside political action he believed in political study and shared liberation literature, taking books by George Jackson, Karl Marx, Assata Shakur, Mao Tse-Tung and Mumia Abu-Jamal to events and street stalls.

In 2008 he convened a meeting in Brixton to launch the Free Mumia Campaign UK and became an untiring campaigner and spokesperson. He brought many people into the campaign when Mumia was still facing the death penalty and kept the campaign going until the present day. Along with others, Tongogara set the political tone of the campaign which has always been anti-imperialist and anti-racist.

Tongogara took the Free Mumia banner, often alone, far and wide, including outside banks, train stations and Lloyds building in the City of London, demanding the release of Mumia. He was a powerful speaker and a tireless engaging street activist who had the ability to connect people and bring new people into the movement. His kind and principled approach, together with his determination and courage has been an example for many others.

This is a glimpse into the life and legacy of comrade Tongogara. All who knew Brother T can remember with a combination of joy and gratitude what he brought and gave to the struggle for class and race liberation over exemplary decades. May he rest in power.

Liu Liangmo: China’s anti-imperialist, anti-racist, Christian revolutionary

We are pleased to republish the following article on the revolutionary life of Liu Liangmo (1909-1988), a Chinese anti-imperialist, progressive Christian, and pioneer of solidarity between the African-American people and the Chinese revolution. Written by Eugene Puryear, it was originally published by Liberation School, an initiative of the US Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL). As Comrade Puryear explains:

“While excavating this history is important in its own right, it is even more so because the promise and the contradictions of these wartime attempts to build unity among the exploited and oppressed hold important lessons for our own time.” 

Liu’s political activity began with the progressive cultural circles in Shanghai linked to the underground Chinese Communist Party, where he pioneered the use of mass singing of patriotic and anti-imperialist songs as a means of popular mobilization.

In 1940, he left China for the United States to work with United China Relief, which worked to build support for the Chinese people’s resistance to Japanese aggression, as an arm of the united front that had been re-established between the Communist Party and the Kuomintang. Once in the United States, his interest in cultural work inevitably and rapidly drew him into a close association and friendship with Paul Robeson, with whose work he had already become familiar before leaving China. 

Liu began writing regularly for the progressive black press in the United States. In 1942, he reported on a New York rally, also attended by Claudia Jones, demanding the opening of a Second Front in western Europe, at a time when the Soviet people were heroically resisting the Nazis at Stalingrad. Clearly linking this demand to the struggle for the liberation of oppressed people everywhere, he wrote:

“Forty thousand New Yorkers … attended the Second Front rally at Union Square… I was very much interested in the placards which people carried … the most outstanding ones are: ‘Smash Race Discrimination,’ ‘Equal Rights to Negroes NOW!’ and ‘Free India NOW!… It is interesting to me because it clearly demonstrated the inter-relationship of these problems … the reactionaries and Tories don’t want to see Soviet Russia win; neither do they want India to be free, nor Negro people to have equal rights so they delay the opening of a Second Front, they delay in giving freedom to India, and they keep on Jim-Crowing the Negro people in this country. But the people of the world black and white and brown together demand that: a Second Front be opened in Europe NOW; Free India NOW; Equal rights to Negroes NOW.” 

Liu returned to China after liberation and the founding of the People’s Republic, but his work and example undoubtedly helped to lay important foundations for ensuing decades of collaboration and solidarity between the black liberation movement and socialist China. Mentioning a number of key people who contributed to this, Puryear writes: 

“Harry Belafonte would tell Paul Robeson’s confidante Helen Rosen of his fascination with New China: ‘When Alassane Diop, Guinea’s former Minister of Communications, came back from a visit to the new China in the early 50s, he told me that the city of Shanghai was clean and beautiful, that its citizens had a decency and spirit unequaled anywhere else in the world. I asked myself how a nation devastated by war and riddled with hunger, disease, and illiteracy was able to order the lives of 800 million citizens. I erupted into an insatiable curiosity about China.'”

The great singer, actor and lifelong progressive activist and freedom fighter, Harry Belafonte, passed away this April 25th at the age of 96.

A second article by Puryear sets out the author’s view of the communist movement’s popular front policy, with particular reference to Liu’s work in the United States.


Liu Liangmo (1909-1988) was a prominent Chinese anti-imperialist, religious leader and, from 1942-1945, columnist for the Pittsburgh Courier—at that time the nation’s widest circulating Black newspaper. Liu’s columns (and actions as an organizer) were a significant part of efforts by progressive Chinese people, on the mainland and in the diaspora, to build alliances with the Black Liberation movement as part of a broader effort to shape the post-war world.

His words linked the causes of ending colonialism, imperialism, and race discrimination—from the Yangtze to the Ganges to the Mississippi—mirroring the words and actions of millions of others involved in similarly-minded struggles around the world, including Liu’s favorite U.S. singer: Paul Robeson.

Liu’s columns represent the efforts of Communist and aligned currents to turn the allied effort in the favor of the exploited and the oppressed. This was counteracted in the so-called “Cold War,” as imperialist forces worked to make the world “safe for capitalism” in the wake of the World War II.

His columns and activities offer interesting insight into the struggle within the “Second United Front” in China between the Nationalist Kuomintang and the Communists during the Second World War and their differing approaches to the post-war world: whether China should be an anti-colonial vanguard or seek inclusion in the imperialist “great power” club. The “Nationalist” Chinese government’s chose the latter, heavily impacting their approach to racism in the US.

On the other side, the nascent global left-wing coalition hoped to use the new leverage the war created: notably the curtailing of the anti-Bolshevik crusade and the embrace of the USSR as an ally, the attendant rise in the prestige of communism, and the need to mobilize colonial and all resources on the U.S. home-front. This leverage opened some space for the first legal labor and political organizations in colonial Africa and the Black Liberation movement in the U.S. Also critical was the importance of India and China to the overall allied effort against Germany, Italy, and Japan; to end colonialism, Jim Crow, and the old imperialism.

