Reposted from Nao (May 5, 2014).1


Brief reflection on the historical significance of early 20th century Chinese anarchism, from a 2013 conference commemorating the centennial of China’s first anarchist periodical, Huiminglu, better known as Minsheng (Voice of the People).



Huiming Centennial:

Why Talk about 1910s Anarchism in the 2010s?


This conference aims to (1) commemorate the centennial anniversary of Huminglu, and (2) promote interaction among people fighting against oppression in China and elsewhere. A century ago in this very city, Shifu and his associates launched China’s first anarchist periodical, Huiminglu (Records of the Rooster Crowing in the Dark), which changed its name to Minsheng (Voice of the People) upon moving to Shanghai in 1914. There the group connected to Minsheng began researching workers’ resistance. In 1917 they returned to Guangzhou to help workers there form China’s earliest modern labor unions, in 1918 starting China’s first labor periodical and organizing China’s first May Day demonstration. Minsheng focused on popularizing the ideas and practical experiences of European anarchists such as Kropotkin and Chinese anarchists such as Liu Shipei and He Zhen. Liu and He had begun publishing from Tokyo in 1907, becoming the first people in the history of Chinese thought to theorize “women” and “peasants” as subjects of social revolution. It was through Minsheng that many Chinese revolutionaries (anarchist and otherwise) were exposed to such ideas, which came to play key roles in the New Culture Movement, the May Fourth Movement and the Shanghai Labor University. In 1921 some anarchists and former anarchists took part in founding the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), adopting Bolshevized Marxism, while others gradually became opponents of the CCP, developing various critiques of Leninist theory and the USSR’s model of practice — Ou Shengbai’s critique coming close to European left communist positions. The Chinese anarchist movement effectively ended by 1930 after losing many partisans to the CCP and suffering brutal repression by the Nationalist KMT, but in the first three decades of the 20th century, it was the most influential alternative to the revolutionary models offered by those two parties, with over 90 anarchist organizations at the movement’s peak in 1920 and an estimated “several thousand” anarchists influencing countless other revolutionaries and reformers. Although their theory and practice had many flaws, perhaps by looking back after a century of failed revolutions we can excavate some forgotten lessons of relevance to our present situation.

Historical background

Historian Arif Dirlik dates “the heyday of anarchism in China” from 1905 to 1930, when various forms of anarchism played a central role in China’s diverse revolutionary discourse and practice, until they were marginalized and suppressed by the Guomindang, on the one hand, and the CCP, on the other. The first Chinese anarchist organization, World Society (世界社), was founded in Paris in 1906, followed by the Society for the Study of Socialism (社会主义讲习会) and the overlapping Society for the Restoration of Women (女子复权会), both founded in Tokyo in 1907. The latter two organizations and their journals Natural Justice (天义报) and Discussion (衡报) played key roles in theorizing women and peasants as central subjects of the “communalist” reorganization of China and the world. Maoism later embraced this prospect, only to distort its revolutionary potential by subordinating peasants and women to the exigencies of “defending the revolution” and “developing the forces of production.” The presentations by {XX} and {XX} deal with aspects of this suppressed possibility first theorized by Chinese anarchists in Tokyo.2 Natural Justice also published the first Chinese translation of Marxist texts: the first section of The Communist Manifesto and selections from The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, both in 1907.

The first anarchist organizations in China were the overlapping Conscience Society (心社) and Cock’s Crow Society (晦鸣学社), established by the Cantonese Shifu and his comrades in Guangzhou in 1912, relocating to Shanghai in 1914 as the Society of Anarcho-Communist Comrades (无政府共产主义同志会). The “centennial” commemorated by this conference refers to their journal, founded in 1913 as Huiminglu, then renamed Voice of the People (民声) the following year, which provided some coherence and continuity to China’s generally fragmented anarchist movement until 1922. In 1917, anarchists associated with this group initiated the formation of China’s first modern labor unions, among barbers and teahouse workers in Guangzhou. The following year they organized China’s first May Day celebration and founded China’s first labor journal, Labor (劳动). At the same time, anarchists in Beijing and elsewhere played a major role in the New Culture, May Fourth, New Life and New Village movements of the late 1910s, as well as some early efforts at organizing peasant insurrection in the 1920s, forming a radical pole in reference to which other revolutionaries and reformers had to define themselves — or as Dirlik writes, “an irreducible horizon” that forced revolutionary discourse in general “out of its political boundaries onto the uncertain terrain of the social.”

