This Chinese Revolution glossary contains words, terms and concepts relevant to the history of China between the Hundred Days’ Reforms in 1898 to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Words from L to Z. This 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.
A legation is a building or compound occupied by foreign diplomats and officials. It serves a similar function to an embassy.
Lei Feng Spirit (or Learn from Lei Feng)
Lei Feng Spirit was a CCP propaganda device, launched in 1963 and widely promulgated in 1964. It promoted an attitude of loyalty, hard work, self sacrifice and devotion to the party. The campaign was based on the alleged diary entries and deeds of Lei Feng, a young People’s Liberation Army soldier.
Li Lisan Line
The Li Lisan Line was a shift in CCP policy and tactics, approved by the party hierarchy in February 1930. It called for a proletarian revolution driven by worker uprisings in the cities. The Li Lisan Line stood in contrast to the peasant focused revolution advocated by Mao Zedong.
Little Red Book
The ‘Little Red Book’ was colloquial name for Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong, a small red-covered book published between 1964 and 1976. It was carried by millions of Chinese but particular the Red Guards, who considered its possession a sign of loyalty to Mao and the revolution.
Literary societies were political groups formed in the last years of the Qing dynasty, chiefly by members of the New Army. They studied and discussed subversive and republican literature, which fuelled revolutionary sentiment and activity.
The Long March was the retreat of Red Army and Chinese Communist Party cadres, from southern soviets to the northern province of Shaanxi in 1934-35. This operation saw thousands of people march vast distances across often treacherous terrain. It also included several military defeats and great loss of life. Despite this, the CCP considered the Long March a victory, because it showed superior communist leadership, endurance and cohesion.
Chinese word for ‘chaos’, often used to describe the Cultural Revolution.
The Luding Bridge was a chain suspension bridge over the Dadu River in Sichuan, central China. The bridge was crossed by Red Army troops in May 1935, during the Long March. According to communist reports, they crossed the bridge under heavy fire from Nationalist forces. The crossing has become an important part of Long March propaganda.
The Lushan Conference refers to a July 1959 meeting of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, held in Jiangxi. This conference was notable for defence minister Peng Dehuai expressing criticisms of Mao Zedong and the Great Leap Forward. This led to Mao dismissing Dehuai from the military.
The Manchu were an ethnic group from northern China. Their language, appearance and culture distinguished them from the majority Han Chinese. The Manchu established the Qing dynasty in the 1600s.
A region of north-eastern China, the ethnic homeland of the Manchu. Manchuria was subject to influence by neighbouring Russia during the 19th century, then by the Japanese between the 1910s and 1945.
Manchukuo was an independent state, established by the Japanese in Manchuria in 1932. The Japanese installed the former Qing emperor Puyi as its leader, however Manchukuo was in fact a puppet state that served Japanese political, economic and territorial interests.
A mandarin was a government official or bureaucrat in imperial China. Mandarins were recruited from the upper class, selected through rigorous examinations and positioned in one of several ranks, with nobles and minor royals occupying the higher ranks.
Mandate of Heaven
The Mandate of Heaven was a Chinese political principle which claimed that emperors drew their power from Heaven. As a consequence, they were accountable to Heaven for their failures. An increase in opposition, unrest, natural disasters or crop failures could be interpreted as evidence the Mandate of Heaven had been withdrawn, legitimising their removal.
Maoism (also Mao Zedong Thought)
Maoism was the official ideology of the Chinese Communist Party. It was derived from the writings of Mao Zedong and his adaptations of Marxism and Chinese political philosophy. Some of the core principles of Maoism include the importance of peasants as a revolutionary force, a focus on the ‘mass line’ and the adaptation of communism to Chinese conditions.
Mao’s Good Swim
The ‘Good Swim’ was a July 1966 public appearance by Mao Zedong, when the 72-year-old undertook a lengthy swim in the Yangtze River. It followed a long period of seclusion and rumours that Mao was near death. The Good Swim suggested that Mao was in excellent health and was actively leading the party and the nation.