Continue reading Liu Liangmo: China’s anti-imperialist, anti-racist, Christian revolutionary

Carry forward the spirit of Dr Kotnis to strengthen China-India friendship

As part of a tour of South Asian countries in the first week of May, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang visited India to attend the Foreign Ministers Meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which was held in Goa. Whilst there, on May 4, Qin Gang met with the family members of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis (known in China as Ke Dihua), along with representatives of friendship organizations with China and young people from both countries.

Dr. Kotnis was one of a team of five Indian doctors, one of whom had previously served with the International Brigades in Spain, who were sent to help the Chinese people in their war of resistance against Japan by India’s Congress party, then led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose, after China’s Red Army leader Zhu De had written a request to Nehru on the suggestion of Agnes Smedley, the American internationalist who maintained deep ties with the freedom movements in both countries.

In the spirit of the great Canadian communist, Dr. Norman Bethune, who the team had gone to replace following his death from sepsis incurred while operating behind enemy lines, Dr. Kotnis worked tirelessly, sometimes for 72 hours without sleep. He refused any special treatment, taught himself fluent Chinese, and passed on his knowledge by writing two textbooks on surgery (one uncompleted, he was actually struck by a fatal seizure as he was writing), and becoming a teacher and then the head of the Bethune Medical School.

It was while teaching at the school that he met, fell in love with and married Guo Qinglan, a nurse and nursing teacher. Their son, Yinhua, whose name means India-China, was born just four months before Dr. Kotnis’s death. In July 1942, Dr. Kotnis was admitted to membership of the Communist Party of China. 

After Dr. Kotnis passed away on December 9, 1942, from epileptic seizures exacerbated by prolonged overwork, Mao Zedong wrote the following calligraphy in his memory: 

“Dr. Kotnis, our Indian friend, came to China from afar to assist us in our war of resistance. He worked for five years in Yan’an and north China, giving medical treatment to our wounded soldiers and died of illness owing to constant overwork. The army has lost a helping hand, and the nation has lost a friend. Let’s always bear in mind his internationalist spirit.”

In meeting with Dr. Kotnis’s relatives, Qin Gang carried on a tradition of senior Chinese leaders visiting India, beginning with Premier Zhou Enlai in the 1950s through to President Xi Jinping in recent times. 

Qin Gang said that  Dr. Kotnis was a great friend of the Chinese people and an outstanding fighter in the anti-fascist war, who devoted his precious youth and life to the Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression. His spirit, Qin continued, is a humanitarian one of saving lives, a heroic one of daring to struggle and not being afraid of sacrifice, and an internationalist one of advocating peace, friendship, and a shared future.

One distinct feature of Qin’s meeting, consistent with the change of generations, as well as the fact that May 4 is celebrated as Youth Day in China, in honour of the anti-imperialist May 4 Movement of youth and students in 1919 that contributed significantly to the founding of the Communist Party of China two years later, was the emphasis placed on the need for young people to inherit and carry forward the spirit of Dr. Kotnis so as to firmly safeguard peace and friendship between China and India.

Noting that the young people of both China and India are full of vitality and are the main force for development in their respective countries, Qin Gang called on them to  promote people-to-people exchanges and to explore a path for the two major neighbors to coexist in peace, get along in amity and seek rejuvenation together.

He also urged the youths to promote bilateral cooperation for mutual benefit and to boost mutual trust, so as to jointly safeguard the common interests of developing countries and uphold international fairness and justice.

The following articles were originally published by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and the Xinhua News Agency.

Qin Gang Meets with Relatives of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis and Representatives of Chinese and Indian Young People

On May 4, 2023 local time, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang met with relatives of Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis and representatives of China-India friendship organizations and Chinese and Indian young people in Goa, India.

Qin Gang and relatives of Dr. Kotnis visited the photo exhibition of Dr. Kotnis’ life. Qin Gang said that Dr. Kotnis, a great friend of the Chinese people and an outstanding fighter in the anti-fascist war, devoted his precious youth and life to the Chinese people’s war of resistance against Japanese aggression. The spirit of Dr. Kotnis is a humanitarian one of saving lives, a heroic one of daring to struggle and not being afraid of sacrifice, and an internationalist one of advocating peace, friendship and a shared future.

Continue reading Carry forward the spirit of Dr Kotnis to strengthen China-India friendship

Guangzhou 1927: the Paris Commune of the East

The Paris Commune, which lasted from March 18-May 28 1871, is generally regarded as the first seizure of power by the proletariat, and formation of a workers’ government, in history. As such, it has continued to inspire varied attempts to establish workers power and build socialism, whether in terms of inspiration or direct emulation. 

One such example was the 1927 uprising in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, which became known as the ‘Paris Commune of the East’. 

In the following article, originally published in the March-April 2021 issue of the Funambulist journal, which took as its theme ‘The Paris Commune & The World’, Tings Chak locates the background to this heroic struggle and the events that led up to it within the broader sweep of the Chinese revolution.

She begins by foregrounding the work of Qu Qiubai, one of the earliest Chinese communists , who was first politicized by the May 4th Movement of 1919, whose leaders included two key founders of the Communist Party of China two years later, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao.  It was Qu who first translated the Internationale, written by the communard Eugène Pottier, after he first heard whilst attending the third anniversary cerebration of the October Revolution in Russia. 

Tings notes the key importance of the Work-Study Program, which drew some 2,000 Chinese young people to France, including Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, both in introducing Marxist ideas to China and particularly knowledge of the Paris Commune. In 1922, writing in the journal New Youth, Zhou Enlai observed that the “short-lived flower” of the Paris Commune had found its continuation in the October Revolution. 

