28 Bolsheviks

The 28 Bolsheviks were a group of Chinese students who studied at the Moscow Sun Yat-sen University from the late 1920s until early 1935, also known as the "Returned Students". The university was founded in 1925 as a result of Kuomintang's founder Sun Yat-Sen's policy of alliance with the Soviet Union, and was named after him. The university had an important influence on modern Chinese history by educating many prominent Chinese political figures. The most famous of these were collectively called the 28 Bolsheviks.[1]


There are several rival lists of the 28. One lists 29 active members, including: Wang Ming, and his wife Meng Qingshu (孟庆树); Bo Gu; Zhang Wentian; Wang Jiaxiang; Yang Shangkun; Chen Changhao[2] with his wife Du Zuoxiang (杜作祥); Shen Zemin and his wife Zhang Qinqiu; Kai Feng; Xia Xi; He Zishu (何子述); Sheng Zhongliang (盛忠亮); Wang Baoli (王宝礼); Wang Shengrong (王盛荣); Wang Yuncheng; Zhu Agen (朱阿根); Zhu Zishun (朱自舜, female); Sun Jimin (孙济民); Song Panmin (宋盘民); Chen Yuandao (陈原道); Li Zhusheng; Li Yuanjie (李元杰); Wang Shengdi (汪盛荻); Xiao Tefu (肖特甫); Yin Jian (殷鉴); Yuan Jiayong (袁家镛), Xu Yixin (徐以新). The extra person can be attributed to Xu Yixin because of his pendulous left and right stances, and thus this group is also known as "28 and a half Bolsheviks".

Rise and fall

With support from their mentor Pavel Mif, president of Sun Yat-sen University and envoy of Comintern at that time, they returned to China after graduating. This provoked a struggle with Li Lisan and his allies, who controlled the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Dissidents against Li inside the Party also objected to their return, but, in the 4th Plenary Meeting of the Communist Party's 6th National Congress, and with the presence and direct support of Pavel Mif, Wang Ming and his group won a landslide victory. Wang was elected to the Communist Party's politburo and Bo Gu, while Zhang Wentian took up other, equally important, positions.

As a result, the conflict between the Central Committee and Mao Zedong's fledgling Chinese Soviet Republic began once again. Although Wang Ming returned to Moscow after a short stay in Shanghai, Bo Gu and Zhang Wentian both took the position of General Secretary of Central Committee of the Party in turn, and led the Chinese revolution in a radical manner.

Following Chiang Kai-shek's Shanghai massacre of 1927, the CCP went deep underground in Shanghai and other cities. By the early 1930s, even that was unsafe and leaders began to converge at Mao Zedong's Jiangxi Soviet. Among the first to arrive, and to begin dismantling Mao's power, was Zhou Enlai. In 1933, when Bo Gu arrived, the job was mostly finished.

After a series of successful defenses against Nationalist Army attacks, Chiang's German advisers switched tactics and began building concentric circles of fortified positions closer and closer to the communist base. This forced the party to embark in the famous Long March of October 1934 to October 1935. Shortly after the march began, party leaders held an enlarged congress to determine the direction and leadership of the revolution. At the Zunyi Conference in 1935, the 28 Bolsheviks were defeated by Mao Zedong and his allies, primarily due to the backing of Zhou Enlai and Zhu De.

Bo Gu supported the Comintern military advisor Otto Braun, while Zhang and Wang Jiaxiang, General Commissar of the Red Army, and Yang Shangkun, Commissar of the Third Field Army of Red Army at that time, defected to Mao. This led to the disintegration of the 28 Bolsheviks. Wang Ming was exiled to Moscow where he later died. Zhang was demoted to the field of ideological research in Yan'an, and later appointed Deputy Foreign Minister after 1949. He died during the Cultural Revolution after forming a "counterrevolutionary group" with Peng Dehuai. Bo Gu died in an air crash in the 1940s when he returned to Yan'an.


The standard Western interpretation is that the group neglected the contribution of peasants who contributed to the success of Mao's success Mobile Warfare. That, and as protégés of Pavel Mif, they thought they were destined to take charge of the Chinese revolution.

Thomas Kampen's Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and the Evolution of the Chinese Communist Leadership argues that they were only a coherent group in Moscow, opposed to both Kuomintang and Trotskyist influences among Chinese students. It's also claimed that they did return to China at various times, but failed to form an effective faction. Additionally, there are questions as to whether the entire group gained notoriety only by association with the theories of the most prominent member, Wang Ming. Frederick Litten writes[3] agreeing with Kampen that there was no such faction in the Jiangxi Soviet and goes further to question whether the group acted in any kind of coordinated way at all. Litten's view is that the idea of a 'Leftist' versus 'Maoist' dichotomy at this time is a later invention retrospectively applied.

The 28 Bolsheviks became pawns in the power struggle between their mentor, Pavel Mif, and the Communist Party of China. The group's members were relatively innocent in the ways of revolution, despite their collective power. Although its members had different fates, as a group the 28 Bolsheviks were destined to fail. Today in China, "the 28 Bolsheviks" is synonymous with dogmatism.

Later history


  1. Lily Xiao Hong Lee, Sue WilesSummary (1999). Women of the Long March. Allen & Unwin. p. 123. ISBN 1-86448-569-8.
  2. http://jiangsu.china.com.cn/html/junshi/gn/913780_1.html
  3. Frederick S Litten in Bochumer Jahrbuch zur Ostasienforschung (2001). The Myth of the 'Turning-Point' -- Towards a New Understanding of the Long March (PDF).
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