Obituary: Comrade Zhang Kai: a Life of Incessant Struggles
(1920 - 2018)
October Review Editorial Board
October Review was launched in 1974, and has continuously existed for 45 years. Comrade Zhang Kai, one of the founders and the editor-in-chief, had tirelessly and single-mindedly worked for 45 years in editing, writing, proofreading, and publication, until he passed away on 4 September 2018. He had raised the flag of Communism all his life even at the fragile age of 99, with very limited resources in hand. One year before, he wrote down his will that October Review will continue. The Editorial Board pledges to carry on his legacy.
One year after the outbreak of the May-Fourth Movement of 1919, Comrade Zhang Kai was born into a peasant family in Zhongshan, Guangdong Province, China. He was talented, loved reading, and was the only child in the family who could enter high school. The late 1920s and early 1930s in the Republican era was a time of upheaval. Young people generally opposed imperialist invasion and searched for socialist alternatives. The primary school in which Zhang Kai studied organized demonstrations against Japanese imperialist invasion. At that time, Zhang Kai was only a primary school student. He waved a small paper flag in the demonstration and shouted the slogan “Down with the imperialist powers! Down with the warlords!”. The middle school which Zhang Kai studied recruited many progressive young intellectuals as staff. The principal graduated from Jinan University in Guangzhou. Huang Jingbo, a teacher who graduated from Peking University, became a Trotskyist and then came back to his home town. Zhang Kai was greatly influenced by his teachers. He initiated discussions and debates about current affairs, coordinated writings for the noticeboard, joined Zhongshan Youth Wartime Services Group, organized activities against Japanese invasion, and served the wounded under Japanese bombing.
It was an era when personal interests were not taken into account. Passionate young people were everywhere. At the age of 16, Zhang Kai passed an examination with an excellent result to enter Guangdong No.1 High School, the most famous high school in Guangdong province. The following year, Zhongshan fell into Japanese hands. The school moved to Macau. Despite the hardship in wartime, Zhang Kai could have continued to pursue his studies like his peers. At that time, Communist Alliance of China, a Trotskyist organization, desperately needed somebody to take up publication work and approached him. Zhang Kai immediately quit his studies and took over the task, and moved to Hong Kong. Days and nights, he worked hard alone in a small room in Mongkok, Kowloon. He did the typesetting layout to print pamphlets calling for fighting against Japanese invasion, as well as periodicals and internal documents. Meanwhile, he took a course at a leftist news institute at Caine Road, Central, Hong Kong Island. He practiced self-learning as much as he could. At the age of 20, he formally joined Communist Alliance of China.
In the next eighty years, Zhang Kai remained committed and dedicated to the cause. Same as his Trotskyist comrades, his path was thorny and challenging. Yet, compared with the majority of Trotskyist comrades, Zhang Kai was fortunate as he was not destroyed by persecutions, slanders, suppressions, or killings conducted by the powerful blocs including Japanese imperialists, Kuomintang, Communist Party of China (CPC), or British imperialists. After all, Zhang Kai had lived almost one century in which he truly demonstrated how a communist, powerless and suffering from tremendous political oppressions, held on to his faith and led a life of dignity and selflessness. He endured without complaint or regret in all these times of turmoil.
Zhang Kai personally experienced immense physical and mental pain. When he was 22 years old, a workers’ strike happened in a silk factory in Shanghai. Three women comrades were arrested, one of whom was an intellectual who could not stand torture and disclosed names and addresses of comrades. Zhang Kai was implicated and was also arrested. The Japanese military police and Chinese secret police tortured Zhang Kai with electric shock, waterboarding, beatings, among others. However, Zhang Kai refused to betray comrades. He was released after three months of detention.
At the age of 30, he was arrested for a second time. This time it was in Hong Kong. He was charged by the British Hong Kong authorities for publishing pamphlets of political propaganda, and for organizing illegal political activities. He was tortured by British police inspectors and Chinese police from the Political Bureau. Again, he refused to give in. One month later, he was deported for life from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. In 1951, he secretly went back to Hong Kong, and escaped the nation-wide arrest by CPC on Winter Solstice Day of 1952, the day after Stalin’s 74th birthday. More than one thousand Trotskyist comrades and sympathizers either died in prison or lost their freedom for up to one-third of a century.
Although Zhang Kai was supposed to have freedom of the person in Hong Kong, he and his family were always under unspeakable mental stress. As illegal resident, there were not only inconveniences in work and life; there was always a risk of being arrested and deported to mainland China which meant being sent to prison as a Trotskyist. The threat was like a sword hanging over the head. Only at the age of 75 in 1995 did he get his identity card, and started a more stable life. Yet, with old age came all kinds of illnesses.
When Zhang Kai was a teenager, he committed himself to the communist cause. Every day since then, he had worked very hard, never with regret about his choice. Since he joined Communist Alliance of China at the age of 20, he had continuously worked on research, writing, and publication. In 1948, Communist Alliance of China held the third National Assembly and changed its name to Revolutionary Communist Party of China, and Zhang Kai was elected secretary of the National Assembly and then secretary of the Central Committee. In the 1950s, after the nation-wide arrest, Trotskyist comrades in Hong Kong organized an interim national committee of Revolutionary Communist Party of China. Zhang Kai was appointed secretary until 1978 when comrade Li Xi took over. During that period, Zhang Kai wrote a lot of articles and also edited Trotskyist works. In all, he had edited 244 issues of October Review and 11 volumes in a series of Studies on Socialism. He also helped with publication of Chen Bilan’s Early Chinese Communist Party and the Trotskyist Revolutionary Life - My Memories, Memories of Peng Shuzhi, and 4 volumes of Collected Writings of Peng Shuzhi, among others. Two months before he passed away, he finished his autobiographical essay which not only reflected on his important experiences, but also gave an account of what he knew about history, debates, and propositions of Trotskyists in China.
Zhang Kai was a modest person. He worked laboriously and quietly, not for fame, not for profit, but to advance the communist cause.
Zhang Kai’s original name was Liu Gui’an. His pen names included Liu Mang, Kang Jun, Liu Naiguang, Wei Kang, Liu Guang, Xiang Sheng, Fang Xing, Ru Ri, Jun Xing, Zhen Yan, Wei Bo, Juan Di, among others. In the 20th century, the crises of imperialism and capitalism spurred the outbreak of revolutions in Russia and China. Despite the betrayals of these two revolutions, Zhang Kai deeply believed in the only alternative for humanity: to overthrow capitalism and to build communism with democracy and equality, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need”. Moreover, he deeply believed that from the 1920s to the present, Chinese Trotskyists, despite the slanders, persecutions, and murders by the powerful, had lived for a noble cause. The numerous comrades, including Chen Duxiu, Peng Shuzhi, Chen Bilan, Zheng Chaolin, Wang Fanxi, Yin Kuan, Liu Jialiang, Ji Yunlong, Wang Zhenhua, Li Jieshuang, Li Yongjue, Luo Liping, Jiang Junyang, Liu Pingmei, Zhou Rensheng, Gao Qinyu, Lou Guohua, Zhao Li, Zheng Zekeng, Xie Shan, Xu Kekang, Wang Guolong, Li Xi, Zhang Hua, Chen Wen, Wu Zhongxian, and hundreds gone down in history with or without a name, had sacrificed themselves for the cause of communism. They were persons of honesty and integrity, they were honorable souls as communist militants.
When the Chinese Trotskyists are fully rehabilitated
We will come to your graves with the consoling words
Comrade Zhang Kai, rest in peace!
13 December 2018