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June 19, 2021

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Ink-stained lips and a manifesto for change

IN August 1920, the first Chinese version of “The Communist Manifesto” was published in Shanghai.

Translated by 29-year-old Chen Wangdao (1891-1977), it was secretly printed by a hand-operated press in a two-story shikumen (stone-gate) building at 221 Fuxing Road M.

The first edition, the press and the story of Chen are all presented in an exhibition at the Shanghai Zhonghua Printing Museum in Qingpu District. The exhibition running until the end of the year is organized by the Shanghai Printing Group Co.

With the theme of “Red Print,” the exhibition celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.

“The taste of truth is so sweet,” a quote from Chen is hung on the wall of the entry hall of the exhibition with a video featuring President Xi Jinping sharing an anecdote about Chen.

One day while Chen was translating “The Communist Manifesto,” written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, at home in Yiwu in Zhejiang Province, his mother made him zongzi (sticky rice dumplings traditionally eaten during the Dragon Boat Festival), and suggested he eat by dipping them in brown sugar water.

His mother later found his mouth was covered with ink. Chen did dip the zongzi in a liquid but it was not brown sugar water but ink, as he was so concentrated on his work.

After completing the task, Chen headed to Shanghai at the invitation of Chen Duxiu (1879-1942) who was a founding CPC member.

They tried to publish the Chinese version of “The Communist Manifesto,” but found it difficult under the Kuomintang government.

Chen Duxiu then rented a house on Fuxing Road M. and secretly set up a small printing press called Youxin in August 1920.

A total of 1,000 copies were printed by the hand-operated press, which visitors can experience in the exhibition.

However, as the exhibition shows, the original copies had a typographical error on the cover due to the hasty editing. The Chinese title was supposed to be “Gongchandang Xuanyan” but it was wrongly printed as “Gongdangchan Xuanyan.”

Another 1,000 copies with the right title were printed immediately.

The dedication of the people like Chen Wangdao and Chen Duxiu paved the way for the birth of the Communist Party of China one year later.

The exhibition highlights the stories of the relationships between eminent politicians and the printing industry.

Chairman Mao Zedong (1893-1976) once said: “Printing houses produce spiritual food, which is very important. Run well, a printing house is worth a division (of soldiers).”

Former leader Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997) was known as “The Doctor of the Mimeograph” during his days in France.

He gained the title because of his excellent work copying the “La Jeunesse” (the predecessor of “Chiguang” or “Red Light” — the name of the publication by the European branch of the Chinese Communist Youth League, which Deng joined in 1923.)

Former vice premier Chen Yun (1905-95) once worked at The Commercial Press in Shanghai where he was exposed to political theories before joining the Party.

The Commercial Press has long been associated with the Party.

In 1927, the company’s No. 9 building became the headquarters of the workers who hold the third armed uprising in Shanghai, and was bombed by the Japanese in 1932 during the Shanghai Incident.

The uprising was led by Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), first premier of China.

Another highlight of the exhibition is a map featuring more than 20 underground publishing houses in Shanghai in 1932.

Established by the Communists, these secret places published many flyers, newspaper and propaganda materials for the Party.

According to Liu Wei, curator of the Shanghai Zhonghua Printing Museum, few secret publishing houses could stay in one place for more than half a year in the context of the “White Terror,” a period when suspected Communists were captured and executed by the Kuomintang. With printing machines making loud noises, the publishing houses were camouflaged as shops.

Xiesheng publishing house, for example, founded by Mao Zedong’s younger brother Mao Zemin and Qu Qiubai’s younger brother Qu Yunbai, was hidden in a fabric store on today’s Jiangpu Road in Yangpu District.

There was a special doorbell at the door of the shop. When it was rung, it was the paper rather than the fabric that would be sent out from the store.

The exhibition also showcases the development of the printing industry after the founding of People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Green, digital, intelligent and integrated will become the development directions of the printing industry in the future.

To visit the site, it is recommended to call 6082-9038 to schedule an appointment in advance.

Dates: Through December 31 (Closed on Mondays), 9-11am, 1-3pm

Venue: Shanghai Zhonghua Printing Museum

Address: 889 Huijin Road, Qingpu District


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