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Kang Sheng

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Kang Sheng

Kang Sheng
Vice Chairman of the CPC Central Committee
In office
30 August 1973 – 16 December 1975
Personal details
Born 1898
Zhucheng County, Shandong, Qing China
Died December 16, 1975(1975-12-16) (aged 77)
Beijing, People's Republic of China
Political party Communist Party of China
Spouse(s) Chen Yi (陳宜)
Cao Yiou (曹軼歐)

Kang Sheng (Chinese: ; pinyin: Kāng Shēng; c. 1898 – December 16, 1975) was a Communist Party of China ("CPC") official best known for having overseen the work of the CPC's internal security and intelligence apparatus during the early 1940s and again at the height of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A member of the CPC from the early 1920s, he spent time in Moscow during the early 1930s, where he learned the methods of the NKVD and became a supporter of Wang Ming for leadership of the CPC. After returning to China in the late 1930s, Kang Sheng switched his allegiance to Mao Zedong and became a close associate of Mao during the Anti-Japanese War, the Chinese Civil War and after. He remained at or near the pinnacle of power in the People's Republic of China from its establishment in 1949 until his death in 1975. After the death of Mao and the subsequent arrest of the Gang of Four, Kang Sheng was accused of sharing responsibility with the Gang for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and in 1980 he was expelled posthumously from the CPC.[1]


  • Early life 1
  • Shanghai 2
  • Moscow 3
  • Yan'an 4
  • From Yan'an to the Cultural Revolution 5
  • Cultural Revolution 6
  • Support for the Khmer Rouge 7
  • Death and disgrace 8
  • Notes 9

Early life

Kang Sheng was born in Dataizhuang (大臺莊) (administered under Jiaonan County since 1946), Zhucheng County to the northwest of Qingdao in Shandong Province to a landowning family, some of whom had been Confucian scholars.[2] Kang was born Zhang Zongke (simplified Chinese: 张宗可; traditional Chinese: 張宗可; pinyin: Zhāng Zōngkě) but he adopted a number of pseudonyms – most notably Zhao Rong, but also (for his painting) Li Jushi—before settling on Kang Sheng in the 1930s.[3] Some sources give his year of birth as being as early as 1893, but it has also been variously given as 1898, 1899 and 1903.[4]

Kang received his elementary education at the Guanhai school for boys and later at the German School in Qingdao.[5] As a teenager, he entered into an arranged marriage with Chen Yi, in 1915, with whom he had two children, a daughter, Zhang Yuying, and a son, Zhang Zishi.[6] After graduating from the German School, Kang taught in a rural school in Zhucheng, Shandong in the early 1920s before leaving, possibly for a sojourn in Germany and France,[7] and ultimately for Shanghai, where he arrived in 1924.[8]


After arriving in Shanghai, Kang enrolled in Shanghai University, a former teacher's college that was officially funded by the Kuomintang but had come under the control of the CPC and the intellectual leadership of Qu Qiubai.[9] After about six months at the university, he joined the Communist Party Youth League and then the Party itself, although the circumstances of his membership and sponsorship remains something of a mystery.[10]

At the direction of the Party, Kang worked underground as a labor organizer.[11] He helped organize the February 1925 strike against Japanese companies that culminated in the May 30th Movement, a huge Communist-led demonstration, and brought Kang into close contact with Party leaders Liu Shaoqi, Li Lisan and Zhang Guotao.[12] Kang participated in the March 1927 worker's insurrection alongside Gu Shunzhang and under the leadership of Zhao Shiyan, Luo Yinong, Wang Shouhua and Zhou Enlai.[13] When the uprising was put down by the Kuomintang with the crucial assistance of Du Yuesheng's Green Gang in the Shanghai massacre of April 12, 1927,[14] Kang was able to escape into hiding.[15]

Also in 1927, Kang married a Jiangsu Provincial Committee in June 1927.[18]

In the late 1920s, Kang worked closely with

Political offices
New title Governor of Shandong
Succeeded by
Zhao Jianmin
Party political offices
Preceded by
Li Weihan
President of the CPC Central Party School
Succeeded by
Deng Fa
New title Head of the CPC Central Department of Social Affairs
Succeeded by
Li Kenong
Head of the CPC Central Intelligence Department
Preceded by
Secretary of the CPC Shandong Committee
Succeeded by
Fu Qiutao
Preceded by
Tao Zhu
as Head of the CPC Propaganda Department
Leader of the Central Organization and Propaganda Leading Group
Succeeded by
Yao Wenyuan
as Head of the CPC Propaganda Department
Preceded by
Lin Biao
Vacant since 1971
Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China
Served alongside: Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Li Desheng, Wang Hongwen, Ye Jianying