China’s first mass commemoration of the Paris Commune marked its 55th anniversary on March 18 1926 in Guangzhou. Mao Zedong, too, spoke of the Commune as a “bright flower”, which had brought forth a “happy fruit” in the October Revolution, from which, in turn, more fruits could be born.

The next year, up to one million workers and peasants celebrated the Commune across China. In Wuhan, Liu Shaoqi, later President of the People’s Republic of China, called on the working class to combine the spirit of the Paris Commune with the struggle against imperialism and warlordism. But shortly after, frightened by the rising power of the workers, Chiang Kai-shek unleashed the Shanghai Massacre, ending the Kuomintang’s first united front with the Communist Party. Subsequent communist-led urban uprisings, culminating in the Guangzhou Uprising on December 11, were equally brutally suppressed. However, as the great British communist Ralph Fox, who was later killed fighting with the International Brigades in Spain, wrote:

“For three days a great city in an eastern country dominated by imperialism was seized and held by the oppressed classes ruling through their Soviet. Technical and military errors there were, but, politically, no mistakes were made. The Communist Party of China, which led and organized the revolt, has reason to be proud of its application of Lenin’s teachings in the difficult circumstances of China. The work of the Party in the insurrection showed not only that it had the closest contacts with workers, peasants, petty bourgeoisie and soldiers, but that it understood how to rally the widest masses of all these classes to the support of the revolution by correct slogans and a sure political line.”

The Commune of Canton, 1928

On March 19, Friends of Socialist China co-editor Keith Bennett, along with our advisory group members Professors Ken Hammond and Radhika Desai, and Carlos Garrido of Midwestern Marx, spoke at an International Manifesto Group webinar on The Paris Commune: Its Revolutionary Significance.

It was in the Russian autumn of 1920 when Qu Qiubai first heard L’Internationale, the socialist anthem born of the 1871 Paris Commune. Eugène Pottier, author of the song’s lyrics, was a Communard and elected member of the workers’ state that lasted 72 days in the French capital. Though written nearly half a century earlier, that song had been adopted only recently as the anthem of the Bolshevik Party. Until today, this song is one of the most translated and sung anthems of the oppressed around the world. Qu was attending the third anniversary celebration of the October Revolution, having traveled through Harbin (China’s northernmost provincial capital) to reach Russia. Fluent in French and Russian, he was sent to be a correspondent in Moscow for the Beijing Morning News (晨报), covering the early years of the Bolshevik Revolution.

In 1920, the communist movement in China had barely begun, but the nation was hungry for its ideas. The colonial plunders of two Opium Wars marked the beginning of the “century of humiliation,” which saw the ceding of Hong Kong to the British and the sacking of the Old Summer Palace by Anglo-French forces. The Qing dynasty fell in 1911 only to be succeeded by a puppet Republican government. The country was divided, feudalism and warlordism were rampant. The Chinese people were hungry — physically and spiritually — for its nation to be set free.

Like the thousands of young radicals of the time, Qu was politicized in the May Fourth Movement of 1919. The Paris Peace Conference at the end of World War I saw the ultimate betrayal of China’s interests — instead of having its territories returned, the Western Allies would agree to transfer Shandong Province from the colonial hands of Japan to Germany. In response, a national movement led by students in Beijing was born, anchored in anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and anti-patriarchal politics. This awakening gave birth to the New Culture Movement — with New Youth as its key publication — and an opening for new ideas to guide the country’s transformation. Among its leaders were Beijing University professors, Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao, who were pivotal in bringing Marxist ideas into China. They both helped found the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1921.

The betrayal by Western Allies was felt all the more after the contributions that the Chinese people made to the Great War. To meet their growing labor shortages, French and British states relied heavily on the colonies across Africa, Indochina and China. 140,000 Chinese people — mostly peasants — joined the French and British war efforts, while another 200,000 fought on the Eastern Front with the Russian Red Army. The Chinese Labor Corps did every task but bear arms: they dug trenches, worked in munition factories, repaired equipment on the frontlines, buried the dead. Thousands died, though this part of history is little told in the West. Around that same time, there was another group of young Chinese people heading to France. Originally initiated by Chinese anarchists in 1908, the program became formalized into the Diligent Work-Frugal Study program in 1919 that brought 2000 Chinese workers and peasants to Paris: they would work in factories in return for their Western education. The poor living and working conditions politicized many of these students. On February 28, 1921, 400 Chinese work-study students demonstrated against further reductions in bursaries. Events like this one brought the movement closer to the World War I generation workers as they began organizing together in the Renault factories from the industrial banlieues (suburbs) of Boulogne-Billancourt and La Garenne-Colombes. It was from the factory floors and in the university halls where Marxism would enter the Chinese revolutionary thought. Among the students were Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, founders of the European branch of the CPC. Zhou Enlai would serve as Premier for 26 years and Deng Xiaoping, the Chinese leader who succeeded Mao Zedong upon the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Continue reading Guangzhou 1927: the Paris Commune of the East

The life and legacy of Zhou Enlai: an interview with Professor Ken Hammond

To mark the 125th anniversary of the birth of Zhou Enlai – one of the top leaders of the Chinese Revolution, and Premier of People’s China from 1949 until his death in 1976 – we conducted an extensive interview with Professor Ken Hammond about Zhou’s life and legacy.

The interview covers Zhou Enlai’s formation as a revolutionary; his role in the early years of the Chinese Revolution in the 1920s; his working relationship with Mao Zedong; his contribution to Marxist understanding of socialist foreign policy; his role in establishing links of solidarity between China and Africa; his role in the negotiations with Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon that brought about the start of a rapprochement between the US and China; his experiences in the Cultural Revolution; and his lasting legacy, both in China and globally.

