Inviting the protagonists and setting the stage
With its historical baggage of the “old” consultative conference, the reconvening of a "new” conference became a political tightrope act: if the CCP convened a meeting before it could be sure that DPG representatives would participate, it would lose face. Furthermore, the convening of a consultative conference before military victory was within reach would undermine the historical significance of the event, which could then no longer serve as a prelude to the institutionalization of the new government. Mao thus hesitated to proclaim the founding of the PRC before strategic locations, such as the Beiping (Beijing) and Nanjing, had come under CCP control.29 On the other hand, if the CCP waited too long, the Americans might pressure the GMD to reconvene a consultative conference driving a wedge between the Communists and the intellectuals and DPGs. From early 1948 onward, the CCP began to stage a process of planning and consultation by forming a “Preparatory Committee of the New Consultative Conference” (Xin zhengxie choubei hui
They hoped to bring the DPGs to commit themselves publicly in support of a CCP-led government prior to the founding of the PRC.
With the "Labor Day Call” (Wuyi kouhao Ti— on May 1, 1948, the CCP
extended a formal invitation to all peasants, workers, and Chinese youth of the “freedom movement” (ziyou yundong É1 ÈitlWl) as well as the intellectuals, the “free capitalist class” (ziyou zichan jieji I I É1WM liifft), the DPGs, prominent public figures (shehui xianda it#" 'MiÉ),30 and all other patriots to participate in the formation of a “Democratic United Government” (minzhu lianhe zhengfu Kj-Jm Ijtlff).31 The CCP, however, refrained from directly naming people or groups in the call, thereby giving the impression of being open for cooperation with all political forces that could commit to anti-imperialism, anti-feudalism, anti-bureaucratic capitalism, and the fight against Chiang Kai-shek. Cosignatories of this appeal were, among others, leaders of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang (Zhongguo guomindang geming weiyuanhui the Chinese Democratic
League (Zhongguo minzhu tongmeng 1J1 3 KÉî [BJiS), the National Salvation Association (Jiuguohui 3#■), and the Zhigong Party (Zhigongdang Sf-£f^).32
Interestingly, the cosignatories vanished from most official PRC historiographies.33 In 1949, the image of a concerted effort of the CCP and smaller political parties lent credibility to the call for creating a united government. Today, the mentioning of other parties chips away some of the glory that the CCP claims for its vanguard spirit in promoting a “New Democracy.” Yet, even in official narratives that omit the cosignatories, the CCP remains a convener and arbiter, not a controller of events and a symbol that by publicly endorsing the call, the DPGs implicitly accepted CCP leadership. However, as Groot has pointed out:
[T]the support of MPGs [DPGs] did not necessarily mean unqualified endorsement for all CCP policies or its ultimate program. What the MPGs
[DPGs] failed to realize was that the CCP was going to transform them to suit its new agenda.34
By 1948, the CCP had already infiltrated or cooped some of the DPGs, diminishing their independence.35 Yet up until today, the Labor Day Call is a central element of the CCP’s construction of legitimacy.36
Not all of those responding to the Labor Day Call were already influential political forces. A response to the call could also elevate small associations that had previously been politically insignificant to a level of national importance. As A. Doak Barnett rightfully predicted in December 1948,
the alliance of these splinter groups in Hong Kong with the Communist Party lifted the names of their leaders from relative obscurity to prominence in the seething rumor markets of present-day China. ... It is probable, therefore, that some time next year press dispatches and other reports of developments in China will contain the names of many political parties, groups, and leaders in China that heretofore have been virtually unknown, even to many people within their own country.37
The assembling of figures that might not all be famous, but representative, for example, of China’s scholars, scientists, teachers, or business people, might not have hurt the cause of projecting representativeness. Broad strata of Chinese society that felt marginalized by the Communist rhetoric of class struggle should identify with these delegates, and thereby another “celebrity conference” could be avoided. Overall, the CCP narrative of an enthusiastic response of all progressive forces and notable Chinese intellectuals to the Labor Day Call has to be called into question.
