One of the Four “Red Origins” in Shanghai, The Cradle of China’s Workers’ Movement

Released on:2016-12-24


At the intersection of Xinzha Road under the Chengdu Road (North) Elevated Highway, near the thoroughfare teeming with bustling traffic, there stands an old caesious Shikumen building. It is exactly the Exhibition Hall of China Labor Combination Secretary Department Site, the cradle of China’s working class.

Founded on August 11, 1921, the China Labor Combination Secretary Department is the first head office for openly leading workers’ movement after the founding of the Communist Party of China. It is the predecessor of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, and one of the four “Red Origins” in Shanghai.

After the First Opium War broke out in 1840, foreign capitalism continually quickened the pace of invasion into China, accelerated the disintegration of feudal economy, and progressively plunged China into a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society. Foreign capitalists one after another opened factories, and the “Self-Strengthening Movement” launched by the Qing Government also set up a batch of civil-industry enterprises in “Joint Government and Merchant” , “Government-supervised Merchant Undertakings” forms or in other ways. These two factory-opening forces gave birth to the first batch and the second batch of industrial workers in China.

With the development of China’s national industry and the increase in foreign-invested enterprises, the population of China’s working class rose sharply. In 1913, there were about 600,000 industrial workers in China, and the number topped 2 million by 1919. The continual expansion of the working class population and the development of workers’ movement laid down a class foundation for the extensive spread of Marxism-Leninism in China and the founding of revolutionary party of the working class, and made preparations for the new development of China’s revolution endeavor.

In the summer of 1921, with the convening of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), the Communist Party of China was born in Shanghai. The First National Congress of the CPC drafted “The First Resolution of the CPC”, which identified the concentration on leading workers’ movement as the primary task of the CPC. In order to implement the Party’s resolution, on August 11, the CPC Central Committee set up the China Labor Combination Secretary Department in Shanghai as a central office for openly leading nationwide workers’ movement.

After Chinese Communist Groups were set up in all regions across China, they began to organize activities among workers and the masses. Li Qihan was responsible for workers’ movement in Shanghai. During the preparation of the Labor Combination Secretary Department, workers of the Shanghai Pudong British American Tobacco held a strike, Li Qihan took part in and led this strike and finally scored victory, since then the Party’s leadership took root among workers and the masses. On the second day after the Strike succeeded, the China Labor Combination Secretary Department was formally founded. The Shanghai Headquarters appointed Zhang Teli (Zhang Guotao) as Director, Li Qihan as Secretary, Li Qihan and Li Zhenying and other comrades jointly as commissioners.

After the Shanghai Headquarters was set up, North China Division was set up in Beijing, with Luo Zhanglong serving as the Director, and Wang Jinmei as the Deputy Director; Wuhan Division was set up in Hankou, with Bao Huiseng as the Director, and Lin Yunan and Xiang Ying as Supervisor successively; Hunan Division was set up in Changsha, with Mao Zedong as the Director; Guangdong Divisionwas set up in Guangzhou, with Tan Pingshan as the Director.


After setup, the China Labor Combination Secretary Department immediately expanded the Workers’ Half-day School in Xiaoshadu to the First Workers’ School, and the staff of the Secretary Department came to the school in turn to give lectures; on August 20 in the same year, it edited and published its official organ: “Labor Weekly”, which is China’s first national workers’ journal. Through various vivid propaganda and education approaches, it made workers understand the importance of union and organization, and arose workers’ class consciousness.

Under the support and direct influence of the Secretary Department, within the 13 months from the Hong Kong Seamen’s Strike in January 1922 till the Jing-Han Railroad Workers’ Strike in February 1923, the whole nation witnessed more than 100 strikes, which involved over 300,000 participants, marking the first climax of the workers’ movement in China.

In May 1925, the second National Laboring Congress was convened in Guangzhou, at which the All-China Federation of Trade Unions was founded, marking that the Secretary Department fulfilled its historical mission and ceased its work.

 (Source: Jing’an District Research Institute of Culture and History)