This Chinese Revolution glossary contains words, terms and concepts relevant to the history of China between the Hundred Days of Reform in 1898 to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. This Chinese Revolution glossary has been written and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a word or term for inclusion in this glossary, please contact Alpha History.
The 21 Demands were set of political, economic and territorial demands, handed to Yuan Shikai and the Chinese government by Japan in January 1915. China eventually agreed to most of the demands. These concessions consolidated and expanded Japanese influence in Manchuria and northern China.
28 Bolsheviks (or Old Bolsheviks)
The 28 Bolsheviks were a cohort of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders educated in Moscow during the 1920s. They retained close ties to the Comintern and the Soviet Union, hence the name. The 28 Bolsheviks clique dominated the party’s leadership, ideology and tactics until the mid-1930s. Their influence was weakened and undermined during the Long March, after which they were supplanted by Mao Zedong at the Zunyi conference.
100 Regiments Campaign
The 100 Regiments Campaign was a major military campaign, carried out by the CCP’s National Revolutionary Army divisions against Japanese forces during the Second Sino-Japanese War, August to December 1940. This campaign saw the Japanese adopt a new approach to the conflict (“Kill all, burn all, and destroy all”).
228 Massacre (or 228 Incident)
The 228 Massacre was the February 1947 killing of political protesters in Taiwan by Guomindang (GMD) troops. Between 10,000 and 30,000 Taiwanese were killed, after opposing GMD political oppression, economic domination and corruption on the island. The massacre consolidated and finalised the GMD’s political control of Taiwan.
The Anti-Bolshevik League was a Guomindang counter-intelligence unit, formed in 1926 to gather evidence about communists and prepare for Jiang Jieshi’s planned split with the CCP.
The Anti-Rightist Movement was a campaign launched by Mao Zedong in 1957. It aimed to remove suspected capitalists and dissidents from the ranks of the CCP. It was triggered by the weight of criticism received by the government during the Hundred Flowers campaign. Those targeted during the Anti-Rightist Movement were subject to public criticism, condemnation, expulsion from the party, re-education or execution.
Antis (or Three Antis and Five Antis)
The Antis were targets of anti-corruption purges, initiated by the government in the early 1950s. The Three Antis campaign (in Chinese, san fan) was launched in 1951 and urged CCP members to eliminate waste, corruption and excessive bureaucracy. The Five Antis campaign (in Chinese, wu fan) was launched the following year and targeted bribery, tax avoidance, theft from the state, rorting of government contracts and the stealing of ‘economic secrets’.
Autumn Harvest Uprising
The Autumn Harvest Uprising was a short-lived rural uprising on the border of Hunan and Jiangxi provinces in September 1927. According to Mao Zedong, he claimed to have gained experience in peasant rebellions and guerrilla warfare during this uprising.
The ‘backyard furnaces’ were small, homemade steel furnaces, constructed and operated by Chinese civilians during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961). These furnaces were intended to rapidly boost China’s steel production, however, the project failed because the furnaces could not produce enough heat and the quality of steel produced was poor.
Bandit Suppression Campaigns
The Bandit Suppression Campaign was the name given to Guomindang military campaigns against communist forces and soviets between 1930 and 1934. Ordered by Jiang Jieshi, these campaigns were aimed at extending GMD political control and eradicating communist influence.
The Banner Armies were a military system used by the Manchu to conquer and control China. The eight armies, distinguished by different coloured banners, were ineffective in countering the peasant uprisings and foreign incursions in the 19th century.
‘Barefoot doctors’ were ordinary farmers who received basic training in first aid and medical care. They were mobilised as part of a rural healthcare scheme championed by Mao Zedong in the mid-1960s.
The Beiyang government was the government of the Republic of China that operated in Beijing during the Warlord Era (1916-28). Though it claimed to be a national government, the Beiyang regime was dominated by warlord interests, had no legitimacy and exerted little authority outside Hebei province.
big character poster
In Chinese, dazibao. Big character posters were wall-sized posters or broadsides that used large Chinese characters to express political anger or protest. They were used throughout the Chinese Revolution but were particularly prevalent during the Cultural Revolution.
Blue Shirts (or Blue Shirts Society)
The Blue Shirts were a secret fascist paramilitary faction of the Guomindang. Its members advocated Chinese nationalism and independence, military strength, anti-communism and the expulsion of foreigners. The Blue Shirts emerged in the mid-1930s, modelling themselves on the Blackshirts in Mussolini’s Italy. For a time the Blue Shirts enjoyed the tacit support of Jiang Jieshi.