Succeeded by
Zhou Enlai
Deng Xiaoping
Wang Hongwen
Ye Jianying
  1. ^ See, generally, John Byron & Robert Pack, The Claws of the Dragon: Kang Sheng - The Evil Genius Behind Mao - And His Legacy of Terror in People's China, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992); Zhong Kan, Kang Sheng Pingzhuan [A Critical Biography of Kang Sheng] (Beijing: Hongqi, 1982); Lin Qingshan, Kang Sheng Waizhuan [An Unofficial Biography of Kang Sheng] (Beijing: Zhongguo Qingnian, 1988)
  2. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 35-7; Roger Faligot & Remi Kauffer (translated from the French by Christine Donougher), The Chinese Secret Service (Paris: Laffont 1987; Translation London: Headline 1989), p. 10.
  3. ^ Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages-Kang Sheng
  4. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 33; Faligot & Kauffer, p. 10; Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China (New York: Grove Press, 1938, 1973 ed.), p. 473-474; Vladimirov, Peter, The Vladimirov Diaries, Yenan, China: 1942-1945, (Garden City: Doubleday, 1975), p. 76.
  5. ^ Faligot & Kauffer, p. 12-14.
  6. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 40-41.
  7. ^ Faligot & Kauffer, p. 20-21.
  8. ^ Vladimirov, p. 77. Faligot & Kauffer, p. 15, name the town where Kang taught as that where his family then lived, Zhucheng.
  9. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 54-5; Faligot & Kauffer, p. 21.
  10. ^ June Chang & John Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story, (London: Jonathan Cape, 2000), p. 275.
  11. ^ Ruan Ming (translated from the Chinese by Nancy Liu, Peter Rand and Lawrence R. Sullivan), Deng Xiaoping: Chronicle of an Empire, (Boulder: Westview Press, 1994), p. 259.
  12. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 59.
  13. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 61; Simon Leys (translated from the French by Carol Appleyard & Patrick Goode), The Chairman's New Clothes (London: Allison & Busby, 1977), p. 247; Snow, p. 474.
  14. ^ See Harold R. Isaacs, The Tragedy of the Chinese Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University press, 1938, rev. ed. 1951), p. 175-185.
  15. ^ Byron p. 67-9.
  16. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 73.
  17. ^ Faligot & Kauffer, p. 70.
  18. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 76.
  19. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 77.
  20. ^ Jacques Guillermaz (translated from the French by Anne Destenay), A History of the Chinese Communist Party 1921-1949 (Paris: Payot, 1968; English translation New York: Random House, 1972), p. 174-180.
  21. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 77.
  22. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 79; Faligot & Kauffer, p. 61-2.
  23. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 81.
  24. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 85.
  25. ^ Guillermaz, p. 203.
  26. ^ Guillermaz, p. 219-221.
  27. ^ Jonathan D. Spence, The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980 (London: Faber & Faber, 1982), p. 230-2.
  28. ^ Spence, p. 217-20,325-6.
  29. ^ Guillermaz, p. 221-2.
  30. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 103.
  31. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 115.
  32. ^ Huang Jing, Factionalism in Chinese Communist Politics, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), p. 111 f13.
  33. ^ Roderick MacFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3: The Coming of the Cataclysm 1961-66 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 291.
  34. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 119.
  35. ^ See Gullermaz, p. 252-263; Harrison E. Salisbury, The Long March (London: Macmillan, 1985).
  36. ^ Guillermaz, p. 263.
  37. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 122-3.
  38. ^ See Robert Conquest, The Great Terror: A Reappraisal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
  39. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 125-6; Faligot & Kauffer, p. 102-3, 115-117.
  40. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 125-6.
  41. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 131.
  42. ^ Faligot & Kauffer, p. 102.
  43. ^ Faligot & Kauffer, p. 102.
  44. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 142-3.
  45. ^ MacFarquar, Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 291.
  46. ^ Faligot & Kauffer, p. 81-2
  47. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 148-9.
  48. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 150.
  49. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 150-151.
  50. ^ Faligot & Kauffer, p. 160-161.
  51. ^ Vladimirov, p. 30. It should be noted that this book by a Russian Comintern agent, reflecting the period in which it was published, expresses strong bias, and takes positions on individuals that suggests politically motivated editing decades later.
  52. ^ Alexander V. Pantsov with Steven I. Levine Mao: The Real Story (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2012), p. 333
  53. ^ Pantsov & Levine, p. 334
  54. ^ Chang & Halliday, p. 275.
  55. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 174-176.
  56. ^ Mitter, p. 281 ^
  57. ^ Mitter, p. 282
  58. ^ Mitter, p. 292-293
  59. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 189.
  60. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 182-3.
  61. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 182-3.
  62. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 195-6.
  63. ^ Huang, p. 77-78.
  64. ^ Huang, f48.
  65. ^ Li Zhisui (translated from the Chinese by Tai Hung-chao), The Private Life of Chairman Mao, (London: Chatto & Windus, 1994), p. 397.