Ken Hammond is a professor of East Asian and Global History at New Mexico State University, founding director of the Confucius Institute at New Mexico State University, and an activist with Pivot to Peace. He’s also a member of the Friends of Socialist China advisory group, and is working on a biography of Zhou Enlai. He is interviewed by our co-editor Carlos Martinez.

The Communist Manifesto at 175

We are very pleased to publish the below presentation, which was made by the Toronto-based historian John Riddell to a February 26 webinar organised by the International Manifesto Group, with which Friends of Socialist China works closely, marking the 175th anniversary of the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

In his contribution, John explains that it was the 1917 revolution in Russia and the creation of the Soviet state that truly internationalised the core message of the Manifesto. Taking China as his focus, he notes that some 50,000 Chinese migrant workers in Russia joined the Red Army to defend the revolution from internal and external threats. Eight Chinese delegates joined the Baku Congress of the Peoples of the East, held in 1920, whilst the much smaller and less well-known Congress of the Peoples of the Far East, held two years later, attracted 42 Chinese participants.

These congresses were pivotal in introducing and popularising the programme on the national and colonial questions adopted by the Communist International (Comintern) at its second congress in 1920. This programme, John shows, found practical expression in the work of International Red Aid and the ‘Hands off China’ movement, initiated following a 1925 massacre of workers in Shanghai. Citing the work of Chinese Marxist scholars Cheng Enfu and Wang Jun, John recalls Lenin’s statement that, “the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale, and, second, that a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.” (Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions for the Second Congress of the Communist International, Collected Works, Volume 31) Despite “missteps and errors”, John concludes, the Comintern made a significant contribution to the Chinese revolution.

John is the founding Director of the Communist International Publishing Project and a member of our advisory group. A lifelong socialist activist, he is one of the world’s foremost scholars of the early Comintern. Joining him on the panel, which was chaired and introduced by Professor Radhika Desai, were:

  • Professor Cheng Enfu of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences;
  • Sara Flounders, Contributing Editor of the US communist newspaper Workers’ World and a key anti-war organiser for decades;
  • Professor Alexander Buzgalin of Moscow State University;
  • Brian Becker, National Coordinator of the ANSWER coalition and a central leader of the Party for Socialism and Liberation in the US;
  • Frank Chapman, Executive Director of the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression and Central Committee member of the US communist group Freedom Road Socialist Organisation; and
  • Xin Yuzhou, a member of the Communist Youth League working in the International Department of the Communist Party of China.

The full event can be viewed on YouTube.

“Workers of the world, unite!” This celebrated call, first voiced by Marx and Engels almost two centuries ago, continues today to resound worldwide in the struggles of working people seeking political and social liberation. To be sure, at first the Communist Manifesto’s appeal was heard only in Europe and European settlements overseas. However, following the Russian revolution of 1917, the Manifesto’s call for universal workers’ unity quickly gained a hearing in every part of the globe.

The principles of the Communist Manifesto found expression in the global struggle to defend the newly established Soviet republic from a host of invading anti-Soviet armies, including a contingent from Canada. The Soviet republic’s defenders included about fifty thousand Chinese workers resident in Russia, who joined in the Red Army to defend the Russian soviet republic.

Two years later, in 1919, the Communist International was launched as a vehicle to unite working people worldwide and carry the message of the Communist Manifesto to every continent.[1]

As our colleague Cheng Enfu has pointed out, the International set its strategic goal as nothing less than “the overthrow of international capital and the establishment of workers’ power throughout the world.”[2]

A year later, in 1920, the Communist International rallied two thousand delegates from Central Asia and the Middle East at a historic congress convened in Baku, Azerbaijan.[3]

The International’s call for the Baku Congress appealed to all victims of colonialism the world over to join in the struggle for “complete equality of all peoples and races, whatever language they may speak, whatever the color of their skin and whatever the religion they profess.” The Baku Congress called for “liberation of all humanity from the yoke of capitalist and imperialist slavery, for the ending of all forms of oppression of one people by another … and of all forms of exploitation.”[4]

The Baku Congress rallied close to two thousand delegates, mostly from the Mideast and central Asia. Significantly, it numbered eight Chinese delegates among its participants. Two years later, a similar congress of delegates from the Far East and Central Asia, convened by the Communist International in 1922, included 42 Chinese delegates.[5]

In 1925, Chinese anti-colonial demonstrators in Shanghai were assaulted by imperialist military forces stationed in the city. Dozens of protesters were killed and many more wounded. Horror at this colonialist atrocity spread not only in China but across Russia, Europe, and beyond. In response, a formidable solidarity movement sprang up on several continents. The resulting “Hands Off China” campaign gathered significant support worldwide. These efforts were coordinated by a solidarity organization called International Red Aid, led by members of the Communist International. Red Aid gathered significant material assistance and funds, which were sent off to the embattled people of China.

The central leader of Red Aid, the German Communist Willi Münzenberg, declared its goal in these words:  “We want to form a holy alliance, we, the white, yellow, black, and differently coloured underdogs… for the liberation of all those who suffer.”[6]

Workers’ meetings in Europe were addressed by Chinese socialists. In Beijing a rally of 100,000 Chinese workers greeted a European socialist speaker with passionate enthusiasm. In this manner, the central concept of the Communist Manifesto – Workers of the World Unite! – won an expanded audience on a global scale.

Enfu Cheng and Jun Wang have drawn our attention to the underlying principle of internationalism, namely that “the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a worldwide scale” and that “a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.”[7]

As Enfu Cheng and Jun Wang have pointed out, the application of this internationalist principle by the Communist International was marked by missteps and errors. Nonetheless, they state, the Communist International provided material support in various forms as well as systematic theoretical and strategic guidance to the Chinese revolution.