According to one estimate, there were several thousand self-described anarchists throughout China in the early 1920s, with 92 organizations formed between 1919 and 1925.3 When the Comintern initiated Marxist study groups in several Chinese cities in 1920, anarchists featured prominently, with the Guangzhou group consisting entirely of anarchists. Until some of these groups formed the CCP the following year, the term “communism” was most commonly understood as meaning anarcho-communism.4 Throughout the 20s, many old and new anarchists went on to develop critiques of the Bolshevized Marxism of the CCP and the USSR, along with the ideology and practice of China’s ruling Guomindang. Many others compromised their ideals (or revised their strategy) to justify collaboration with the Republican government, especially after the Guomindang crackdown on the CCP in 1927. For example, anarchists ran the experimental Labor University in Shanghai and its newspaper Revolution (革命周报) throughout 1927 and 1928, hoping to use that as a base for reviving the possibility of social revolution. Over the following two years, however, the Guomindang extended its repression to the anarchists, effectively ending the Chinese anarchist movement by 1930. This roughly coincided with the global eclipse of anarchism by various forms of Marxism, nationalism and liberalism until its resurgence starting in the 1960s and taking off in the 1990s. (One important exception was Spain, which saw the most successful anarchist-led revolutionary movement to date in 1936; there anarchism was not suppressed until the fascist victory in 1939, after which it has remained an influential memory to the present.)

Why talk about it now?

Just over 20 years ago, when many still believed that Chinese socialism might be salvageable if only reformed properly, Dirlik wrote that the early Chinese anarchists “demand our attention” for at least two reasons “beyond the historical”: (1) because “against revolutionary strategies that presupposed a necessary compromise of revolutionary goals in order to confront the exigencies of immediate necessity, they reaffirmed a revolutionary consciousness […] that provides an indispensable critical perspective from the Left on the unfolding of the Chinese revolution,” and (2) “what they had to say about revolution in one of the most important revolutionary historical contexts of the 20th century may have much to tell us about revolution at a time when the crisis of socialism (and society) is deeper than ever.”

During the 20 years since Dirlik wrote that, anarchism underwent a major revival and development globally, including a much smaller revival in the Chinese-speaking world. Following the fragmentation of Marxism in the global 1960s and its marginalization in many countries in the 1980s-1990s, anarchist ideas and tactics re-emerged and developed in conversation with new trends in Marxian theory, coming to play key if not central roles in the anti-globalization and environmentalist movements of the 1990s, for example, and in the post-2006 sequence of struggles characterized by riots and plaza occupations (including the Greek uprising of 2008, the Arab Spring, and the “Occupy” movement) – just as it had played a key role in early 20th century revolutionary discourse and practice in China and elsewhere. Many would argue, therefore, that Dirlik’s reasons to study the early Chinese anarchists should be expanded to include the possible use of their legacy to help revive the anarchist movement in China. I will not make such a proposal – personally, I think that both past and present anarchist movements have at least as many flaws as Marxism, and moreover that certain strands of Marxian theory are more helpful for understanding our contemporary world and how it might be changed. More importantly, I think we might benefit from discarding the traditional division of the radical left into exclusive identities such as “anarchist” and “Marxist” – along with factionalism among anarchists and Marxists. This is not a call for a united front: if anything, I think we need more theoretical clarity, but I think that clarity will come not from traditional divisions such as “anarchist” vs. “Marxist,” but from empirical research and practical experimentation that draw critically on both traditions and perhaps others. I encourage people to study China’s anarchist legacy, therefore, both to excavate elements of its rich (anti-)political imagination that were subsequently distorted or suppressed, and to learn practical lessons from its mistakes that many anarchists and others today seem prone to repeat.