  66. ^ Byron & Pack, P. 209-210.
  67. ^ See Jacques Guillermaz (Translated from the French by Anne Destenay), The Chinese Communist Party in Power, 1949-1976 (Boulder: Westview Press, 1976) p. 98-110.
  68. ^ Faligot and Kauffer p. 270-273.
  69. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 221.
  70. ^ For an account of the context and content of the speech, made to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956, see Archie Brown, The Rise and Fall of Communism, (London: Bodley Head, 2009) p. 240-243.
  71. ^ Roderick MacFarquar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 1: Contradictions Among the People 1956-1957, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974) p. 148.
  72. ^ Maurice Meisner, Mao's China and After: A History of the People's Republic, (New York: The Free Press, 3rd edition 1999) p. 170.
  73. ^ Brown, p. 243.
  74. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 224-225.
  75. ^ Meisner, p. 188.
  76. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 189.
  77. ^ MacFarquar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 292
  78. ^ MacFarquar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 293
  79. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 245.
  80. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 245-247
  81. ^ Guillermaz, The Chinese Communist Party in Power, 1949-1976, p. 316.
  82. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 245-247.
  83. ^ Guillermaz, The Chinese Communist Party in Power, 1949-1976, p. 317. The Chinese declined an invitation to send delegates to the CPSU's Twenty-Third Congress, which Guillermaz describes as "the last important gesture" of disdain for Soviet policy before the Cultural Revolution. Ibid., p. 323.
  84. ^ "A Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement" (June 14, 1963), as quoted in Guillermaz, The Chinese Communist Party in Power, 1949-1976, p. 329.
  85. ^ Guillermaz, The Chinese Communist Party in Power, 1949-1976, p. 329.
  86. ^ MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 12, discussing the significance of The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement published by the Party in 1965.
  87. ^ "Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of our Party since the Founding of the People's Republic of China, adopted by the Sixth Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on June 27, 1981," paragraph 19 (hereinafter cited as "Resolution of June 27, 1981"), reproduced in Resolution on CPC History (1949–1981) (Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1981), p. 32.
  88. ^ "Resolution of June 27, 1981," paragraph 18, reproduced in Resolution on CPC History (1949–1981), p. 31
  89. ^ MacFarquar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 293-296
  90. ^ MacFarquar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 296.
  91. ^ Meisner, p. 313
  92. ^ Meisner, p. 313.
  93. ^ MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 32-33.
  94. ^ "Resolution of June 27, 1981," paragraph 21, reproduced in Resolution on CPC History (1949–1981), p. 31.
  95. ^ MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 54-55.
  96. ^ Yue Daiyun and Carolyn Wakeman, To the Storm: The Odyssey of a Revolutionary Chinese Woman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 148.
  97. ^ Kang apparently said about Nie "I've known since back in Yan'an that Nie Yuanzi is not a very good person. But now we will support her, even if she is a f***ing turtle's egg [hundan wangbadan]." MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 54-55. Kang Sheng had supported Nie Yuanzi in a prior attack on Lu Ping and other alleged "capitalist roaders" at Beijing University, which Peng Zhen and others had been able to fend off. As MacFarquar writes, on that occasion "[e]ven Kang Sheng's intervention could not save Nie from criticism." MacFarquar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 638n.
  98. ^ Yue & Wakeman, p. 167.
  99. ^ David Shambaugh, China's Propaganda System: Institutions, Processes and Efficacy
  100. ^ Meisner, p. 344.
  101. ^ MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 250-252.
  102. ^ MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 282-283.
  103. ^ David Bonavia, Verdict in Peking: The Trial of the Gang of Four (New York: Putnam, 1984), p. 33
  104. ^ Bonavia, p. 35
  105. ^ MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 282-283.
  106. ^ Michael Schoenhals, "The Central Case Examination Group, 1966-1979," China Quarterly No. 145 (March 1996), p. 91-103.
  107. ^ Simon Leys gave his view that Kang was "an original and delicate amateur painter" with "remarkably elegant" calligraphy. The Chairman's New Clothes, p. 247,
  108. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 368.
  109. ^ Meisner, p. 348.
  110. ^ MacFarquar & Schoenhals, p. 293
  111. ^ Quoted in Meisner, p. 348.
  112. ^ Bonavia, p. 190; Byron & Pack, p. 373-375.
  113. ^ Meisner, p. 381-382.
  114. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 389-393.
  115. ^ Meisner, p. 391-392.
  116. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 400-402
  117. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 404-406
  118. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 407-408
  119. ^ MarFarquhar, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, Vol. 3, p. 297.
  120. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 356-7.
  121. ^ Byron & Pack, p. 409.
  122. ^ Ruan, p. 213.
  123. ^ The materials assembled by the special case group were passed to Ma Zhongyang and Li Kan, who as "Zhongkan" published Kang Sheng Pingzhuan [A Critical Biography of Kang Sheng] in 1982. Byron & Pack, p. 416.


