Shanghai People's Commune

The Shanghai People's Commune (Chinese: 上海人民公社; pinyin: Shànghǎi Rénmín Gōngshè) was established in January 1967 during the January Storm (Chinese: 一月风暴), also known as the January Revolution (Chinese: 一月革命),[1] of China's Cultural Revolution. The Commune was modelled on the Paris Commune. It lasted less than a month before it was replaced.

Shanghai People's Commune
Commune of  China
Shanghai in China (+all claims hatched).svg
Location of Shanghai in China
GovernmentRevolutionary committee
 • TypeCommune
• 1967
Zhang Chunqiao
Historical eraCultural Revolution
• Established
5 January 1967
• Proclaimed
5 February 1967
• Disestablished
24 February 1967


As the Cultural Revolution gained momentum in 1966, it became evident that Chairman Mao Zedong and his Maoist followers in Beijing had underestimated the ability of local party organizations to resist the attacks from Red Guards. By the end of 1966 many regional party groupings had survived by paying lip service to Maoist teachings while countering the attacks of local Maoists.[2]

To break the stalemate which had begun to form, Maoist leaders called for the "seizure of power by proletarian revolutionaries", a concept originally mentioned in the Sixteen Articles (a statement of the aims of the Cultural Revolution approved at the 11th Plenum of the Communist Party of China in August 1966). Shanghai was chosen as the first place where this "seizure" would be attempted.

Shanghai's experience of the Cultural Revolution had begun in the summer of 1966 with the formation of Red Guard groups proclaiming their loyalty to Chairman Mao. The movement quickly became heavily factionalized (as was the norm), but also rapidly developed very radical tendencies, with attacks on the authority of the city's mayor and physical attacks on government buildings.[3] By the autumn of the same year, the spirit of rebellion had spread from the city's schools to the factories, and there soon followed the creation of many different worker-based groups. In November, several of these groups proceeded to form an alliance (the 'Headquarters of the Revolutionary Revolt of Shanghai Workers') led by Wang Hongwen.

By this point, the Cultural Revolution in Shanghai was proceeding at a rapid pace. On 8 November, the Worker's Headquarters presented a list of demands to the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee demanding the replacement of the old "bureaucracy" with new organs that had widespread support. These demands were refused, but two days later a large number of workers seized a train to Beijing, with the intention of presenting their demands personally to Mao. The train was intercepted at Anting (several miles from Shanghai). Nearly half of the workers remained on board, refusing to return to Shanghai, turning the situation into a three-day siege.

The response from the Maoist leaders in Beijing was one of caution. Their first response was to send a telegram stating the seriousness of disobeying Party instructions, but before the order could be implemented a second message from the leadership was personally conveyed by Zhang Chunqiao (a leading member of the Cultural Revolution Group) to Anting, and he proceeded to grant the Worker's Headquarters legal status and cede to them all of their demands.[4] The event signaled the exhaustion of the established apparatus' last political capital.

It was in this situation that the attempt to seize power would be conducted in early January 1967.


On 5 January 1967, a dozen groups allied with the Worker's Headquarters grouping published a "Message to all the People of Shanghai" in the city's main newspaper, calling for unity in the workers' movement. The next day over one million people gathered in the city's main square to see a televised mass meeting, in which the city's officials were denounced and removed from their positions. This marked the fall of the old established apparatus. The now leaderless old apparatus was taken over by Zhang Chunqiao who came again to Shanghai with his colleague Yao Wenyuan to restore order. The pair proceeded to strike a deal with Wang Hongwen to guarantee the support of the Worker's Headquarters[5] and, with the support of the People's Liberation Army, order had been restored to Shanghai by the end of January.

However, the unity that had existed early in January was not to last. While the Scarlet Guards (another worker grouping who were rivals of the Worker's Headquarters) proceeded to pledge their support to the new leadership, the more radical groups involved in the January revolution moved into a position of opposition, fearing that the new apparatus was of little difference to the old bureaucracy. By the end of January and the beginning of February, these groups had taken up arms again, and the factional fighting that had dominated the previous year was resumed.

To secure the support of all the major groups, Zhang promised the introduction of a model based on the Paris Commune, a measure that quickly gained popular approval (all the groups mutually despised dictatorships). On 5 February 1967, the Shanghai Commune was formally proclaimed with Zhang Chunqiao as the head of the new organisation, but the movement was to be short-lived and marred with difficulty.


Although the Shanghai Commune was based on Paris Commune model with a "self government of producers", the Shanghai equivalent varied in several meaningful ways. Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan derived their authority from Beijing and Mao Zedong rather than the proletariat of Shanghai, leading to the questioning of the legitimacy of their leadership. Finally, Zhang's political opponents in Shanghai were soon excluded from the leadership of the Commune, driving several groups to establish a rival 'New Shanghai People's Commune' almost immediately after the first one's formation.

In February 1967, Chen Yi and Ye Jianying openly criticized the cultural revolution.[6] Chen Yi was then violently attacked by the Red Guards and removed from power despite the protection of Zhou Enlai. He nevertheless kept his titles but no longer assumed the responsibilities.[7] Peng Dehuai was arrested, and died in prison.

Meanwhile, in Beijing, the concept of 'revolutionary committees' (triple alliances between the PLA, cadres, and workers) had attracted Mao as the best organ of local government to replace the old apparatus with. As a result, in an audience with Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan in mid-February, Mao suggested the transformation of the Shanghai Commune into a revolutionary committee.[8] On February 24, in a televised speech to the people of Shanghai, Zhang announced the now non-existence of the Shanghai Commune, and in the subsequent weeks the 'Revolutionary Committee of the Municipality of Shanghai' was established in the city.

All in all, the Shanghai Commune had lasted less than a month.

Between 1968 and 1976, one million skilled workers from Shanghai were sent to rural underdeveloped inner China, officially to share their "revolutionary experiences" and to help develop the country.[9][10] Some radical leaders who had opposed the Red Guards that dethroned the Shanghai Municipal Committee in 1967 were publicly executed in April 1968.[10]


  1. ^ "January Storm".
  2. ^ Meisner 1986, p. 342.
  3. ^ Meisner 1986, p. 343.
  4. ^ Meisner 1986, p. 345.
  5. ^ Meisner 1986, p. 347.
  6. ^ Guokai 2006, p. 2.
  7. ^ Bergère 1989, p. 228.
  8. ^ MacFarquhar & Schoenhals 2006, p. 168.
  9. ^ Hongsheng & Hazan 2014, p. 230.
  10. ^ a b Courtois 1999, p. 628.