The Bolsheviks were the Russian communist revolutionaries who seized control of Russia in the October 1917 revolution. Within China, the term ‘Bolshevik’ often referred to Chinese communists with close ties to Soviet Russia or the Comintern.
(In Chinese, Yihetuan) ‘Boxers’ was a colloquial name for members of a secret nationalist group called the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Members of this group trained in martial arts and terrorism, with a view to resisting and eradicating foreign and Christian influence in China.
The Boxer Protocol was a treaty signed in September 1901 by the Qing dynasty, the Eight-Nation Alliance and three other countries, in the wake of the Boxer Rebellion. The protocol proved humiliating for the Qing leadership. It imposed strict military and political restrictions and required payment of $US335 million in reparations.
Boxer Rebellion (or Yihetuan Uprising)
The Boxer Rebellion was the Western name for an uprising by the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (‘Boxers’) and other Chinese nationalists, erupting in late 1899 and lasting almost two years. The targets of this rebellion were foreigners, Christian Chinese and their economic interests. The Boxer Rebellion caused approximately 130,000 deaths before it was suppressed by military intervention by the Eight-Nation Alliance.
A cadre was a devoted CCP member who worked to achieve revolution and/or implement communist policies. In the People’s Republic of China, cadres often worked in rural areas, overseeing the implementation of government policies or initiatives.
‘Capitalist roader’ was a derogatory term given to a CCP member suspected of attempting to restore or reintroduce elements of capitalism. The term was used by party leaders and propagandists to denigrate and isolate political opponents.
The Central Committee is the leadership committee of the Chinese Communist Party. During the revolutionary period, it contained between 100 and 300 regular and alternate members. The Central Committee met occasionally in plenums, some of which were significant for their decisions or policies, for example, the Zunyi conference (1935) and the Lushan plenum (1959).
Central Plains War
The Central Plains War was a six-month civil war, fought in 1930 between Jiang Jieshi’s Nationalists and the forces of three warlords (Feng Yuxiang, Li Zongren and Yan Xishan) who had previously supported Jiang. Jiang’s victory reduced warlordism and increased his control of central China, however it came at a great human and financial cost.
Chinese Communist Party (or CCP)
The Chinese Communist Party was a socialist political party, founded in 1921 chiefly by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. It had its roots in the May 4th Movement. The CCP dominated the left wing of the Guomindang until the Shanghai Massacre in 1927.
Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference
See Political Consultative Conference.
collectivisation (or farm collectivisation)
Collectivisation is a system of agricultural production, where small land holdings are merged into large farms. This allows for greater productivity since land, labour and resources can be more effectively managed, usually by the state. The CCP introduced collectivisation in the late 1950s during the Great Leap Forward.
‘Comintern’ is an abbreviation for the Communist International, an agency formed in 1919 to organise, promote and advance the international revolution. The Comintern was based in Moscow and effectively controlled by the Soviet Union. It provided resources, advisors and advice to the CCP, shaping its ideological and tactical approach until the rise of Mao in the mid-1930s.
A commissar is a political agent of a communist party. Commissars in China were posted to military units or workplaces to monitor conduct, attitudes and productivity, reporting their findings to the CCP.
A commune is a collective of people sharing responsibility for production, security and/or political ideas. In 20th century China, the term ‘commune’ generally refers to the People’s Communes: large farming units formed during Mao Zedong’s agrarian collectivisation during the late 1950s.
Communism is a political ideology that works toward the overthrow of capitalism and seeks to replace it with a socialist dictatorship. The ultimate objective of communism is the creation of a classless society that is free of oppressive government, gross inequality and exploitation.
concessions (or foreign concessions)
Concessions were areas of a city or province in 19th and early 20th China under almost complete foreign control. They were regulated by foreign diplomats, officials, military or police units and subject to foreign laws and regulations.
A concubine is a sexual partner or servant outside marriage. The Qing imperial court housed large numbers of concubines, who were tasked with servicing the emperor’s sexual needs and bearing his children, but without the privileges of marriage.
Confucianism is a philosophical system and movement derived from the writings of Kong-Fuzi (Confucius), who lived in the 5th century BC. Confucianism is social, political and metaphysical in nature. It emphasises hard work, good conduct, respect for social hierarchies and obedience to one’s parents, elders and superiors.
