Shanghai January Storm

Zhang Chunqiao and the Anting Incident

Revolution #3, May 22, 2005, posted at

Zhang Chunqiao was born in Anhui Province, in East China, and began his revolutionary activities in the 1930s. As a young man, Zhang Chunqiao was most active in the literary field as part of the underground party in Shanghai.

After the liberation of Shanghai in 1949, Zhang Chunqiao became part of the administration of the party and the city. For years he was Deputy Secretary of the Municipal Party Committee and Deputy Minister of Propaganda. He was also one of the heads of the Shanghai Committee for Friendly Relations with Foreign Countries and met with guests from around the world.

When the mayor of Shanghai, a supporter of Mao, died in 1965, Zhang Chunqiao was shoved aside and actually demoted by powerful forces who opposed Mao's line of building socialism.

In 1965, an article criticizing a play that attacked Mao by allegory served as the opening shot of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Zhang Chunqiao, as director of the Propaganda Department, made it possible for this to be published in two newspapers in Shanghai. Mao made Zhang a Deputy Leader in the Cultural Revolution Group—the national body responsible for leading the Cultural Revolution. And this put Zhang in direct opposition to the leaders running the Party and the government in Shanghai who opposed Mao's revolutionary line.

The top party leadership in Shanghai were revisionists—who upheld the revolution in words but were doing everything they could to betray the revolution and bring back capitalism. They tried to sabotage and block the actions of young Red Guards who were sent from Beijing to carrying out the Cultural Revolution. Under Zhang's leadership, rebel youth and workers organized to "seize power back from those in authority taking the capitalist road." This became a model for the whole country, known as the January Storm.

Zhang Chunqiao described the intense debate and struggle that was unleashed: "We used to hold joint discussions. We would ask the rebels to come to our meeting to discuss each problem. One day 40 organizations might be represented and the next day a hundred. Nobody knew anyone else. Although we were very busy and often in a state of chaos, we felt that this sort of thing was liable to happen in a revolution and this was the way to get problems solved. It would have been wrong to be too hasty."

The struggle drew thousands of people into a huge debate over the aims of socialist society and the danger of forces right inside the Party and government using their power to restore capitalism. Young Red Guards initiated much of this struggle and thousands of workers joined in.

Zhang Chunqiao later became a member of the political bureau of the Communist Party. In 1975, he was appointed vice premier of the government and director of the political department of the People's Liberation Army.

Zhang Chunqiao's crucial role in the Cultural Revolution is highlighted by the famous November 1966 "Anting incident," which led up to the 1967 January Storm.


The Cultural Revolution and the struggle against "those in authority taking the capitalist road" involved the broad masses of people in Shanghai. Representatives of many factories and colleges formed a broad alliance of rebel organizations. They went out all over the city, explaining their stand, rebutting false charges, and calling on the masses in posters, meetings, and demonstrations to resist the revisionist leaders and sweep them from power.

The Shanghai party authorities tried to keep the workers out of the struggle, particularly by distorting the revolutionary slogan, "grasp revolution, promote production," emphasizing only the second part. The workers were told that they must "obey this slogan"—by not leaving their jobs to join the demonstrations. Despite such efforts, a Shanghai-wide organization of rebel workers was formed. It first functioned underground and then in early November declared its existence with an inaugural rally of tens of thousands of workers from the city's 800 factories. This was the birth of the Shanghai Workers Rebel Headquarters.

Before the rally the rebel workers sent a delegation to the city authorities. They wanted the Party Committee to officially recognize their new organization, and they demanded that the Mayor come to the rally to hear criticisms from the people. These and other demands were rejected and instead the revisionists issued instructions that "those loyal to the party will not participate or support the Workers Revolutionary Rebel Headquarters." Spies were sent into the crowd, the platform was bugged, and provocateurs tried to break up the rally.

The rally of students, cadres, peasants, and workers lasted seven hours. Then the crowd marched to the city Party Committee, where they demanded to see the mayor. When the mayor refused to come out, the rebels decided to go to Beijing to present their case directly to Mao Tsetung.

2,500 Workers Headquarters members converged at the Shanghai railway station and took over a Beijing-bound train. Another group of rebels set off to walk the 900 miles to Beijing!

When the Shanghai party leaders ordered the train stopped at Anting, about 20 miles north of the city, those who had set out on foot joined those on the train.

The Shanghai party leaders sent relatives to urge the rebels to go home. But many of these relatives were won over to support the rebellion and workers from nearby factories and farm communes brought food and water to the rebel workers. The party and city officials called on the workers to return to their jobs—once again mis-using the revolutionary slogan "grasp revolution, promote production" to argue that the workers should go back to work. They said the workers could participate in the revolution—after working hours. But 1,000 workers said they would not leave until their demands were met and occupied the train for the next three days.

It was at this point that the Central Cultural Revolution Group (CCRG) in Beijing intervened. Zhang Chunqiao from the CCRG went to Anting, and during a nine-hour meeting, he listened to the rebels' demands and discussed with them the complex question of how to handle the contradiction between "grasping revolution" and "promoting production" in the course of waging the class struggle. Zhang assured the workers that they had support from Mao and top party leaders in Beijing and convinced them to return to Shanghai—to continue the struggle there.

Then, in a rather "in your face" move, Zhang Chunqiao held a mass meeting in Shanghai with the workers who had returned from Anting and formally signed their demands. Zhang said that Mao and the party's Central Committee knew about the situation in Shanghai, that the CCRG recognized the Workers Headquarters as a revolutionary organization, and that the Standing Committee of the Central Committee had confirmed this decision. Such news was immediately spread far and wide by the rebels as wall posters and leaflets by the thousands declared and greeted this important support from Beijing.

The Mayor of Shanghai, who opposed Mao's line, was enraged and, upon hearing that Zhang had signed the workers' demands, remarked: "Zhang Chunqiao signs and catches us all with our pants down"! Attacks against Zhang's leadership intensified—he received threats on his life, his house was broken into, and rebels under his leadership were physically attacked.

In fact, Zhang's support of the rebel workers, given that he was considered a direct emissary from Mao, shattered the credibility of the mayor and his Party Committee and played an extremely important role in creating public opinion in favor of the rebel workers. And Mao himself openly and specifically approved the "Shanghai January Storm" and called upon his supporters all over the country to emulate this action wherever it was needed, to prevent the restoration of capitalism and push forward the building of socialism.