As fear of Kang subsided following the arrest of the Gang of Four and the return to power of Deng Xiaoping, criticisms of Kang Sheng grew and a special case group was established to investigate Kang's career. In late summer 1980, the special case group reported to the CPC Central Committee. In October 1980, just in advance of commencing the trial of the Gang of Four, Kang Sheng was posthumously expelled from the CPC and the Central Committee formally rescinded Marshal Ye Jianying's eulogy.[124]

you four people have played an extremely negative role in the liberation of thought, the role of a brake. As far as I'm concerned, this is because you have come too much under the influence of people like Kang Sheng. … Kang Sheng passed his time reading between the lines looking for "allusions" without taking account of the real subject of articles and the general idea. He made a sort of talent of looking for a particular point he could attack. He had learned this from Stalin, from Andrei Zhdanov and the KGB, and acted thus from the time of the Yan'an era.[123]

In November 1978, Hu Yaobang voiced the first formal criticism of Kang in a speech to the Central Party School. Ruan Ming reports Hu as telling four of Kang's "anti-revisionist scribblers" that

Kang Sheng died of bladder cancer on December 16, 1975. He was given a formal funeral, attended by every member of the Politiburo except Mao, who did not attend funerals at this stage, and Zhou Enlai and Zhu De, who both were too weak to attend. Marshal Ye Jianying delivered a eulogy in which he praised Kang as "a proletarian revolutionary, a Marxist theoretician, and a glorious fighter against revisionism."[122]

Death and disgrace

Kang's backing of Pol Pot was an effort to back his own cause within the CPC, as his touting of Pol Pot as the true voice of the Cambodian revolution was in large part an attack on the Chinese Foreign Ministry, whose pragmatic support for Prince Sihanouk's regime was thereby presented as reactionary. As a result of his success in this, the Pol Pot regime came to power and the Khmer Rouge became the recipient of Chinese aid for years to come, prolonging the life of that movement with tragic consequences for Cambodia.[121]

Perhaps Kang's most important influence over Chinese foreign policy came during the Cultural Revolution itself, when he was instrumental in developing Chinese support for the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. While the mainstream of the CPC leadership supported Prince Norodom Sihanouk as Cambodia's anti-Western and anti-imperialist leader, Kang argued that Khmer Rouge guerrilla leader Pol Pot was the real revolutionary leader in the Southeast Asian nation.

Kang also left a lasting imprint on China's foreign policy. As MacFarquhar writes, "[t]he dual role of Kang Sheng in Mao's campaign against revisionism at home and abroad symbolized the close relationship between Chinese domestic and foreign policy."[120] Kang's contribution to the dispute with the Soviet Union about de-Stalinization has been described above in connection with the his efforts to insinuate himself with Mao and developing the ideological origins of the Cultural Revolution.

Support for the Khmer Rouge

Ill with the cancer that would eventually kill him, Kang last appeared in public at the Tenth Congress of the CPC, in August 1973. The Tenth Congress adopted a new Constitution that removed the embarrassing reference to Lin Biao as Mao Zedong's successor, but as a sign that his position had not been adversely affected, Kang Sheng was named one of five vice chairmen of the Party.[116] In his final years, Kang became involved in the Criticize Lin, Criticize Confucius campaign that was created by the beneficiaries of the Cultural Revolution to oppose Zhou Enlai and other veteran officials in the struggle over who would succeed Mao Zedong. Kang was initially active in supporting Jiang Qing, perhaps seeing her as a successor through whom he would exercise power.[117] Kang subsequently shifted tack when it became apparent that Jiang was out of favor with Mao, even going so far as to denounce her as having betrayed the Party to the Kuomintang during the mid-1930s, notwithstanding his support for her when the same charge had been leveled 30 years earlier in Yan'an.[118] Kang's final political act came only two months before his death, when he warned Mao Zedong that Deng Xiaoping opposed the Cultural Revolution and should be purged again, advice that Mao ignored.[119]

The Constitution drafted under Kang's supervision and adopted at the Ninth Congress stipulated that "Comrade Lin Biao is Comrade Mao Zedong's close comrade-in-arms and successor."[112] Kang Sheng and Lin Biao were not close allies, although Kang had earlier assisted Lin in his successful efforts to remove Marshal He Long, a formidable rival to Lin's wish to control the People's Liberation Army.[113] In the wake of Lin Biao's aborted coup attempt and death in September 1971, Kang was careful to distance himself from Mao's disgraced former heir and from Chen Boda, who had been closely aligned with Lin at the Central Committee meeting in Lushan in August 1970 and who was denounced after Lin's fall at "China's Trotsky."[114] Efforts to link Kang to Lin Biao's plotting were unsuccessful and unsubstantiated.[115]

Kang Sheng was instrumental in supervising the drafting of the new Party Constitution, adopted at the CPC's Ninth Congress in April 1969, which reinstated "Mao Zedong Thought" alongside Marxism-Leninism as the theoretical basis for the Party. The Congress elected Kang as one of the five members of the Politburo Standing Committee, along with Mao, Lin Biao, Zhou Enlai and Chen Boda.[110] At the Ninth Congress, Kang Sheng's wife, Cao Yi'ou, was herself elected to the Central Committee.[111]