The ideas of the Communist Manifesto live on today, finding expression in struggles against oppression and for liberation in every country and on every continent. It is thus with joy that we join together today in giving expression to the core ideas of communism’s great Manifesto.

[1] . John Riddell, ed., Founding the Communist International: Proceedings and Documents of the First Congress, March 1919, New York: Pathfinder, 1987.

[2] Enfu Cheng and Jun Yang, “The Chinese Revolution and the Communist International,” Third World Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 8, pp. 1338–1352.

[3] John Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn, Baku 1920, New York: Pathfinder, 1993.

[4]  Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn, pp. 231–32.

[5]  Riddell, ed., To See the Dawn, p. 242; John Sexton, ed., Alliance of Adversaries: The Congress of the Peoples of the Far East, Chicago: Haymarket, 2018.

[6]  Riddell, “International Red Aid,” at johnriddell.com,  https://johnriddell.com/2021/07/29/international-red-aid-1922-1937/.

[7] Enfu Cheng and Jun Yang, ibid.

Marx’s writings on the Opium Wars and capital accumulation in the Global South, with Lucia Pradella

In the interview below, Lucia Pradella engages with Joseph Mullen of The Cadre Journal on the subject of Karl Marx’s understanding of colonialism and capital accumulation in the Global South, with particular reference to China.

Dr. Pradella is a Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at King’s College London and the author of ‘Globalization and the critique of political economy: New insights from Marx’s writings’, published as part of the Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy series. The Cadre Journal is a student-run journal and podcast on anti-imperialism and communism.

Lucia explains how in her study for her master’s and PhD degrees, as well as a period spent working on the major project to publish the Complete Works of Marx and Engels, she acquired greater understanding of the breadth and depth of Marx’s studies of pre-capitalist societies and of the central role played by colonialism, and not least the Opium Wars, in primitive capital accumulation and his value theory. Whilst greater attention has tended to be paid to Marx’s writings on India, it is significant that Marx’s positive attention to, and appraisal of, the first stages of the Taiping Revolution essentially coincides with the defeat suffered by the European revolutions of 1848. Arising from his study of the Taipings, Marx postulated the possibility of a republican revolution in China.

In the Communist Manifesto, she notes, Marx and Engels proceeded from the premise that the industrial proletariat of Europe constituted the agency of the international revolutionary process, but developments post-1848 created two possible paths to revolution, on the part of the industrial proletariat and on the part of the colonised peoples. However, she contends that Marx did not abandon his view that a developed capitalism was necessary for there to be a socialist revolution. 

The views and contributions of a range of people, including Rosa Luxemburg, David Harvey, Immanuel Wallerstein, Giovanni Arrighi, Andre Gunder Frank and Samir Amin are touched on, with Lucia arguing that the dependency theorists and proponents of world systems theory overlooked some aspects of Marx’s Capital.  Asked for her views on the theory of combined and uneven development, and its applicability, she expresses the view that Trotsky did not understand the centrality of colonialism in Marx’s analysis.

Noting Marx’s acuity with regards to the potential impact of developments in China on the world economy, she says that some of the developments we see today are processes that Marx already analysed at a very abstract level in Capital Volume One.

The full interview is embedded below.

Dorise Nielsen: groundbreaking communist MP in Canada, people’s hero in China

We are pleased to republish this article by Mike Wu, originally carried in People’s Voice, newspaper of the Communist Party of Canada, about the revolutionary life of Dorise Nielsen.

Born in England in 1902, she settled in Canada in 1927. Politicised by the Great Depression, she joined the Communist Party of Canada around the time she met the legendary Norman Bethune, when she was fundraising to help send Canadians to join the International Brigades in Spain. In the 1940 federal election, she was elected as the first communist member of parliament in Canada or indeed North America.

During the McCarthyite conditions of the Cold War, she moved to China in 1957, traveling under the alias Judy Godefroy. She became a Chinese citizen in 1962. She worked in a number of capacities in China, moving to the Foreign Languages Press in the late 1960s.

Dorise died in Beijing on December 9 1980. A speaker at her memorial service, held at the Babaoshan Cemetery for Revolutionaries, said that she “had a deep love of China and the Chinese people, she lived a very simple life and was never extravagant, her feeling for the construction of socialism was profound.”

NB. The article refers to Dorise as the only Canadian in Beijing at the time she moved to China. However, another Canadian citizen, Isabel Crook, was also in Beijing (working at the same institution – the Beijing Foreign Studies University).

Norman Bethune is a well-known figure in the history of Canada–China relations. But there is another legendary figure: Dorise Nielsen, the first Member of Parliament from the Communist Party of Canada, went to China in her later years to support the Chinese people’s socialist construction, until her death in Beijing in 1980. 

Dorise was born in London, England in 1902 and settled in Saskatchewan in 1927 to work as a public school teacher. Dorise initially did not concern herself with politics, until the Great Depression broke out in 1929.

During the Depression, Dorise saw with her own eyes how workers, farmers, the ill and the old struggled under capitalism. In 1933, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) held its first convention and approved the Regina Manifesto, which described capitalism as an unjust and inhumane system that concentrated power and wealth in a small elite while leaving most people in poverty. 

Continue reading Dorise Nielsen: groundbreaking communist MP in Canada, people’s hero in China

On the revolutionary life of Jiang Zemin

We republish below a profile of the late Chinese leader Comrade Jiang Zemin, originally issued by the Xinhua News Agency, which illustrates and explains the deep respect and affection that the Chinese people hold for this outstanding communist, patriot and internationalist, whose revolutionary career spanned very nearly eight decades. 