‘Criticise Lin Biao, Criticise Confucius’
‘Criticise Lin Biao’ was a CCP mass campaign, launched Mao Zedong and Jiang Qing in 1973. The aims and development of this campaign are unclear, however, it involved revision of Chinese history and criticism of moderates like Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping.
The Cultural Revolution, or Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, was a social and political movement initiated by Mao Zedong in 1966 and conducted chiefly by the Red Guards. The stated aims of the Cultural Revolution were to revive and restore Maoist communist ideas by identifying and removing suspected ‘rightists’ or counter-revolutionaries. The Cultural Revolution led to the restoration of Mao Zedong’s political authority, both in the national government and the CCP. It was also a period of destabilisation, terror and anarchy that caused untold misery and disrupted most aspects of Chinese society.
A danwei is a workplace or work unit in post-1949 China. The danwei served as a link between individuals and the CCP, as well as regulating activities such as education, travel, marriage and child bearing.
Daqing (or ‘Learn from Daqing’)
Daqing was a model work unit, located on an oil field in Manchuria and led by the much celebrated ‘Iron Man’ Wang. Mao Zedong hailed its success in 1964.
Dazhai (or Learn from Dazhai)
Dazhai was a so-called model commune in Shanxi province, publicised by the Mao as evidence of the success of the Great Leap Forward. The achievements of Dazhai were bogus and its production figures were falsified, chiefly because Mao had poured personal funds into it.
The Democracy Wall is a wall in Xidan Street, Beijing on which big character posters were pasted during autumn 1978.
The Dixie Mission was a three-year diplomatic mission by the US government and American military personnel in China, commencing in July 1944. Dixie mission personnel visited communist-held Yan’an, establishing contact with CCP officials and gathering information.
Double Ten Day
‘Double Ten Day’ is a holiday commemorating the Wuchang Uprising on October 10th 1911, an event that sparked the Xinhai Revolution.
Double Tenth Uprising
See Wuchang Uprising.
Dowager Empress (or Empress Dowager)
‘Dowager Empress’ is a title granted to the widow of a deceased emperor. In the case of Cixi, who was a concubine of the Xianfeng Emperor rather than his wife, Dowager Empress was a courtesy title.
A dynasty is a line of hereditary monarchs or rulers, such as the Qing dynasty.
Eight Model Plays (or ‘revolutionary operas’)
The Eight Model Plays were eight artistic performances (six operas and two ballets) that depicted revolutionary ideas, values and events. They were developed by Jiang Qing during the Cultural Revolution.
Eight Nation Alliance
The Eight-Nation Alliance was a joint military contingent, sent to quell the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. It contained troops from Britain, France, the United States, Russia, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy and Japan.
Emperor Protection Society
The Emperor Protection Society was a group of expatriate Chinese in Japan and North America in the first years of the 1900s. They attempted to prolong the Qing dynasty by opposing republicanism and advocating constitutional reform. Kang Youwei, the driving force behind the Hundred Days of Reform, was the most notable member of this clique.
See Dowager Empress.
The Encirclement Campaigns refer to several Guomindang military operations against Communist Party soviets, conducted between 1928 and 1935. As the name suggests, these campaigns sought to surround, besiege and eventually capture communist-held territory. The Fifth Encirclement Campaign, which surrounded Jiangxi in 1933-34, inspired the Long March.
A eunuch is a male whose genitals have been removed, often as part of a particular role. Several hundred eunuchs were employed as officials or servants in the Forbidden City during the Qing dynasty.
Extraterritoriality was a legal procedure that meant foreigners accused of breaking Chinese law could not be tried by Chinese. Instead, foreign citizens were tried by consular courts made up of their fellow nationals.
Famine is an extreme scarcity of food leading to extreme hunger, malnutrition and starvation. In China, the period between 1959 and 1961 is referred to as the Three Years of Great Chinese Famine or the Three Bitter Years. Natural disasters and CCP policies have been blamed for the tragedy. Some historians claim as many as 45 million people died during this period.
Chinese for ‘turning over’ or ‘to turn the body’. Fanshen is a term used to describe the land reforms of the 1950s, when the CCP endeavoured to transform village life.
Fascism is a political ideology emphasising strong and decisive rule by a single figure, nationalism, military strength and obedience to the state. Some believe that Jiang Jieshi’s methodology and leadership of the Guomindang contained aspects of fascism.