Mao Zedong Thought (see Maoism).
Marco Polo Bridge incident
The Marco Polo Bridge incident was a July 1937 border skirmish between Chinese and Japanese troops. It led to a full-scale invasion of China by Japanese forces and the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Marxism is a political philosophy, developed in the late 19th century by German writers Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Marxism suggests that society progresses in phases, moving from medieval feudalism to capitalism, then socialism and communism. Marxism was the guiding ideology of communist revolutionaries in Russia and China. Its principles were adopted and incorporated into Maoism.
Mass campaigns is a term given to mobilisations of the whole nation during the Mao era, such as the Three and Five Antis campaign, the Hundred Flowers campaign, the Four Pests campaign and the Four Olds Campaigns.
The ‘mass line’ was a principle expressed by Mao Zedong. It claimed that Chinese Communist Party ideology and policy should be determined by the collective will of the people.
May 4th Movement
The May 4th Movement was an anti-imperialist, anti-feudalism, cultural and social movement that culminated in 1919. It originated as a protest against the government’s response to the Treaty of Versailles, which sanctioned Japanese imperial interests in China. Student protests on May 4th 1919 led to demonstrations, strikes and boycotts. The May 4th Movement became the first mass movement in Chinese history.
May 7th Cadre Schools
The May 7th Cadre Schools were agricultural labour camps, established during the Cultural Revolution. Students and dissidents from the cities were sent to these ‘schools’ for forced labour and re-education.
May 30th Movement
The May 30th Movement describes nationalist and anti-foreign protests and strikes in Shanghai in May-June 1925. This unrest was triggered by exploitative work practices in foreign-owned factories and the shooting of demonstrators by foreign policemen.
Missionaries were Protestant and Roman Catholic volunteers who entered China in the late 13th century. Their numbers, as well as the numbers of Chinese converts to Christianity, increased significantly during the 18th and 19th century. Christian missionaries were resented and became a target in the Boxer Rebellion in 1900.
The Monkey King was a popular name for Sun Wukong, a character from classical Chinese literature who was endowed with supernatural powers and enormous strength. Mao Zedong often referred to the Monkey King, while Maoist propaganda sometimes implied that Mao had similar qualities.
The Mukden Incident was an explosion, secretly orchestrated by Japanese troops in 1931. It provided the Japanese with a pretext for invading and seizing control of Manchuria.
The Nanchang Uprising was a communist attempt to seize control of Nanchang, Jiangxi province in August 1924. Communist forces held the city for several days before being driven out by the Nationalist Army. It is considered the first significant battle of the Chinese Civil War.
Nanjing (Wade-Giles: Nanking)
Nanjing is a major city in Jiangsu province, eastern China, approximately 200 kilometres east of Shanghai. Nanjing served as the Nationalist capital from 1927 until it was occupied and brutalised by the Japanese in 1937.
Nanjing Decade (or Nanking Decade)
The Nanjing Decade refers to the 10 years of Guomindang rule between 1927 (Jiang Jieshi’s capture of Nanjing and its declaration as the national capital) and 1937 (the Japanese invasion of China).
Nanjing Massacre (or Rape of Nanjing)
The Nanjing Massacre refers to atrocities committed by Japanese troops during their occupation of the Guomindang capital Nanjing in 1937-38. Estimates of deaths vary widely from 20,000 to more than 250,000.
The National Assembly was a democratically elected assembly, convened in 1913 after the Xinhai Revolution. It sat for 11 years but was rendered ineffective by division, unclear majorities, corruption and the rise of warlordism. A second National Assembly was briefly reconvened by the Guomindang in 1948.
Nationalism is an ideology or movement that seeks freedom, independence or progress for one’s country.
Nationalist is a colloquial term for a member or supporter of the Guomindang, or a soldier of the National Revolutionary Army.
