I am researching the experiences and activities of future Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cadres during their time in Europe in the 1920s
My research entails studying the cross-cultural transmission of political ideas and practices to the Chinese
sojourners, and assessing its impact in China. It also means following them home, to understand
how this period of international exchange provided fuel for revolution back in China.
The study raises two principal questions that apply beyond the Chinese experience.
Firstly, it considers the nature of agency in the development of revolutions. In Ten theses on the Chinese revolution, Joseph Esherick argued that the success of the Chinese revolution was, among other factors, contingent on events and individuals – not just broad economic trends (Modern China (21:1:IV, p.45-76). Moreover, a variety of political views existed among early Chinese ‘communists’, and the Party’s development was not simply a centralised phenomenon, as older studies by Apter (1994-5), Dirlik (1989) and van de Ven (1991) argued. In its focus on a range of individual and group sources, my own research methodology reflects these approaches.
Secondly, the research is cross-cultural, considering how a group of Chinese sojourners adopted
revolutionary ideas and identities while abroad.
Nie Rongzhen, Marshal of the People’s Liberation Army and deputy premier, wrote in the 1980s:
“The point of departure for the [Chinese] Revolution will always be impossible to forget… [in France in the 1920s] I entirely changed the foundations of my perspective on the world and set myself resolutely on the
path of revolution.”