During the Cultural Revolution, Kang abused his position to personal advantage. A gifted painter and calligrapher,[108] he used his power to indulge his penchant for collecting antiques and works of art, notably inkstones. According to Byron & Pack, many of the Cultural Revolution leaders also used the lawlessness of the period to acquire for themselves objects seized from the homes of persons attacked by Red Guards. But Kang, in a series of visits to the Cultural Relics Bureau, "helped himself to 12,080 volumes of rare books – more than were taken by any other radical leader, and 34 percent of all the rare books removed – and 1,102 antiques, 20 percent of the total. Only Lin Biao, who, as Mao's designated heir, ranked second in the land, appropriated more antiques than Kang."[109]

During its thirteen-year existence, the CCEG had powers far exceeding not only those once exercised by the Party's Discipline Inspection Commission and Organization Department, but even those of the central public security and procuratorial organs and the courts. The CCEG made the decision to "ferret out," persecute, arrest, imprison and torture "revisionist" [Central Committee] members and many lesser political enemies. Its privileged employees were the Cultural Revolution equivalent of Vladimir Lenin's Cheka and Adolf Hitler's Gestapo. Whereas the [Central Cultural Revolution Group] at least nominally dealt in "culture," the CCEG dealt exclusively in violence.[106] The CCEG was established as an ad hoc body but soon became a permanent institution with a staff of thousands that, at one point, was investigating no fewer than 88 members and alternate members of the Party Central Committee for suspected "treachery," "spying," and/or "collusion with the enemy."[107]

Kang's position on the CCEG gave him enormous, if invisible power. The very existence of the CCEG remained a secret, "[y]et," as MacFarquar and Schoenhals write,

In the turbulent years of the Cultural Revolution, Kang remained close to the pinnacle of power and, as the "evil genius" within the Central Case Examination Group (the "CCEG") established by the CPC Politburo on May 24, 1966, was instrumental in Mao's efforts to purge many senior Party officials, including his most senior rival within the Party, Liu Shaoqi.[103] In the subsequent trial of the so-called "Gang of Four," one of the accusations leveled against Jiang Qing was that she conspired "with Kang Sheng, Chen Boda, and others to take it upon themselves to convene the big meeting [on July 18, 1967] to apply struggle-and-criticism to Liu Shaoqi, and to carry out a search of his house, physically persecuting the Head of State of the People's Republic of China."[104] Xiao Meng testified at the trial that "the slander and persecution of [Liu Shaoqi's wife] Wang Guangmei was plotted by Jiang Qing and Kang Sheng in person."[105]

In 1968, Mao and other leaders finally began to rein in the Red Guards, with Kang Sheng playing a leading role. In January Kang denounced the Hunan shengwulian coalition of Red Guards as "anarchists" and "Trotskyists," launching a campaign of brutal suppression over the following months by the army and secret police.[101] By July, when Mao joked that with a group of Red Guard leaders that he himself was the "black hand" suppressing campus revolutionaries, the glory days of the movement were ending.[102]

During the Cultural Revolution, Kang Sheng was actively involved in controlling the CPC propaganda apparatus, being appointed head of the "[100] while Yao Wenyuan as head of another "Propaganda Leading Group". In November 1970, Kang was elevated to head of the Propaganda Department.

With no limits imposed, no guidance offered, no one assuming responsibility for what occurred, and the Red Guards merely following their impulses, the assault upon their elders and the destruction of property grew completely out of control.[99]

In May 1966, Kang Sheng sent his wife, Cao Yi'ou, to Beijing University as part of a team designed to rally leftists against the university president, Lu Ping, and other officials aligned with Peng Zhen.[96] Cao sought out Nie Yuanzi,[97] a Party branch secretary in the Philosophy Department with whom Kang and Cao had become acquainted years earlier in Yan'an.[98] With information from Cao Yi'ou that Lu Ping had lost high-level Party protection, Nie Yuanzi and her leftist allies launched a movement that over the next three months threw Beijing University into chaos. As Yue Daiyun wrote:

In early 1965, Mao sent his wife Jiang Qing to Shanghai to light the first spark of what would become the Cultural Revolution, the campaign against Wu Han, the Vice Mayor of Beijing and the author of the 1961 play Hai Rui Dismissed from Office. The attack on Wu Han was an indirect attack on Beijing's mayor, Peng Zhen, a pillar of the establishment that Mao wanted overthrown. Kang's role in the subsequent purge of Peng was to co-lead with Chen Boda the prosecution of Mao's charge that "Peng Zhen, the Propaganda Department, and the Beijing Party Committee had shielded bad people while suppressing leftists."[94] Following the purge of Peng Zhen in May 1966, the Central Committee later concluded, "Lin Biao, Jiang Qing, Kang Sheng, Zhang Chunqiao and others…exploited the situation to incite people to 'overthrow everything and wage full-scale civil war.'"[95]

[93] The Politburo established a five-man group, chaired by [92] In January 1965, Mao suggested to the Party Politburo that the principal enemies of socialism in China were "those people in authority within the Party who are taking the capitalist road" and urged that the Party undertake a "cultural revolution."