National Party Congress (or NPC)
The National Party Congress is the legislature of the People’s Republic of China, formed in 1954. During the revolutionary era, the NPC contained almost 3,000 representatives, chosen through tiered elections involving county, provincial and municipal assemblies. The NPC was, in theory at least, the highest law-making body in the Republic.
National Revolutionary Army (also National Army or NRA)
The National Revolutionary Army was the military arm of the Guomindang. It was formed in 1925 under the command of Jiang Jieshi. It participated in the Northern Expedition to reunify China, the second Sino-Japanese War, the encirclement campaigns against communist-held regions and the Chinese Civil War.
The New Army was a modernised army corps, formed in 1895 during the last phase of Self Strengthening. The New Army was commanded by Yuan Shikai and generally acted in line with his political interests. Many New Army units rebelled against the Qing regime during the 1911 Xinhai Revolution.
New Culture Movement
The New Culture Movement was a group of young reformist Chinese, formed in the mid-1910s. It attacked the traditions of Confucianism and called for a revision of Chinese culture to incorporate Western, modern and secular values. Several individuals from this group participated in the May Fourth Movement and became founding members of both the Guomindang and the Communist Party.
New Life Movement
The New Life Movement was a social and ideological movement, formed in 1934 by Jiang Jieshi and his wife, Soong May-ling. The New Life movement was anti-communist and drew on Confucian values and aspects of fascism. It preached the virtues of clean and healthy living, self-discipline, obedience, political authoritarianism and social hierarchy.
Northern Expedition (or Northern March)
The Northern Expedition was a military campaign launched by the Guomindang in 1926. Its aim was to end warlord rule and reunite China. It was commanded by Jiang Jieshi and carried out by the National Revolutionary Army. The Northern Expedition achieved its goal of reunifying China and reforming national government, though it failed to fully eradicate warlordism or factionalism.
Opium is an addictive drug of the morphine family, harvested from certain types of poppy. It was banned in China until the British forced its legalisation and widespread cultivation in the 1860s. By the late 1800s, approximately one-quarter of Chinese males were opium users.
The Opium Wars were two conflicts between China and Britain in 1839-42 and 1856-60. They were triggered by Chinese resistance to British trade, particularly the importation and sale of opium. Both wars ended with British victories. The Opium War treaties allowed the rapid expansion of British influence within China.
A peasant is an agricultural labourer or poor farmer.
The People’s Communes were collective agricultural communities, formed during the Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s. They were created by merging thousands of small farms. Individuals in the Communes lived, worked and ate together, rather than in family groups. Commune workers were often confronted with unrealistic work quotas, shortages, famines and natural disasters.
(In Chinese, Renmin Ribao) The People’s Daily is a Chinese newspaper, based in Beijing and formed in 1946. It publishes daily in several languages including Chinese and English. Its staff, direction and content are controlled by the CCP, making the People’s Daily a source of communist propaganda.
People’s Liberation Army (or PLA)
The People’s Liberation Army was the military arm of the Communist Party and the People’s Republic of China. Formed in 1927, it was known as the Red Army until 1945.
People’s Republic of China (or PRC)
The People’s Republic of China was the formal name of the Chinese nation from October 1949.
A plenum is a meeting of representatives or members where all are present. In China, the term ‘plenum’ is used to describe meetings of the Communist Party’s Central Committee.
The Politburo is the leadership committee of the Chinese Communist Party, containing between five and 11 party leaders. The Politburo was the most powerful decision-making body in the party and, from 1949, in China itself.
Political Consultative Conference (or PCC)
The Political Consultative Conference was a representative body established by the Chinese Communist Party in September 1949. It contained representatives of several left-wing and democratic parties, though it was dominated by the Communist Party. The PCC served as an interim or temporary legislature, while also drafting the Constitution. It was dissolved in 1954.
Project 571 was the numeric code name given to a plot allegedly led by Lin Biao against Mao Zedong in 1971.