Once left-leaning DPG leaders had publicly endorsed the Labor Day Call, the ball was in the playing field of the CCP again. Yet the Communists waited another three months until they reacted to the endorsement. In August 1948, Mao Zedong invited a carefully selected group of 55 DPG representatives and “democrats” (minzhu renshi КІЛІ) to the areas under CCP control to initiate the consultations for the establishment of a united government. Initially, the CCP had planned to convene the consultative conference by autumn in Harbin, but the military situation changed dramatically during the summer of 1948. When the Communist forces advanced quicker than expected, the consultative conference was rescheduled to coincide with the proclamation of a new government.38 To uphold the image of a busy preparation process until a military victory was secured, the CCP finally brought prominent figures, for example, the writer Mao Dun (alias Shen Dehong iXfëÜl. 1896-1981) and his wife Kong Dezhi fLÎÊ'iil: (1897-1970), Li Jishen of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang,39 as well as Shen Junru of the Chinese Democratic League, to the “liberated areas.”40
By involving a maximum number of political activists in this streamlined process, the Communists killed three birds with one stone: first, by inviting these
People’s Political Consultative Conference 289 prominent figures to the areas under their control, the CPP could shield them from the influence of their opponents. As Mao Zedong lamented in December 1948:
Now the Americans ... sent their diplomatic workers and journalists to the leaders of the right-wing of the democratic league - Luo Longji, Zhan[g] Lan, Hua Nanshe, and to the leader of the revolutionary committee of the Guomindang Li Jishen (he is en route to the liberated areas), so as to conduct among them provocative work and efforts to lure [them in]. We already paid attention to this and must do our best to make sure that the Americans will not achieve the aim of their intrigue.41
Indeed, whenGMD member Huang Shaohong (1895-1966) flew to Hong Kong in January 1949 to convince Li Jishen to come to Nanjing and act as a mediator between the GMD and the CCP, he arrived only to find that Li had left days earlier.42 Li and the other prominent figures, among them the political activists Zhu Yunshan (1887-1981) and Peng Zemin (1877-1956), who secretly boarded a cargo ship for Dalian in December 1948, felt they were no longer safe in Hong Kong. The CCP’s offer to smuggle those political leaders persecuted by the GMD out of the city was thus hard to decline. Once the group arrived in Dalian, Zhou Enlai (1898-1976) personally arranged a fine hotel, a banquet, and even a new set of clothes against the harsh Northern winter.43
Second, the CCP leadership was eager to prove that they took the concerns of the smaller parties seriously and organized inspection tours, study sessions, and called for informal discussions. In a speech to fellow CCP cadres, Dong Biwu (1886-1975), who had been involved in the consultations, concluded in August 1949 that when they had published the Labor Day Call in May 1948 to convene the consultative conference, the DPGs still embraced diverse views. Contested issues were especially the leadership status of the CCP, the possibility of peace with the GMD, China’s dependency of the United States and Great Britain, and reservations against the Soviet Union.44 In their meetings with the visiting intellectuals, the CCP put such questions as the continuation of class struggle after the Communist victory,45 the decision on how a “democratic” political system could look like, and which role the DPG leaders would take in the new government up for discussion.46 These exchanges offered a platform for the probing of common ground and the honing of arguments. In other words, in the early months of 1949, the CCP tested the ideological toolkit that they continued to employ after 1949 to convince China’s intellectual elites of the CCP’s rightful rise to power.
And third, the sojourn of the DPG leaders in the model communes of the “liberated areas” held a propagandistic value. Intellectuals like Zhang Bojun (1895-1969) or Shen Junru possessed a valuable social and cultural capital that enabled them to communicate effectively with social groups beyond the Communists’ reach. Writings of Li Jishen, Shen Junru, and Zhang Bojun from the year 1948 illustrate how these political thinkers reframed the plans for a new consultative conference in a way that resonated more with the Republican elites than the anti-capitalist or anti-bureaucrat slogans of the Communist camp. Li, speaking for the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Guomindang, reinterpreted the political writings of Sun Yat-sen (Sun Zhongshan 1866-1925) and claimed that the CCP's proposal of convening a consultative conference was in accordance with Sun's demands for representative institutions. Sun was revered across the political spectrum as an icon of the revolution of 1911, and the article thus invoked his name to construct a sense of shared political ideals of all forces opposed to the GMD’s one-party dictatorship.47 Shen Junru similarly distanced himself from the GMD and reminded his readers that to hope for creating peace with the GMD was just as hopeless as trying to "fish for the moon in the water.”48 And in an article Shen coauthored with Zhang Bojun, both drew a line in the sand between democracy and dictatorship, as well as between the people and the people's enemies. They embraced the call for a new consultative conference as the only remaining road to a democratic, peaceful, and united "New China.” Everyone not on their side was a reactionary working against the interest of the people.49 Without explicitly endorsing Communist ideology, or even praising the military or political achievements of the CCP, all of these writings stressed the moral decay of the GMD. These intellectuals thus achieved what would have been impossible for Communist writers, which is to shift the attention away from the potential danger of a new one-party rule under a Communist regime and to decouple the call for a reconvening of a consultative conference from all ideological questions that separated the DPGs and the CCP.