Much of the information contained here was already covered in the official Chinese letter announcing Comrade Jiang’s passing, which we have already reported. However, there is also much new material, some of which has never appeared in English before.

The article notes a young Jiang Zemin’s contribution to the war to resist US aggression and aid Korea:

“To boost efforts to resist US aggression and aid Korea, Jiang organized the production of canned food specially provided for the Chinese People’s Volunteers. He also oversaw the design of the first homegrown turbo-generator in New China.”

Highlighting his creative application and development of Marxism-Leninism in the evolving situation in China and the world, it states:

“On learning lessons from the demise of the Soviet Union and the drastic changes in Eastern European countries, and the Cultural Revolution in China, Jiang stressed the importance of adhering to socialism, and carrying out socialist reform to explore a path of socialist development that suits China’s actual conditions.”

The now rapidly developing and expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) was to a great extent a creation of Jiang:

“Jiang promoted the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the first regional cooperation organization set up with China’s participation and named after a Chinese city. The Shanghai Spirit championed by the SCO – mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, consultation, respect for diverse civilizations and pursuit of common development – has exerted an important influence on contemporary international relations.”

And he stayed true to some of the finest traditions of the Chinese revolution:

“He said the biggest danger for the Party when it becomes the ruling party is its detachment from the masses and that resolutely opposing and preventing corruption is a major political task for the whole Party. Underscoring the importance of adhering to the Party’s mass line, he demanded the Party do everything for the people while relying on the people in every task. He asked officials at all levels to bear in mind the purpose of serving the people wholeheartedly and doing practical and good things for them.”

One thing not covered in this article, which we would like to reference, is Jiang Zemin’s relationship to Ireland and Ireland’s special contribution to China’s development. The Shannon Free Zone, established in 1959, was the world’s first free trade zone. In 1980, Jiang Zemin led a Chinese government delegation to study and learn from its experience and, in many respects, it was used as a model for China’s early development of special economic zones, which have played such a crucial role in the country’s development. Shannon has continued to be visited by senior Chinese delegations over the years.

Jiang Zemin was an outstanding leader enjoying high prestige acknowledged by the whole Communist Party of China (CPC), the entire military and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups.

He was a great Marxist and a great proletarian revolutionary, statesman, military strategist and diplomat. He was a long-tested communist fighter and an outstanding leader of the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics. He was the core of the third generation of the Party’s central collective leadership and the principal founder of the Theory of Three Represents.

Jiang’s life was a glorious and fighting one. During his revolutionary career of more than 70 years, he remained unswervingly firm in communist ideals, utterly loyal to the Party and the people, and resolutely committed to the cause of the Party and the people.

After the fourth plenary session of the 13th CPC Central Committee, faced with the complexity of the domestic and international situations and the grave challenges posed by the serious twists and turns world socialism had experienced, Jiang led the Party’s central collective leadership — firmly relying on the whole Party, the entire military and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups — in safeguarding the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and successfully advancing the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics into the 21st century.

He made indelible achievements and won the heartfelt love of the whole Party, the entire military and the Chinese people of all ethnic groups, as well as the wide acclaim of the international community.

Continue reading On the revolutionary life of Jiang Zemin

China’s socialist modernisation is a contribution to human progress

Friends of Socialist China co-editor Carlos Martinez was invited by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China to make a contribution at the thematic symposium on Chinese Governance and Multiple Paths of Modernization at the 5th Hongqiao International Economic Forum, held in Shanghai from 5 to 10 November, 2022.

What follows is the transcript of his remarks, in which he reviews the imperialist countries’ process of modernisation – characterised by colonial violence and plunder – and contrasts this with China’s evolving modernisation path, which is peaceful, sustainable, and based on common prosperity.

All countries have a right to modernisation. Modernisation is a process that enables higher living standards for the masses of the people. It enables common prosperity. With modernised industry, production technique, communication methods, transport systems, energy systems and healthcare methods, humanity has the potential to provide a healthy, meaningful and dignified life to everybody.

A life where each individual has reliable access to a healthy diet, to decent housing, to clothing, to education, to healthcare, to a vibrant cultural, social and intellectual life, to interesting work. In short, modernisation makes it possible to attend to people’s fundamental human rights.

And furthermore, these days it is possible to modernise in a way that doesn’t damage the planet, in a way that doesn’t compromise the sustainability of human existence on Earth.

What China has shown the world is that there is more than one path to modernisation.

For a long time, the predominant ideology – particularly in the West – has affirmed that the only path to modernisation is the one laid down by the imperialist powers.

And what does that path look like? Countries such as the United States and Britain claim that the secret of their success was the combination of free-market capitalism and a system of Western-style parliamentary democracy.

However, there are plenty of countries in the developing world that have attempted to apply that formula and that have achieved little more than chaos.

Indeed, the reality of the West’s path to modernisation looks profoundly different to the picture that has been painted. The industrial revolution, carried out first in Britain, was built to a significant degree on the profits of colonial plunder and the slave trade.

Britain accumulated extraordinary wealth from its colonial ventures in Ireland, India, the Caribbean, the Americas, Africa and elsewhere – not to mention the profits from forcing opium on China, a project so lucrative that Britain went to war multiple times in order to protect it.

It was British, Spanish, Portuguese and French ships that took captured African slaves to the Americas to be worked to death in the plantations, producing sugar, cotton and tobacco for the world market.

Karl Marx famously wrote in Volume 1 of Capital: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.”

This is the ugly truth of European modernisation. And the story is not so different in the United States. The so-called founding fathers of that country were slave-owners, and they established a slave-owners’ society. They went to war against the indigenous tribes and against Mexico in order to expand their territory.

