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Why Yan'an still matters to the CPC?

Updated 16:47, 22-Jul-2024
Gao Lei , Xia Lu
Tourists visit the Pagoda Mountain Scenic spot in Yan'an, Shaanxi, China, September 18, 2022. /CFP
Tourists visit the Pagoda Mountain Scenic spot in Yan'an, Shaanxi, China, September 18, 2022. /CFP

Tourists visit the Pagoda Mountain Scenic spot in Yan'an, Shaanxi, China, September 18, 2022. /CFP

Editor's note: Gao Lei is associate professor Center for Xi Jinping Thoughts on Opening-up, Research Institute of Globalization and China's Modernization, University of International Business & Economics. Xia Lu is associate professor and research fellow at National Academy for Development & Strategy, The Academy of Xi Jinping Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, Renmin University of China.The article reflects the authors' opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On October 26-28, after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) concluded, Xi Jinping, along with newly elected members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the 20th CPC Central Committee, visited Yan'an in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, as well as Anyang in central China's Henan Province.

The CPC's new leadership is embarking on a new journey to build a modern socialist country. The Politburo emphasizes the Party's history. Yan'an was highlighted for its spirit of struggle that has promoted a sinicization of Marxism and the great production campaign.

Struggle – the core idea of Yan'an spirit

In October 1934 when the CPC and Red Army retreated from the Jiangxi-Fujian Soviet areas, they had embarked on their Long March. But only a few people at that time would know the final destination. After almost a one-year's struggle, against adversaries both inside and outside the Party, the CPC Central Committee, led by Mao Zedong, fought their way to reach a small and destitute town named Wuqi, now Wuqi county about 90 miles from Yan'an. Another year would pass before the CPC Central Committee settled down in Yan'an.

Accordingly the CPC Central Committee in Yan'an was a hard-earned achievement, filled with endless challenges. The most immediate one came from mother nature. The remote Northwestern hinterland, though once giving birth to ancient Chinese civilization, could hardly afford to take care of so many personnel affiliated with the Party and Red Army. But instead of surrendering, the revolutionaries had endured the formerly uninhabitable barren conditions with their bare hands and primitive instruments. But the Kuomintang (KMT) forces still besieged the base area, trying to choke the CPC. Mao Zedong declared, "Communists do not yield to anything or anyone." Holding on to the faith and standing with the masses, the CPC turned the arduous the CPC Central Committee in Yan'an  into a solid foundation for the socialist path with Chinese characteristics.    

Tourists visit Mao Zedong's former residence in Yan'an, Shaanxi, China, September 18, 2022. /CFP
Tourists visit Mao Zedong's former residence in Yan'an, Shaanxi, China, September 18, 2022. /CFP

Tourists visit Mao Zedong's former residence in Yan'an, Shaanxi, China, September 18, 2022. /CFP

Sinification of Marxism – meeting the needs of China and the time

The CPC Central Committee in Yan'an also witnessed the CPC maturing with theoretical innovation. During this period the Sixth Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee of the Party was held in 1938 to promote the "Sinicization of Marxism," viewing it as crucial to victory for the revolution.

The idea was simple: To find a Chinese way of revolution. But it was not easy back then. Actually, the Communist International (Comintern), the CPC's superior organ from 1921 to 1943 was based in Moscow, sought to use "my way or the highway"-like narrative to guide Chinese revolution from afar. Apparently, Moscow was the only successful case to make Marxist social revolution theory into reality, communists around the world treated their criticism and guidance seriously – so they did not question whether Moscow's path was suitable or not.

Placing a nation's fate in the foreigners' hands could be dangerous. Thus, amid the uncertain journey of the Long March, the CPC had reviewed the positive and negative impact from its early revolutionary endeavors. Gradually the revolutionaries realized that China has its own distinctive conditions and copying another country's experiences could not lead to victory. They have become more aware that to make the Chinese nation great again they require their own theoretical guidance – the one about meeting China's needs and the time.

Agricultural production – the base of modernization

Shouldn't we forget the material basis, as Karl Marx argues in his Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte that "Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past." The CPC in Yan'an sought to improve the living conditions of Chinese peasants, but they must get rid of grinding difficulties imposed by the KMT first. Hence, the great production campaign was launched. CPC cadres at all levels, from Mao Zedong, Zhu De, then the Commander in Chief of the army and Zhou Enlai, who later became the first premier of the People's Republic of China, at the top to the rank-and-file officials, took part in agricultural manual labor in person, carrying out the promise that grain should be held in one's own hands.

From now on, the CPC had launched the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation through the Chinese modernization path and it should undertake the task under existing conditions, which rests in the still unbalanced development of agriculture sector and rural areas. Without agricultural and rural modernization, the entire country cannot achieve modernization nationwide. In the report of the 20th National Congress of the CPC, Xi Jinping pointed out that to build a modern socialist country in all respects; the strenuous task still lies in the agriculture sector and rural areas. During his trip to Yan'an, Xi reiterated this point with a focus on increasing local peasant's incomes by developing featured planting with advantages.

Seeking truth from the facts is one of the CPC's principles and secret of success, and the Party's story in Yan'an attests to that principle. Accordingly, Xi Jinping has viewed the revolutionary sites at Yan'an as a book that could be repeatedly read and the spirit of Yan'an is a valuable legacy that could be learned from. Why Yan'an still matters? Perhaps this is the answer.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries on CGTN Opinion Section.)

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