Feng shui is Chinese for ‘wind and water’. It is a belief that man made objects can be positioned or orientated to ensure their harmonious coexistence with the natural world. When done correctly this assists the circulation of qi (‘positive life energy’).
The Fengtian clique was a powerful warlord group of the early and mid-1920s which battled the Zhili clique for control of Beijing. The Fengtian armies were commanded by Zhang Zoulin, whose son Zhang Xueliang was later responsible for the Xi’an incident (1936).
First Five Year Plan
The First Five Year Plan as an economic program developed by the communist government, introduced in 1953 and ending in 1957. It aimed to achieve significant increases in Chinese heavy industry, particularly steel production, as well as infrastructure construction and agricultural reforms. The First Five Year Plan was moderately successful, achieving between 15 and 20 per cent industrial growth.
First Sino-Japanese War
The First Sino-Japanese War was an eight-month long conflict between China and Japan in 1894-95. China’s defeat in this conflict allowed the Japanese to seize control of the Korean peninsula. It also signalled the failure of the Self Strengthening Movement and led to humiliation and declining respect for the Qing leadership.
First United Front
The First United Front was an alliance between the Guomindang and Chinese Communist Party. It was formed in 1922, chiefly to achieve the unification of China. The First United Front ended in 1927 with the Shanghai Massacre.
Fists of Righteous Harmony
Five Man Group
The Five Man Group was a sub-committee formed by the CCP Politburo in January 1965. Its mission was to oversee a ‘cultural revolution’, to examine anti-socialist and anti-CCP attitudes in literature and the arts. The Five Man Group chose to interpret this is an academic debate, infuriating Mao Zedong. The group was disbanded at the start of the Cultural Revolution in May 1966.
Foot binding is the practice of shaping and distorting the feet of young girls by permanently swathing them in tight bandages. It was practised widely in China during the Qing dynasty, despite several attempts to ban or restrict it.
The Forbidden City is the royal palace complex in central Beijing. It was the home of Chinese emperors and government ministers from the 15th century until the end of the Qing dynasty. The complex consists of almost 1,000 buildings and 9,000 separate rooms.
A program of modernisation drafted by Zhou Enlai and championed by Deng Xiaoping in 1975. They called for growth and advancement in agriculture, industry, science and defence.
The Four Olds were the declared targets of the Cultural Revolution: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas. They were outlined by Chen Boda in 1966.
Four Pests Campaign
The Four Pests Campaign was initiated by Mao Zedong during the Great Leap Forward. It required Chinese farmers and civilians to eradicate vermin, chiefly flies, mosquitos, rats and sparrows. The consequences of this campaign were not as Mao expected.
The Fujian Rebellion was a non-communist rebellion against Guomindang rule in the south-eastern province of Fujian in 1933. Motivated by Jiang Jieshi’s appeasement of the Japanese, the Fujian rebels established their own political party and government. Fujian was eventually overrun by Guomindang forces in early 1934.
The Futian Incident was a purge of Communist Party leaders and Red Army commanders in Jiangxi, initiated in December 1930. It was initiated by Mao Zedong after a Red Army unit mutinied in Futian. The Futian Incident marked the start of Maoist purges in Jiangxi that claimed between 10,000 and 70,000 lives.
Gang of Four
The Gang of Four was a quartet of Communist Party leaders: Jiang Qing, Wang Hongwen, Zhang Chunqiao and Yao Wenyuan. Loyal to Mao Zedong, they collaborated in the mid-1960s to oversee and implement the radical political and social measures of the Cultural Revolution. The Gang of Four wielded enormous power for almost a decade. They were deposed, put on trial and imprisoned shortly after Mao’s death.
Generalissimo is an Italian term meaning ‘highest general’ or commander-in-chief. The Western media used this term to describe both Sun Yixian and, more frequently, Jiang Jieshi.
See Mao’s Good Swim.
A governor is an official appointed to oversee and administer a colony, province or region, usually on behalf of a monarch.
The ‘Great Helmsman’ is a name given to Mao Zedong, to imply he was steering the ‘ship of state’.
Great Leap Forward
The Great Leap Forward is the name of a policy of rapid industrial growth and agricultural collectivisation, initiated by Mao Zedong in 1958. Coinciding with the Second Five Year Plan, the Great Leap Forward was intended to produce a surge in Chinese productivity, allowing it to ‘catch up’ to the West. It proved disastrous, resulting in negative growth, the failure of key projects, human suffering and widespread famines that killed between 20 million and 45 million people.
Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution
See Cultural Revolution.
The Green Gang was a group of gangsters, racketeers and drug traffickers who held sway in Shanghai before 1949. The Green Gang and their leader, Du Yuesheng, were aligned with the Guomindang until the mid-1940s. Green Gang thugs were responsible for violence and executions during the Shanghai Massacre of April 1927.
Guangfuhui (or ‘Revive the Light Society’)
The Guangfuhui was a revolutionary party seeking Western republicanism, formed in eastern China in 1904. Its members were later absorbed into the Tongmenghui.
Guanxi is the feudal practice of using one’s connections for self promotion.
Guerrilla warfare is an unconventional form of combat that avoids open battles and direct confrontation. Instead, guerrilla soldiers rely on speed, mobility, concealment, the element of surprise and the support of sympathetic civilians.
Guomindang or GMD (Wade-Giles: Kuomintang or KMT)
The Guomindang was the Nationalist Party of China, formed by Sun Yixian from other nationalist groups in 1919. The Guomindang dominated Chinese revolutionary politics between 1912 and the Chinese Civil War of the 1940s. Guomindang membership and political ideas were quite broad, encouraging Chinese nationalism, self-sufficiency, capitalism, industrial development and gradual political modernisation. After the communist victory in 1949, members of the Guomindang retreated to Taiwan. It remains a significant political party there today.
Hai Rui Dismissed from Office (or The Dismissal of Hai Rui)
Hai Rui Dismissed from Office was a theatrical play written by Wu Han and first performed in Beijing in 1961. The story was widely believed to symbolise Mao Zedong’s 1959 dismissal of Peng Dehuai. Critics condemned the play for its anti-Mao overtones, a movement that contributed to the rising Cultural Revolution.
Han (or Han Chinese)
The Han are the majority ethnic group in China, comprising more than 90 per cent of the population.
Houmen is the feudal ‘back door’ practice of bypassing official channels.
Huangpu Military Academy
The Huangpu (Wade-Giles: Whampoa) Military Academy was a training facility for Guomindang and communist military officers, located in south-eastern China. The academy, funded by Soviet aid and staffed by Russian and Chinese officers, was opened in 1924 with Jiang Jieshi as its first commandant. Many leading revolutionaries, Nationalist and Red Army commanders received military training at Huangpu.
Hundred Days of Reform
The Hundred Days of Reform refer to a failed attempt to introduce sweeping social and political reforms in late Qing China. They were largely derived from the ideas of Kang Youwei and formally decreed by the Guangxu Emperor in June 1898. Dowager Empress Cixi and Yuan Shikai responded by placing the emperor under virtual house arrest, while the reforms were abandoned.
Hundred Flowers Campaign
The Hundred Flowers Campaign was a brief period in 1956-57 where Mao Zedong invited and encouraged free expressions of speech, particularly opinion and constructive criticism of the Communist Party and the government. It produced a flood of letters and other writing, criticising and condemning the government. Historians disagree on whether the Hundred Flowers movement was an error of judgement or a ploy to flush out opponents.
The ‘January Storm’ was a period in early 1967 when Red Guards and political radicals attempted to seize control of party committees, local government councils and bureaucracies. They had some success, gaining control of the Shanghai municipal government and declaring it a ‘People’s Commune’.
Jiangxi Soviet (also the Chinese Soviet Republic)
The Jiangxi Soviet was a self-governing communist region formed by Mao Zedong in south-eastern China in 1931. The Jiangxi Soviet trialled socialist policies by forming farming collectives, starting a bank and issuing its own currency. It was encircled and overrun by Nationalist forces in 1934-35 after the communists and the Red Army embarked on the Long March.
A kowtow is a show of deference to the emperor and other important officials in imperial China. Kowtowing required an elaborate series of bows, ending with touching one’s head on the ground three times.
This page was written by Glenn Kucha, Jennifer Llewellyn, Steve Thompson and Sara Taylor. To reference this page, use the following citation:
G. Kucha et al, “Chinese Revolution glossary, A to K”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/chineserevolution/chinese-revolution-glossary-a-k/.
This website uses pinyin romanisations of Chinese words and names. Please refer to this page for more information.