Scale of Change: The Small Group in Chinese Politics, 1919–1921

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This article links two political forms that emerged at roughly the same time: the small group (xiaozu) and the mass-party. In the tumultuous early Chinese republic, activists considered different possibilities for organising the relations between individual, society and the state. The historiography has by and large focused teleologically on the mass-parties that emerged–the Nationalist Party and Communist Party. By contrast, this article demonstrates that at roughly the same time (1919–1921) activists experimented with small-scale organisations that could form the basis for an ideal society. Such experiments included the New Village Movement (Xincun yundong), the Work Study Mutual Aid Corps (Gongdu huzhu tuan) and the Garden of Morning Light (Xi yuan). The experiments were widely reported and gripped the imagination of many. Interest in these experiments was not limited to future members of one political party or the other. Ultimately, large mass-parties came to dominate Chinese politics, due in part to Comintern intervention, yet terms and concepts associated with the small groups resurfaced and helped shape later Communist policies aimed at the masses. This article suggests therefore that the ascendance of mass-parties over small groups was not inevitable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)674-690
Number of pages17
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 Asian Studies Association of Australia.


  • China
  • New Village Movement
  • Wang Guangqi
  • Young China Association
  • Zhou Zuoren
  • communes
  • mutual aid
  • political parties
  • politics
  • work-study

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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