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The preparations for the first Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the quest for legitimacy

Henrike Rudolph

Introduction

A sheet of paper in his hand, his head slightly tilted, an array of microphones in front and his most loyal supporters behind, red lanterns swaying overhead. The image of Mao Zedong's proclamation of the founding of the People’s Republic is ingrained in public memory. The festivities on October 1,1949, marked the beginning of a new era in Chinese history with cheering masses and a military parade. The founding ceremony (kaiguo dadian was, however, not only a

show of force of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the People’s Liberation Army. The line of supporters standing shoulder to shoulder with CCP leaders on Tian’anmen Gate embodied the promise of political stability and an inclusive government.1 Among them were eminent figures such as Shen Junru itiSW (1875-1963), Zhang Lan '1)1 (1872-1955), Song Qingling (1893-1981), and Li Jishen (1885-1959) as representatives of several left-leaning smaller parties and associations that had formed during the Republican period (1912-1949). Under the direction of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (tongzhanbu they had laid the groundwork for the convening of a new political body, the Chinese People’s Consultative Conference (CPPCC), in September 1949.

The CPPCC modeled its corporatist structure and function on Republican precursors to draw intellectuals and political activists into the Communist system of government. By inviting left-leaning elites to join the bridge-building process during the turbulent months of dissolution and reconstruction in 1948-1949, the CCP heralded an era of “New Democracy” (xin minzhu Ki). Democracy, a term that had pervaded Mao’s writings for years, now had to be filled with concrete meaning. The first CPPCC’s preparations, however, were as much a process of inclusion as of exclusion and a preemptive move to stifle demands for a genuinely democratic form of government.

The pomp and circumstance of the enraptured masses and the military parade on October 1 outshone the preceding ceremonies of the first CPPCC. Likewise, in historical scholarship, the preparations for the CPPCC have received little attention, mainly because historians tended to dismiss it as mere political theatre. Gerry Groot has offered the most comprehensive analysis to this day, but his focus rests on the events themselves, not, for example, their portrayal in contemporary

DOI: 10.4324/9781003158608

People’s Political Consultative Conference 283 media.2 This chapter thus revisits the months preceding the first CPPCC and focuses on the following three points: first, it takes the symbolism of the first CPPCC seriously and reconsiders its role in strategically constructing an image of the CCP’s popular support. Second, it will bring the public perception of the preparations leading up to the first CPPCC to the fore, arguing that the rehearsal was just as important as the performance itself. Third, the first CPPCC is examined as part of a more significant endeavor to create a coherent foundation myth of the People's Republic of China (PRC). These three issues are central to our understanding of the narrative of a “New Democracy,” which constitutes a fundamental source of legitimacy of the PRC’s system of government until today.3

 
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