Two months later, [Kang] moved to the Diaoyutai guest complex in the capital to mastermind a team of ideologues for the campaign against Soviet revisionism. The most cynical hit-man of Mao's Cultural Revolution swat team was now an agent in place, helping to initiate the domestic and foreign policies that were the prelude to that cataclysm.[91]

Well before the start of the Cultural Revolution as such, Kang played his part in attacking rivals of Mao in the Party leadership, many of whom were unhappy with a range of policies including Mao's refusal to rehabilitate Peng Dehuai, the former Defense Minister and outspoken critic of the Great Leap Forward. In 1962, Kang used the publication of a novel about Liu Zhidan, a Party member killed in battle against the Kuomintang in 1936, as the basis for reviving the Gao Gang affair, successfully insinuating that the novels' publication was an effort by Xi Zhongxun and others to reverse the Party's verdict on Gao.[90] As a result of this, Kang was promoted to the secretariat of the Central Committee at the 10th Plenum in August 1962. As MacFarquar writes,

As an important ally of Mao Zedong's efforts to regain control of the CPC, Kang was an important enabler of and participant in the Cultural Revolution, later described by the CPC's Central Committee as having "lasted from May 1966 to October 1976" and as "responsible for the most severe setback and heaviest losses suffered by the Party, the state and the people since the founding of the People's Republic." The Central Committee resolution concluded that the Cultural Revolution "was initiated and led by Comrade Mao Zedong."[88] In outlining the "errors" that had been made by Mao and others in the run-up to the Cultural Revolution, the Central Committee noted that "[c]areerists like Lin Biao, Jiang Qing and Kang Sheng, harbouring ulterior motives, made use of these errors and inflated them."[89]

Cultural Revolution

The Sino-Soviet rift and the obsession with Khruschev's revisionism looms large in the coming of the Cultural Revolution, as Mao saw revisionism and de-Stalinization as a threat not only to his own position but also to the very survival of the Chinese Communist Party as a revolutionary force.[87] Accordingly, an appreciation Kang's role as a supporter of Mao's line in this period helps explain his return to very near the pinnacle of power a few years later.

Jacques Guillermaz asked rhetorically of this criticism, "[c]ould the Chinese really have been thinking of Enver Hoxha?"[86]

[u]nder the pretext of "combating the cult of the individual," certain persons are crudely interfering in the internal affairs of other fraternal parties and fraternal countries and forcing other fraternal parties to change their leadership in order to impose their own wrong line on those parties.[85]

The following year, Kang was one of the Chinese delegates to the Twenty-Second Congress of the CPSU to leave their seats to avoid shaking hands with Khrushchev.[84] Kang was also a member of the delegation that attended a meeting in Moscow in July 1963, which failed to bridge the growing gap between the Chinese and Soviet parties. Among the points of contention, raised in a letter issued by the Chinese Communist Party on June 14, 1963, had to do with de-Stalinization and the allegation that

Kang visited the Soviet Union and various socialist countries in Eastern Europe on several occasions between 1956 and 1964, expressing increasing disdain for the "revisionist" policies of Nikita Khrushchev and Josip Broz Tito.[81] In February 1960, as the Chinese observer at the conference of the Political Consultative Conference of the Warsaw Pact, Kang made what Jacques Guillermaz described as "a violent attack on the leaders of the United States, their feigned pacifism, their dream of 'peaceful evolution' of the socialist countries, and their repeated sabotage of disarmament."[82] Byron and Pack describe the speech as "a subtle, almost sarcastic critique of Russian foreign policy that became a milestone in deteriorating Sino-Soviet relations."[83]

Among Kang's most important activities in this period were those related to the deepening split with the Soviet Union, about which Mao and others regarded him as something of an expert. Among his assignments from the Politburo was to draft a long article that appeared in The People's Daily on December 29, 1956 under the title "More on the Historical Experience of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat" and which expressed the Party's position that Stalin's achievements overshadowed his mistakes.[80]

Kang was clearly a supporter of Mao during the period of the Great Leap Forward and its aftermath and, as MacFarquar writes, "[h]e was the beneficiary of Mao's practice of preserving and protecting those whom he trusted and relied upon, and for whom he saw a future use."[78] As a result, Kang received a number of important positions during the late 1950s, including in 1959 responsibility for the Central Party School.[79]

As noted in connection with the Yan'an Rectification Movement launched 15 years earlier, Kang Sheng played an important role in bringing Stalinist methods of repression to China.[77]