The queue was a male hairstyle, comprising a long braided pigtail and shaved forehead. Originally a Manchu custom, the queue was later declared compulsory by Qing emperors. Removal of the queue was a sign of anti-government defiance during the final years of Qing rule.
Railway Protection Movement (or Railway Protection League)
The Railway Protection Movement was a political group formed in Sichuan in 1911, to resist the Qing government’s planned nationalisation of privately owned railways. Its activities incited other anti-Qing groups and helped trigger the Xinhai Revolution of 1911.
Rape of Nanjing (see Nanjing Massacre)
Rectification was a political movement in Yenan, initiated by Mao Zedong in 1942. Rectification aimed at identifying and eradicating alleged rightist elements within the Communist Party. It was also used to isolate and remove Mao’s opponents and challengers to his power.
The Red Army was the military arm of the CCP. It was founded by Zhu De in 1927, during the Nanchang uprising against Guomindang forces. Red Army numbers grew from 5,000 in 1929 to 200,000 by 1933, however, their numbers were decimated by the Long March. During the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Second United Front, the Red Army was integrated into the National Revolutionary Army. The renamed Eighth Route and New Fourth armies used guerrilla tactics to undermine the Japanese but also to consolidate communist held ground. The Red Army was renamed the People’s Liberation Army in 1946.
The Red Guards were populist groups formed in the mid-1960s, during the Cultural Revolution. The vast majority of their members were secondary and university students. The Red Guards were known for their loyalty and public adoration of Mao Zedong, and their harassment, intimidation and denunciation of suspected Rightists.
re-education (or re-education through labour)
‘Re-education’ describes the use of imprisonment and forced labour to deal with political opponents. The communist regime began using re-education during the mid-1950s. It was expanded during the Anti-Rightist Movement of 1957-59. Most people subject to ‘re-education’ were detained without a hearing, trial or definitive sentence.
A republic is a political system where executive power resides with a president rather than an emperor or monarch. The first Chinese republic was formed in February 1912 with the abdication of Qing emperor Puyi.
Republic of China (also Republic of China in exile or ROC)
The Republic of China is the formal name of the national government of Taiwan, established by Jiang Jieshi and the Guomindang in December 1949. It claimed to be the legitimate government of mainland China.
Revive China Society
The Revive China Society was a nationalist party formed by Sun Yixian in Hawaii in 1894. It later merged with other nationalist groups to form the Guomindang.
‘Rightists’ is a term given to Communist Party members or other individuals suspected of supporting conservative, capitalist or counter-revolutionary ideas. Rightists were targeted during the Anti-Rightist Movement (1957-59), the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and at other times in the new regime.
Romanisation is a system of writing Chinese words and phrases so they can be understood by Westerners. The most common form of romanisation in the late 19th and 20th centuries was Wade-Giles. It has since been replaced by pinyin, endorsed by the Chinese government in 1958.
A rusticant is a student who participated in the rustification or ‘Down to the Countryside’ program.
rustification (see Up to the Mountains, Down to the Countryside movement)
San fan (see Antis)
The Second Revolution was a failed attempt to overthrow the presidency of Yuan Shikai. It was launched by Sun Yixian and his followers in Jiangxi province in July 1913. Shikai’s superior army routed the rebels, occupying Nanjing and forcing Sun into exile.
Second United Front
The Second United Front was a brief alliance between the Guomindang and Chinese Communist Party. It formed in early 1937 after the Xian incident and lasted until early 1946. The Second United Front was formed to provide unified and cohesive resistance to Japanese aggression, however, it was undermined by a lack of sincerity and cooperation on both sides.
Self Strengthening Movement
The Self Strengthening Movement was a 19th century push for reform, which sought to strengthen China through military, industrial and economic modernisation. It was triggered by the Qing government’s inability to win wars or resist foreign incursions. Self Strengthening produced some development and growth in industry, however, it was largely unsuccessful, undermined by conservatives in the government, incompetence and corruption.