In the 20th century, having established their domination over the Americas, they constructed a neocolonial global system that is still in place to a significant degree, imposing American hegemony on the world.

A network of 800 foreign military bases. NATO. An enormous nuclear arsenal. Genocidal wars waged on Korea, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. Systems of economic coercion and unilateral sanctions. Proxy wars, coups, regime change projects, destabilisation.

This is the global system of violence that has facilitated and accompanied imperialist modernisation.

Furthermore, the benefits of this modernisation have been distributed vastly unequally. The wealthy in the US, Britain and elsewhere live an incredibly ‘modern’ life, but there are hundreds of thousands of homeless people; tens of millions that will have to choose between heating and eating this winter; tens of millions that don’t have access to healthcare.

China has also been modernising. China’s modernisation starts in 1949 with the founding of The People’s Republic, the early construction of socialist industry, nationalisation of the land, and the provision of education and healthcare services to the whole population.

In 1963, Premier Zhou Enlai first raised the question of the Four Modernisations: of agriculture, industry, defence, and science and technology. With the launch of reform and opening up in 1978, China accelerated its pursuit of those goals, and ushered in an era of rapid development of the productive forces and improvement in the people’s living standards.

China’s journey of modernisation has evolved again in recent years with the pursuit of the second centenary goal: of building a great modern socialist country that is prosperous, strong, democratic, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful by 2049.

China’s modernisation, however, is a socialist modernisation. It’s distinct from the capitalist model of in several important ways:

  1. It is built on the efforts of the Chinese people rather than on war, colonialism and slavery.
  2. Its fruits are to be shared by everybody, not dominated by the wealthy. As General Secretary Xi Jinping said in his work report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, China’s modernisation is “the modernisation of common prosperity for all.”
  3. It is becoming a green modernisation, fuelled by clean energy, careful not to destroy the planet that sustains us. Again quoting Xi Jinping’s work report, “it is the modernisation of harmony between humanity and nature.”

This evolving, peaceful, sustainable and fair modernisation constitutes a valuable contribution to our collective human understanding, and shows that there is more than one path to modernisation.

But this did not come about by accident.

China’s achievements, its commitment to common prosperity, its commitment to ending poverty and underdevelopment, its commitment to preventing climate collapse and its commitment to peace are a function of China’s political system, its revolutionary history, and the leadership of the CPC.

While democracy turns out not to have been the essential ingredient in the West’s modernisation, socialist democracy is certainly an essential ingredient of China’s modernisation. Because of China’s revolution and the party’s adherence to the Four Cardinal Principles, power in China is exercised by, and on behalf of, the people – not a small group of wealthy people that own and deploy capital. As such, China’s modernisation serves the people.

China’s ongoing process of socialist modernisation is therefore an inspiration and a valuable lesson to progressive and peace-loving people the world over.

Xi Jinping urges efforts to carry forward the founding spirit of the CPC

Shortly after the conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the CPC, General Secretary Xi Jinping led a visit of all seven members of the newly elected Politburo Standing Committee to Yan’an, in Shaanxi, a very important location in China’s revolutionary history. Yan’an is where the Chinese Red Army set up its base at the conclusion of the Long March, in late 1935 – a base that served as the centre of the Chinese Revolution for over a decade. It was in Yan’an that several of the key building blocks of Chinese socialism – including the ‘barefoot doctor’ system of basic healthcare provision – were first developed. It is also where some of the classic musical and literary works of the Chinese Revolution were composed, including the famous song ‘The East is Red’, the melody of which was based on a local folk song.

This is the third time that Xi has led a post-Congress visit of the newly elected Standing Committee to an important revolutionary site (the first was in 2012, to The Road to Renewal exhibition in Beijing; the second was in 2017, to the site of the CPC’s First Congress in Shanghai), stating that “the revolutionary sites are like a book that is worth reading all the time” in order to feel inspired by the heroic feats of the Chinese Revolution and to continuously deepen the leadership’s connection to the CPC’s founding principles and objectives. To uphold the legacy of the Yan’an period, “all Party members must stand firmly with the people, act on the Party’s purpose, put into practice the mass line, maintain close ties with the people, take the initiative to apply the people-centered development philosophy to all work, and achieve solid progress in promoting common prosperity, so that the people share more fully and fairly in the gains of modernization.”

We reproduce two articles below reporting on the trip, one from China Daily and one from Xinhua.

Xi urges efforts to carry forward great founding spirit of CPC and Yan’an Spirit

Less than a week after the conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, president of the People’s Republic of China, and chairman of the Central Military Commission, led the members of the Standing Committee of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau to visit Yan’an, an old revolutionary base in Northwest China’s Shaanxi province. The members are Li Qiang, Zhao Leji, Wang Huning, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang and Li Xi. They were there to pay tribute to this sacred land of the Chinese revolution, review the eventful days of the Party Central Committee in Yan’an in the years of the revolutionary war, commemorate the great achievements made by revolutionaries of the older generation, and manifest the conviction of the new central leadership to carry forward the Party’s revolutionary legacy and fighting spirit and present an excellent answer sheet to the people and posterity with new achievements on the road ahead. Xi stressed that we will carry forward the great founding spirit of the Party, the Yan’an Spirit, and our fighting spirit, remain confident in our history, and exhibit greater historical initiative to strive in unity for the fulfillment of the objectives and tasks set forth at the 20th CPC National Congress.

On the morning of October 27, Xi Jinping and the others arrived at the revolutionary site of Yangjialing in northwest Yan’an. In November of 1938, all departments of the CPC Central Committee moved from Fenghuang Hill to Yangjialing, where the CPC held its Seventh National Congress, launched the Yan’an Rectification Movement, and led the Chinese people in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression.