The period of the Hundred Flowers was the time when the Chinese abandoned the Soviet model of development and embarked on a distinctively Chinese road to socialism. It was the time that China announced its ideological and social autonomy from the Soviet Union and its Stalinist heritage. It is a cruel and tragic irony that the break with the Stalinist pattern of socioeconomic development was not accompanied by a break with Stalinist methods in political and intellectual life. The latter was precluded by the suppression of the critics who had briefly "bloomed and contended" in May and June 1957.[76]

While Kang remained a member of the Politburo, he had no concrete role and no power base, which led him to take on a series of diverse assignments and to align himself as closely as possible with Mao, who was devising his response to de-Stalinization and its effects within the leadership of the CPC.[75] His responses, in the Hundred Flowers and the Anti-Rightist Campaign that followed, marked a profound turning point in the history of the People's Republic of China. As Maurice Meisner wrote

Mao's own position was weakening, as evidenced by the decision of the CPC's Eighth Congress to delete the phrase "guided by the thought of Mao Zedong" from the new Party constitution and by re-establishing the role of General Secretary, abolished in 1937.[73] The dangers of exalting a single leader and the desirability of collective leadership had been perhaps the most direct point of Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (the "CPSU") in February 1956, in which he condemned Stalin, Stalin's methods and his cult of personality and which, according to Archie Brown, "was the beginning of the end of international Communism." [74]

The reasons for Kang Sheng's reduction to alternate membership of the Politburo are not clear. …[T]he immediate reason for his demotion may have been the general revulsion against secret police within the communist bloc after Khrushchev's Secret Speech.[71] Kang Sheng's emergence during the cultural revolution as one of the most important Maoist stalwarts suggests that…it is not unlikely that at the 8th Congress Mao saved Kang from even greater humiliation.[72]

Kang suffered a severe reversal of fortune at the Central Committee plenum that followed the first session of the CPC's Eighth Congress, when he was demoted to alternate, nonvoting membership of the Politburo. Roderick MacFarquar writes

The challenges that Kang faced during the early months of 1956 underscored the dangers he would have risked by continuing his retreat. As soon as he reappeared, Kang encountered serious problems that caused his position in the hierarchy to fluctuate dramatically. After the purge of Gao Gang and Rao Shushi in 1954, he had ranked sixth, below Chairman Mao, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Zhu De and Chen Yun. But in February 1956, just weeks after his return to public life, he was listed below Peng Zhen. By the end of April he was reported in tenth place, even below Luo Fu, the only member of the 28 Bolsheviks who still held a Politburo seat. Yet on May Day of 1956 – the international socialist celebration – Kang was suddenly back in sixth place. His position, at least going by public reports and official bulletins, remained unchanged from then until the Eighth Congress four months later.[70]

In January 1956, Kang made his first public appearance in years at a meeting of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing. As Byron and Pack write

Kang's re-emergence on the political stage in the mid-1950s occurred at roughly at the same time as the Gao Gang-Rao Shushi Affair and the affair of Yu Bingbo.[68] Faligot and Kauffer see these affairs as each showing signs of involvement by Kang Sheng, who they believe used them as means to return to power.[69]

In November 1947, the CPC Politburo assigned Kang to inspect land reform in his home province of Shandong. Early in 1948, he was appointed deputy chief of the Party's East China Bureau, under Rao Shushi.[64] Some commentators speculate that the private humiliation of being placed under a former subordinate may be one reason why Kang "fell ill" and largely disappeared from view until after Rao's fall in 1954.[65] Of course, Kang may really have been ill. Mao's personal physician, Li Zhisui, later recorded that doctors responsible for Kang's treatment at Beijing Hospital told him that Kang was suffering from schizophrenia.[66] Writing before Li's book was published, Byron and Pack offered other possible diagnoses based on symptoms Kang seems to have displayed, including manic-depressive psychosis and temporal lobe epilepsy.[67]

[A]grarian reform cut a bloody swath through much of rural China. Squads of Communist enforcers were sent to the most remote villages to organize the local petty thieves and bandits into so-called land reform teams, which inflamed the poor peasants and hired laborers against the rich. When resentment reached fever pitch, peasants at staged "grievance meetings" were encouraged to relate the injustices and insults they had suffered, both real and imagined, at the hands of "the landlord bullies." Often these meetings would end with the masses, led by the land reform teams, shouting "Shoot him! Shoot him!" or "Kill! Kill! Kill!" The cadre in charge of proceedings would rule that the landlords had committed serious crimes, sentence them to death, and order that they be taken away and eliminated immediately.[63]

In March 1947, Kang put his methods into practice in Lin County, Shanxi Province. These methods included special scrutiny and persecution of landlords known to have Communist sympathies and investigation of the backgrounds of the Party's land reform teams themselves. In April 1948, Mao singled out Kang for praise in his handling of land reform, with the result that