The Shanghai Massacre describes the persecution, arrest and execution of more than 300 communists in Shanghai on April 12th 1927. It was carried out by the Nationalist Army, on the orders of Jiang Jieshi. The Shanghai Massacre ended the First United Front and drove Chinese communists underground or into rural areas.
Chinese for ‘ten years of chaos’, a reference to the Cultural Revolution.
Sino is a prefix used to indicate China or Chinese, such as ‘Sino-Japanese’ or ‘Sino-Soviet’. Sinofication is the adaptation of Western ideology or methods to suit Chinese society. A Sinophile is a lover of China or Chinese culture, while a Sinophobe fears China and the Chinese. A Sinologist is someone who specialises in the history or study of China.
Sino-Soviet Border War
The Sino-Soviet Border War was a period of tension and occasional skirmishes between Chinese and Soviet troops in 1969. It was sparked by territorial disputes in remote north-eastern China.
A set of guidelines and aims for the Cultural Revolution summarised in a document issued by the CCP in August 1966.
Socialist Education Movement
(In Chinese, Shehuizhuyi Jiaoyu Yundong) The Socialist Education Movement was a mass campaign launched by Mao Zedong in 1963. Its aim was to purge or cleanse four areas of Chinese society: politics, the bureaucracy, the economy and ideology. It served as a precursor to the Cultural Revolution.
A soviet is a collective of workers, soldiers and peasants, governed or organised by communists and operating on socialist principles. The communists formed several soviets during the revolutionary period, most notably in Jiangxi (1931-34) and Yenan (1936-48).
‘Speak Bitterness’ was a procedure in agrarian and land reform, implemented by the communists in the 1950s. Public meetings were held in villages and rural areas, where former landlords were subjected to interrogation, accusation and witness accounts.
spheres of influence
Areas of China that were controlled or dominated by foreign imperialist powers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
A tael was a Chinese unit of measurement for silver; one tael was between 35 and 38 grams of silver.
Taoism is a religious philosophy based on the teachings of Laozi, popular in China since the 5th century BC. Taoism emphasises balance in all things, good health, self-development and virtuous conduct.
Thought Reform Movement
(In Chinese, sixiang gaizao) The Thought Reform Movement was a mass campaign, launched in 1951, to circulate and promote Mao Zedong Thought. It was based on literature, propaganda and self-criticism. It later merged with the Three and Five Antis movements.
Three Bad Years (or Three Years of Natural Disasters)
The ‘Three Bad Years’ is a communist euphemism for the period of food shortage and devastating famine during the Great Leap Forward. It implies that these shortages were the result of natural conditions rather than government policy.
Three Principles (or Three Principles of the People)
(In Chinese, sanmin zhuyi) The Three Principles was a political philosophy developed by Sun Yixian in the early 1900s. Derived from both Chinese and Western political ideas, the Three Principles were nationalism, democracy and the welfare of the people. Both the Guomindang and Chinese Communist Party later claimed Sun Yixian’s Three Principles as part of their ideological heritage.
Three Red Banners
The Three Red Banners was a propaganda campaign initiated by Mao Zedong in 1958. It promoted three key elements of Chinese socialism: the General Line, the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Communes.
Tiananmen Square is a large public space in Beijing, located immediately south of the Forbidden City. It has been the site of several notable political events or protests, including the May Fourth Movement (1919), Mao Zedong’s declaration of the People’s Republic (1949), protests following the death of Zhou Enlai (1976) and the ill-fated student demonstrations of June 1989.
Tibet is a disputed region to China’s west, bordering India, Nepal and Bhutan. Tibet was ruled by the Qing dynasty until its collapse in 1911. After this, Tibetans expelled the Chinese and claimed independence. Tibet was invaded by the People’s Republic of China in 1951. It is now an autonomous region of China.
An early nationalist revolutionary party, founded by Sun Yixian in 1905. Members of the Tongmenghui participated in several uprisings, including the successful 1911 Revolution. It was later absorbed into the Guomindang.