Continue reading Xi Jinping urges efforts to carry forward the founding spirit of the CPC

Red Salute to Dr DS Kotnis on the 110th anniversary of his birth

October 10 sees the 110th birthday of Dr. Dwarkanath Shantaram Kotnis, Indian surgeon, internationalist fighter, and member of the Communist Party of China.

Dr. Kotnis was one of a team of five Indian doctors, one of whom had previously served with the International Brigades in Spain, who were sent to help the Chinese people in their war of resistance against Japan by India’s Congress party, then led by Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Chandra Bose, after China’s Red Army leader Zhu De had written a request to Nehru on the suggestion of Agnes Smedley, the American internationalist who maintained deep ties with the freedom movements in both countries.

The team were seen off from Calcutta (today’s Kolkata) by Congress leaders Bose and Sarojini Naidu, who, at the conclusion of a mass meeting in Jinnah Hall, said: “You are sent to the war-stricken people of China as messengers of goodwill and sympathy.  One or some of you may not return home.” Dr. Kotnis is the one who did not return.

In the spirit of the great Canadian communist, Dr. Norman Bethune, who the team had gone to replace following his death from sepsis incurred while operating behind enemy lines, Dr. Kotnis worked tirelessly, sometimes for 72 hours without sleep. He refused any special treatment, taught himself fluent Chinese, and passed on his knowledge by writing two textbooks on surgery (one uncompleted, he was actually struck by a fatal seizure as he was writing), and becoming a teacher and then the head of the Bethune Medical School.

It was while teaching at the school that he met, fell in love with and married Guo Qinglan, a nurse and nursing teacher. Their son, Yinhua, whose name means India-China was born just four months before Dr. Kotnis’s death.

Participation in the Chinese revolution had a profound effect on Dr. Kotnis. In an April 1, 1942 letter to his fellow team member, Dr. BK Basu, he wrote: “You know very well how backward I was before reaching Yan’an, my brain full of bourgeois ideas, and though full of national sentiments, hazy ideas of revolutionary methods. During over one year’s stay here, living the life of an Eighth Route Army man, ever receiving criticism from comrades, both during meetings and personal talks, I have myself been experiencing a good deal of transformation in my character, ideas etc.”

In July that year, Dr. Kotnis was admitted to membership of the Communist Party of China. When a student graduated from the Bethune School, Kotnis would write them the following words of encouragement: “Study hard for the sake of the liberation of the oppressed mankind” in English, and “Victory in the war of resistance against Japan” in Chinese.

In Shijiazhuang, the capital of Hebei province, the Ke Dihua (Kotnis’s Chinese name) Medical Science Secondary Specialized School, was founded in 1992. More than 45,000 medical professionals have graduated from it. Each of the new students and staff must swear in front of a statue of Kotnis that they will work like him.

Continue reading Red Salute to Dr DS Kotnis on the 110th anniversary of his birth

Why the People’s Republic of China embraced Paul Robeson

The below article by Gao Yunxiang (Professor of History at Toronto Metropolitan University in Canada and author of the critically acclaimed Arise, Africa! Roar, China! Black and Chinese Citizens of the World in the Twentieth Century, published last year) is a fascinating and detailed account of the special relations between the Chinese revolution and the great African-American singer, actor and Marxist Paul Robeson (1898-1976), which date from the 1930s and which still resonate today. Professor Gao describes this as “part of the history that connects Black internationalism with the experiences of Chinese and Chinese American people.”

She explains that the Chinese love for Robeson “derives most of all from his role in globalising the future national anthem of the People’s Republic of China.” Introduced to it in November 1940, for Robeson, its lyrics “expressed the determination of the world’s oppressed, in their struggle for liberation.” In November 1941, he recorded it in an album together with the Chinese People’s Chorus, which had been organised by members of the Chinese Hand Laundry Alliance, an important working-class organisation in New York City’s Chinatown. Soong Qingling, widow of China’s first president Dr. Sun Yat-sen, and later Honorary President of the People’s Republic of China, described Robeson as the “voice of the people of all lands.”

However, Robeson’s connections to the struggles and aspirations of the Chinese people date back to at least 1935, when he met in London with Mei Lanfang, considered the father of modern Peking Opera, who was returning from three weeks of successful appearances in the Soviet Union.

On October 1 1949, when Chairman Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Robeson sang the national anthem on the streets of Harlem and cabled his congratulations to the Chinese leader. Despite vicious persecution, he stood firm when Chinese forces entered the Korean war. Mutual support between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea would, he insisted, be the “great truth” in their shared journey to freedom. It was only logical for Chinese volunteers to come to “the aid of the heroic Korean people.”

The article also highlights how the 1940 film ‘The Proud Valley’, starring Robeson and set in the mining communities of South Wales, was shown in China in the 1950s as well as his participation in mass China friendship activities in Britain after the US authorities were forced to restore his passport.

Whilst this article contains a couple of assertions towards its conclusion with which the editors of this website do not agree, we republish it because the fascinating and moving historical material it presents needs to be made known to the widest possible audience.

The article was originally carried by Australia’s Aeon Newsletter.

Several times in recent years, Chinese broadcasters have aired shows that feature Paul Robeson (1898-1976), one of the most popular African American singers and actors of his era and a well-known civil rights activist. China National Radio and various channels of the widely influential China Central TV showcased Robeson on programmes in 2009, 2012 and 2021 narrating China’s resistance to foreign military aggressions. This is a remarkable amount of coverage in Chinese media for an American who died decades ago. Though not widely known in the United States, the relationship between Robeson and China continues to resonate in China today. It’s part of the history that connects Black internationalism with the experiences of Chinese and Chinese American people. Robeson was one of the most important figures in an alliance between Maoist China and politically radical African Americans.

Continue reading Why the People’s Republic of China embraced Paul Robeson