这次交流会宗旨在于:一、纪念《晦鸣录》诞生一百周年,二、促进国内外反对各种压迫的人士之间的交流。一百年以前,师复在广州发起了中国最早的安那其主义 期刊《晦鸣录》,1914年在上海更名为《民声》,一直出版到1922年。这群安那其主义者1914年在上海开始研究工人的自我组织和反抗,1917年回 到广州后协助了工人成立中国最早的现代工会,1918年组织了中国第一次五一劳动节游行,并创办了中国首本劳动期刊。《晦鸣录/民声》旨在宣传全球安那其 运动实践、克鲁泡特金等欧洲安那其主义者的思想以及师复、刘师培等中国安那其主义者对此思想的本土化探索。比如,刘师培等早期中国安那其主义者在1907 年于东京出版的《天义报》是中国思想史上第一次把“女子“和“农民”理论化为社会革命的主体,这种思想通过《民声》在中国开始得到普及与实践。受到《民 声》影响的许多安那其主义者及其他中国革命家又在“新文化”、“五四”、“新生活”、“新村”、“劳动大学”等民国时期的社会运动上起到了关键作用。一部 分安那其主义者在1921年参加了中共的成立,放弃了安那其主义而接受了列宁化的马克思主义;同时另一部分安那其主义者逐渐成为中共的对手,对列宁主义理 论及苏联的实践模式进行了批评。中国安那其运动在1920年代末受到国民党镇压之后便未再复兴,但此前,它可以说是中国社会主义运动中的第三种选择,在 1920年前后的高峰期全国各地有90多个安那其主义团队中的数千个参与者,受到他们影响的各种革命者和改良者更数不胜数。虽然安那其主义在理论上和策略 上都有许多缺点,然而,在百年后回望,我们也许能够挖掘出来一些有价值的启发。


历史学家德里克把1905年到1930年称为中国安那其主义的“全盛时期”,在它们受到国民党和中国共产党边缘化及压迫前,多种安那其主义在中国多元化的 革命话语和实践中一直起到了中心作用。(Anarchism一般翻译为“无政府主义”,但我觉得“安那其主义”比较好,因为anarchism的意思比较 广,不仅是主张无政府的社会状态,也是主张在生活各个领域的“无统治”或者说非强迫性的、自愿的互助关系。)1906年在巴黎成立的“世界社”是首个中国 安那其主义团体,紧接着在1907年东京成立了由安那其主义者领导的“社会主义讲习会”及“女子复权会”。后者及其编印的杂志《天义报》和《衡报》中该是 中国思想上首次把“女子”和“农民”理论化为社会革命的主体。毛泽东后来接纳了这样的思想,然而在毛主义却只把农民和妇女隶属于“捍卫革命”及“发展生产 力”此类迫切需要,因而扭曲了二者的革命潜力。(XX和XX此次的讲座将涉及这种受镇压所引起的可能性。)《天义报》也首次刊载了马克思主义的两个中译本 ——《共产党宣言》及《家庭、私有制和国家的起源》中的部分节选。

中国最早的安那其主义组织是由广东人刘师复及其同志们1912年在广州成立的“心社”及“晦鸣学社”这两个人员重叠的姐妹组织,1914年转移至上 海,成立“无政府共产主义同志会”。这次交流会所纪念的“一百周年”指的就是这群人在1913年创立的《晦鸣录》,1914年更名为《民声》,一直到 1922年给中国安那其提供了持续性。1917年与这个团体有关的安那其主义者在广州协助了理发师和茶馆工人组织中国最早的现代工会,1918年又在广州 领导了中国第一个五一劳动节庆典,并创立了中国首本劳工期刊《劳动》。在同一时期,北京及其他地方的安那其主义者在20世纪10年代末的“新文化”、“五 四”、“新生活”、“新村”等运动起到了主要作用,也在20年代组织农民起义上做出早期努力,成为一个激进的极点,因而其他革命者及改革者自我定义的时候 就不得不将其为参照点。正如德里克(1991:34)所写,当时的安那其主义成为“一个不可缩小的视野”,迫使广义的革命话语“摆脱‘政治’层面的束缚而 走向不可预知的‘社会’层面”。