Treaty of Shimonoseki
The Treaty of Shimonoseki was a 1895 treaty that ended the First Sino-Japanese War. It surrendered the Chinese territories of Taiwan, Korea and the Liaodong Peninsula to Japan, as well as a considerable indemnity. This treaty caused shame and anger in China, exposed the Qing dynasty’s vulnerability and weakness and contributed to demands for reform.
Treaty Ports were Chinese ports open to foreign residents, as determined by several treaties signed by Qing emperors. These foreign residents were exempt from local laws, causing friction and resentment among local Chinese.
Twenty-One Demands (see 21 Demands)
Up to the Mountains, Down to the Countryside (or rustification)
(In Chinese, Shangshan xiaxiang yundong) ‘Up to the Mountains, Down to the Countryside’ or ‘rustification’ was a movement initiated by Mao Zedong in the late 1960s. Its full name was ‘Up to the Mountains, Down to the Countryside’. Rustification required thousands of urban students, many of them former Red Guards, to relocate to rural areas and live and work among the peasantry. The declared purpose of this was for urban students to ‘learn from the peasants’.
Wade-Giles is a system of romanisation, developed in the mid-1800s and further modified in 1892. It has been officially replaced by pinyin but is still encountered in many Western countries.
A warlord is a local leader who uses a private army or militia to assert his control over a particular region. Warlords usually fund and supply their armies by demanding payments, such as taxes or tributes, from the people.
The Warlord Era was a period of disunity and political fragmentation in China between 1916 and 1927. During this time Chinese regions were ruled by powerful warlords, while there was no effective national government.
Whampoa Military Academy (see Huangpu Military Academy)
The Wuchang Uprising refers to events on October 10th 1911, when a bomb being assembled by New Army officers sympathetic to the revolutionary movement accidentally exploded in Wuchang. The consequential spread of revolutionary sentiment and action led to the downfall of the Qing dynasty and the creation of the Republic of China.
The Xi’an incident occurred in Shaanxi province in December 1936, when Jiang Jieshi was arrested and detained by Zhang Xueliang, a northern military commander. Zhang’s father had been assassinated by Japanese agents and Zhang was infuriated by Jiang’s inadequate response to Japanese aggression. The formation of the Second United Front between the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party was a significant outcome of the Xi’an incident.
The Xinhai Revolution was the 1911 uprising that produced the overthrow of the Qing dynasty and the rise of Republican China.
The Yan’an Soviet was a communist stronghold in Shaanxi province, formed in late 1936. It was established by veterans of the Long March and became the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party until the late 1940s. It was in Yan’an that Mao Zedong consolidated and extended his control over the party, as well as developing its political philosophy (Maoism or Mao Zedong Thought).
Yan’an Way (or Yenan Spirit)
The Yan’an Way describes the mood of determination, ideological commitment and optimism among communist cadres in the first years of the Yan’an Soviet. It is often cited as an inspirational factor behind the communist victory in 1949.
Chinese name for the Righteous Harmony Society or ‘Boxers’.
The yuan was a unit of currency issued throughout the revolutionary period. It was adopted by the People’s Republic in 1949 and reissued as the ‘renminbi yuan’ in 1955.
The Zhili clique was an unstable alliance of warlords in northern China during the 1920s. Both anti-communist and anti-Japanese, the Zhili clique was defeated and dispersed by Jiang Jieshi’s Northern Expedition in the mid-1920s.
The Zunyi conference was a meeting of Chinese Communist Party leaders, held in south-western China in January 1935 during the Long March. At this conference, Mao Zedong and his supporters attacked the party’s existing leaders for their errors. This led to the discrediting of Soviet-aligned party leaders, while Mao’s own influence was boosted.
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, L to Z”, Alpha History, accessed [today’s date], https://alphahistory.com/chineserevolution/chinese-revolution-glossary-l-z/.
This website uses pinyin romanisations of Chinese words and names. Please refer to this page for more information.