- From Nothing to Nothing: The Chinese Communist Movement and Hong Kong, 1921-1936
As Professor Chan Lau Kit-Ching aptly observes, Hong Kong's first encounter with Chinese Communism predates July 1, 1997. It has been involved in the Chinese Communist movement ever since the movement's inception in 1921, and for many years before the Communist takeover in 1949 Hong Kong had served as headquarters for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Guangdong. The examination of this previously neglected history promises to shed light on our knowledge of the revolutionary movement not just in the locality of Hong Kong but also in Guangdong and the Chinese nation as a whole (pp. 1-2).
Based in Hong Kong, Chan enjoyed a favorable position while exploring this topic. Besides ready access to local archives, both government and private, the proximity of Hong Kong to Guangzhou allowed her to conduct archival research conveniently in the Guangdong Provincial Archives, which hosts the most comprehensive collection of pre-1949 Party documents on Guangdong (including Hong Kong) accessible to both Chinese and foreign historians.1 Furthermore, the Feng Ping Shan Library at the University of Hong Kong has an impressive and expanding acquisition of historical materials on the CCP in Guangdong, published [End Page 412] both publicly and internally in the People's Republic of China (PRC). These resources were within "easy reach" (p. 12) for Chan, who teaches at the University.
Given Chan's obvious advantages, the outcome of her research is, however, disappointing. Notwithstanding some shrewd observations, this present work is marred by a marked unfamiliarity with the historiography of the Chinese Communist Revolution. A quick historiographical survey will refute Chan's belief that there is "a dearth of regional studies of the Chinese Communist Movement, especially in the English language" (p. 2). Over the last two decades, Western scholarship has produced intensive studies of the revolution in local contexts,2 although they are predominantly rural in focus. Chan's study could well be a valuable contribution to the underrepresentation of the Chinese Communist urban revolution in the recent literature. Unfortunately, her lack of awareness of many major issues at stake, coupled with her reluctance to discuss the possible implications of her own findings with other scholars in order to enhance our general understanding of the CCP's history, suggests otherwise.
The structure of this book is simple. Its four main parts trace the history of the CCP in Hong Kong and Guangdong from 1921 to 1936. The story begins with the small Guangzhou Communism Group that was initiated, in 1921, by Chen Duxiu, together with three Guangdong students he had taught in Beijing who had been exposed to the "new thoughts" of the May Fourth Movement. About a year later, the Socialist Youth League, which was to be superseded by the Communist Youth League in 1925, was established in the province. This organization represented the earliest Communist presence in Hong Kong (the CCP was not founded in the colony until 1924).
As a British colony, Hong Kong expectedly exhibited many political and socioeconomic features distinct from those of Guangdong. The awareness of their existence impelled many Hong Kong cadres to ask their superiors on the other side of the border for special treatment and greater autonomy in pursuing revolutionary activities. Several times Chan emphasizes that these appeals mark the initial conception of "one country two systems"—a principle that the PRC employed to resolve the colonial questions of Hong Kong and Macao. The inference drawn here is interesting. Readers should bear in mind, however, that the desire of the regional Party branches for more autonomy based on concerns about their peculiar local conditions was common in the early history of the CCP and was by no means unique to the Communists in Hong Kong.3
Before 1925, Communists had made little headway in Hong Kong; it took the Guangzhou-Hong Kong Strike/Boycott to bolster their position. Because of this...