据估计,20年代初中国有数千名安那其主义者,以及92个成立于1919-1925年间的安那其主义组织(晓星,于德里克1991:13中被引 用)。当1920年共产国际在中国多个城市开创马克思主义研究小组时,安那其主义者起了显著的作用,广州的团体最初完全是由安那其主义者组成的,直到第二 年一些小组成立中国共产党前,“共产主义”一词最通常地被理解为无政府共产主义(德里克1991:17)。贯穿整个20年代,很多新老安那其主义者相继展 开对苏联的列宁化马克思主义理论与实践的评判。同时他们也批判了当时执政的国民党的意识形态和实践,尽管其余的不少人(尤其是在1927年国民党镇压共产 党之后)跟民国政府合作,例如在上海试验性的“劳动大学”及其报纸《革命周报》的运营上。但在1928年,国民党将其对激进分子的镇压逐渐扩大到安那其主 义者的身上,在1930年前基本上结束了中国的安那其主义运动。这与其他国家的情况大同小异,全球的安那其主义在二十年代逐渐被各种马克思主义、民族主义 及自由主义所代替,直到60年代才开始复兴并于90年代迅速发展。(不得不提的例外是西班牙,它始于1936年的工农社会革命无疑是历史上最成功的由安那 其主义者领导的群众运动,直到1938年才被法克斯等势力所镇压,之后仍留具有影响力的记忆。)


就在20多年前(当时很多人仍相信只要改革恰当,中国的社会主义还是可能挽回的),德里克(1991:46)写到早期的中国安那其主义者之所以“急需要我 们的注意”至少是有两种“历史之外的”原因:(1)因为“相对于为了面对迫切的直接需要而对革命目标预设了必要妥协的革命策略,安那其主义者重申了一种革 命意识……这种革命意识提供了一种在揭示中国革命发展时来自左派的、不可或缺的批评视角,”以及(2)“他们在20世纪这样一个最重要的革命历史背景下不 得不发表的革命言论,可能会告诉我们很多在社会主义(以及社会)之中的危机比以往都要深的时候与革命有关的情况。”

自德里克如此描述后的20年间,安那其主义在全球经历了复兴和发展(甚至在使用汉语的地方,它也经历了小莫的复兴)。随着马克思主义在60年代全球 范围内的破碎以及八九十年代间在许多国家的边缘化,安那其主义者的观点和战略(tactics)在与马克思主义理论的新趋势进行谈话中再次浮现和发展,例 如,对90年代反全球化以及环保运动起到了举足轻重的作用,还有2006年之后的一系列以骚乱及广场占领为特征的斗争中(包括2008年的希腊起义和 2011年以来的阿拉伯之春及“占领华尔街”等运动)——正如它在上世纪早期中国等地方的革命话语和实践中起到了关键作用一样。德里克说我们应该向中国早 期的安那其主义学习,而不少人认为,除了学习之余,还应利用前人遗留下来的资源去帮助安那其运动在中国的复兴。我将不会做出这样一个建议——就我而言,过 去和现在的安那其主义运动都至少和马克思主义有同样多的缺陷,此外运用某些马克思式理论更有助于我们理解当代世界以及它如何可能被改变。更重要的是,我认 为,如果能废弃诸如“安那其主义者”与“马克思主义者”对激进左翼的传统区分和排斥性身份,我们将能从此得益。我说这一点的目的并非要把重要问题的分歧忽 视或实现统一战线:反之,我认为我们需要更多理论上的阐明,但此种阐明并非来自诸如对“安那其主义者”和“马克思主义者”之间的传统区分,而是来自批评性 地利用这两种传统来进行实证性研究及实践性试验。因此,我建议大家去了解中国安那其主义的遗产,不仅是为了挖掘出一些后来被扭曲或压制的丰富(反)政治想 象力,并且从它的错误中吸取经验教训,以免如今许多安那其主义者及其他人重蹈覆辙。



  1. We repost this here because the author posted it on Nao before co-founding Chuang in 2015. Chuang and Nao continue to exist as separate projects.
  2.  Also see The Birth of Chinese Feminism, edited by Liu, Karl and Ko (Columbia University Press 2013), and “Imagining a Different Future: Anarchist Equality and the Form of Labour in the Journal of Natural Justice” by Zhihang Qiao (Frontiers of History in China 7(3), 2012).
  3. Xiao Xing, cited in Dirlik 1991, p. 13.
  4.   Dirlik 1991, p. 17.
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