The second type of publications that disseminated from Northern China were reports on the administrative and political situation in the Communist-ruled areas. Sun Qimeng (1911-2010), a member of the China National Democratic Construction Association (Minzhu jianguohui for example, stressed
that life was like heaven in comparison to the hell of the GMD-held territories and praised the humanistic spirit of the correctional facilities he had visited in Harbin.50 Fifty-five visitors to the “liberated areas” voiced their support for the political strategy of Mao Zedong in a statement they published in several journals such as the Haitao 'W'/W in Shanghai and Hong Kong’s journal Gonghin 2Hira, a mouthpiece of the Zhigong Party.51 In the version that appeared in the Haitao, however, an entire paragraph praising an “atmosphere of democratic freedom,” the exemplary conduct of CCP cadres, and the neat and rapid reconstruction of social and economic order was missing.52 Apparently, the subversive force and the discursive power of this paragraph were forceful enough to necessitate censorship in Shanghai.
Despite their recurring references to democratic principles and appraisals for the rule of law, the publications disseminating from the CCP territories were, at the same time, very frank in their portrayal of the CCP’s understanding of democracy. In a lengthy article, Sun Qimeng discussed how he came to realize that he and his fellow intellectual friends needed to reform their thinking and to better themselves for the service of the people (and thereby the CCP), and he denounced all opposing forces as reactionary.53 Furthermore, these publications spelled out in no uncertain terms what the CCP expected from intellectuals in general and the DPGs in particular. Like the DPG’s public vows of support following the Labor Day Call, these publications thereby contributed to a narrative of a conscious and unhesitant submission of China’s minor political forces to CCP leadership in the months preceding the founding of the People’s Republic. Additionally, in these writings, the DPG leaders themselves undermined any future challenges to CCP's legitimacy by labeling all forces questioning the Communist leadership as revisionist.
Newspaper coverage from the GMD-ruled areas countered the CCP's United Front Work Department’s tale of harmonious and unanimous consultations. It scolded the intellectuals and their DPGs, who had followed the invitation to the “liberated areas,” as victims of false promises. Luo Jianbai (dates unknown) of the Chinese Democratic Socialist Party (Zhongguo minzhu she-huidang ridiculed those leaving for the “liberated” areas as
opportunists trying to hunt down a government post “like ants drawn to rotten meat, like flies in pursuit of a foul smell.”54 The New Statesman (Xin zhengzhijia yfrifk'/H W) similarly denounced the theatrical “beating of gongs and drums for the new consultative conference,” declaring that all those who still hoped the conference would be a continuation of the peace talks of 1946 were misguided. The article quotes extensively from CCP documents to prove that the CCP had, in fact, no interest in engaging with all parties and certainly not on an equal footing.55 Similarly, the journal Life and Time (Shenghuoyu shidai i questioned
the CCP’s attempt to convene a consultative conference consisting of small parties that were in no way representative of the general Chinese population. If they wanted a more inclusive government, why not merely hold a popular election? Yet, the coverage of the preparations for the consultative conference not only questioned the “democratic” motives of the CCP, but it also painted a picture of an exasperated GMD that resorted to both promises and intimidations to keep prominent political figures from joining the conference.56
Overall, the Chinese public was left to speculate for many months as to where the conference would assemble, who was to participate, and whether it would negotiate peace between the GMD and CCP or herald a new political regime. The Communist leadership, due to the rapidly changing national and international political situation and out of security concerns, set no definite date or place. Thus, making a virtue of necessity, Mao Zedong still claimed in the telegram to the DPG representatives that the opportune timing of convening the assembly, its location, and the decision who to invite was not yet set because it should rest in the hands of the democratic leaders to reach a joint decision on these issues.57
In late 1948, before a formal Preparatory Committee for the New Consultative Conference assembled, there were effectively three hubs of activity: the first was the CCP’s United Front headquarter in Lijiazhuang, where Zhou Enlai hosted some of Beijing’s prominent intellectuals like Fu Dingyi — (1877-1958), Wu Han (1909-1969), and Liu Qingyang (1894-1977); the second was the Northeastern Bureau of the CCP in Harbin, where the CCP cadres Gao Gang iWi® (1905-1954) and Li Fuchun (1900-1975) conferred with DPG leaders Shen Junru. Tan Pingshan af T4ll (1886-1956), Zhang Bojun, and others who had arrived from Hong Kong in September 1948; the third was the network of political allies remaining in Hong Kong.58 In the following months, drafts, comments, and revisions were sent back and forth between these three locations.59 Unfortunately, the paper trail that these deliberations must have left behind has to this day not been made public. Nonetheless, the available sources allow us to reconstruct the haggling over the size and composition of the CPPCC. Here again, the symbolic dimension is not only reflective of reality, but it also constituted reality: the list of factions invited to the CPPCC became a barometer registering who gained or lost favor with the CCP in the following months.