China's Communist Party Over 100 Years, in Pictures

The Chinese Communist Party emerged from a grassroots movement 10 years after the end of Imperial China. A century later, it is the largest ruling party in the world.
How China’s Communist Party Transformed the Country
How China’s Communist Party transformed the country, in pictures. Diana Walker/Jacques Langevin/Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

In 1921, the Communist Party of China (CPC) held its inaugural National Congress in the coastal cities of Shanghai and Jiaxing. Its founders, among them Mao Zedong, had been heavy influenced by Russia's October Revolution of 1917.

The party emerged at a time of chaos in the country, which was under the newly established government of the Republic of China. The ROC's Sun Yat-sen had helped to end 2,000 years of imperial rule in the Xinhai Revolution of 1911.

The CPC and the ROC's ruling Chinese Nationalist Party twice joined forces to repel common enemies—the first domestic and the second foreign. They even paused the Chinese Civil War to do so. But following Japan's surrender at the end of World War II, Mao's communists declared victory, establishing the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, and driving the defeated ROC government to Taiwan, where it remains today.

Mao, who had assumed the role of CPC chairman on March 20, 1943, remained leader for over three decades. In China, he is remembered as the nation's founding father and the originator of Maoism; in the West, historians tell of the tens of millions of Chinese who perished in his revolutionary campaigns.

His Great Leap Forward—China's second five-year plan—emphasized grain and steel production for the state, but poorly executed policies led to the deadliest famine in human history. Between 1958 and 1962, between 15 and 55 million people died from starvation, according to estimates.

Then came Mao's infamous Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966 and ended with his death a decade later. China's revolutionary youth, known as the Red Guards, purged millions of politicians, teachers, friends and even their own parents as Mao called for the cleansing of the "Four Olds"—culture, habits, ideas and customs.

In 1972, China's international prestige received a boost when President Richard Nixon visited Beijing, beginning a period of rapprochement that would lead to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the People's Republic and the United States in 1979.

Deng Xiaoping, who had ousted Mao's chosen successor, seized control of the Chinese Communist Party in 1978. His reforms turned China from a closed economy into a partially open market.

One of Deng's final acts as paramount leader was to sanction the crackdown on student-led democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and elsewhere on June 4, 1989. Estimates of the death toll from the violent suppression range from dozens to thousands.

Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who led the party between 1989 to 2012, were known as the last of the Deng-era rulers. The leader who followed them, Xi Jinping, declared goals that included economic, technological and military dominance on the world stage—all with him at the helm.

Since taking power, Xi has doubled China's military spending from $100 billion to over $209 billion in 2021. In the interim, China's legislature has abolished presidential term limits, paving the way for him to remain ruler for life.

In 2021, as China marks the CPC's 100-year anniversary on July 1, here is a look back at a century of revolutions and milestones.

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