After his fall from the security posts, in December 1946 Kang was assigned by Mao, Zhu De and Liu Shaoqi to review the Party's land reform project in Longdong, Gansu Province. He returned after five weeks with the view that land reform needed to be more severe and that there could be no compromise with landlords. "Kang whipped up hatred for the landlords and their retainers. In the name of social justice, he encouraged the peasants to settle scores by killing landlords and rich peasants."[62]

From Yan'an to the Cultural Revolution

[f]or many victims of Rectification, release and rehabilitation in 1945 after the Seventh Party Congress did not protect them permanently against Kang. During the Cultural Revolution, he searched many of them out, arrested them and charged them again with being traitors or renegades. A standard item of evidence used against them was a record of their arrest in Yan'an during the Rectification Movement – phony charges from the 1940s appeared twenty years later as "proof" of an individual's disloyalty.[61]

Byron and Pack write that "In spite of Kang's decline, his influence on the security and intelligence system was visible for decades to come. The methods he popularized in Yan'an shaped public security work through the Cultural Revolution and beyond."[60] Moreover,

Kang was sufficiently brutal in his methods to arouse the opposition of senior cadres, including Zhou Enlai, Nie Rongzhen and Ye Jianying. At the same time, Mao was not keen to have a single man in such a position of power. Accordingly, following the CPC's Seventh Congress in April 1945, Kang was replaced as head of both the Social Affairs Department and the Military Intelligence Department.

Kang Sheng was the mastermind behind the "pain and friction" that underlay the Rectification process. He used a classic Soviet technique of accusing loyal party members of being Nationalist spies. Once they had confessed under torture, their confessions could then set off an avalanche of accusations and arrests. As the war worsened in 1943, and the Communist area become more isolated, Kang stepped up the speed and ferocity of the purges.[59]

In the person of Kang Sheng, Mao had at his disposal a man "trained by one of the world's greatest experts in the abuse of human bodies and minds: the head of the Soviet NKVD, Nikolai Yezhov"[58] As Mitter explains,

China's wartime existential crisis provided a perfect excuse for the rival, yet parallel, states [in Chongqing, Nanjing and Yan'an] to use similar techniques, from blackmail to bombing, to achieve their ends, and mute the criticisms of their opponents. If each of them paid tribute to Sun Yat-sen in public, they also each paid court to the thinking and techniques of Stalin in private.[57]

Kang was deeply involved with the Yan'an Rectification Movement launched by Mao in February 1942, which was "central to Mao's mission of a thorough reinvention of Chinese society." [56] As Rana Mitter writes,

While in Yan'an, Kang oversaw intelligence operations against the Party's two principal enemies, the Japanese and the Kuomintang, as well as potential opponents of Mao within the Party. Chang and Halliday write that "Shi Zhe observed that Kang was living in a state of deep fear of Mao in this period" because of his murky past, which had been raised with Mao in many letters from cadres and by the Russians, yet "[f]ar from being put off by Kang's murky past, Mao positively relished it. Like Stalin, who employed ex-Mensheviks like Vyshinsky, Mao used people's vulnerability as a way of giving himself hold over subordinates."[54] Vladimirov believed that Kang was behind, at Mao's behest, the attempt by Li Fuchun and Jin Maoyao to murder Wang Ming by means of mercury poisoning,[55] although this claim remains controversial.

Once again, the ECCI and, standing behind it, Stalin himself, helped Mao to consolidate his power. This time they even overdid it. Mao did not view Kang Sheng, who had already openly switched to his side, nor several of these other party officials [named in the ECCI Personnel Department memorandum] as his foes. He even tried to defend Kang Sheng in one of his letters to [Georgii] Dimitrov. "Kon Sin [Kang Sheng]," Mao wrote, "is reliable."[53]

When Stalin shifted his support from Wang Ming to Mao Zedong, the Personnel Department of the Executive Committee of the Comintern (the "ECCI") included Kang's name on a list of CPC cadres who should not be included in the leadership.[52] According to Pantsov & Levine,

In addition, Mao, who in these years had not yet visited the Soviet Union, used Kang during this period as a valuable source of information about Soviet affairs. Mao was also suspicious of the Russians and, soon after aligning himself with Mao, Kang also began to speak out against the Soviet Union and its agents in China. Pyotr Vladimirov, the Comintern agent sent to Yan'an, recorded that Kang kept him under constant surveillance and even forced Wang Ming to avoid meeting him.[50] Vladimirov also believed that Kang delivered biased reports of Soviet affairs to Mao.[51]

Mao's relationship with Kang, in Yan'an and later, was mainly based on political calculation. Kang's familiarity with Wang Ming enabled him to provide Mao with valuable information about Wang's subservience to the Soviets. Although cadres such as Chen Yun, who had been in Moscow with Wang and Kang, were aware of Kang's previous slavish support for Wang, Kang strenuously sought to change that history and obscure previous affiliations.[49]

This episode is believed by many to have been key to Kang's future success, which depended not only on his considerable talents but also on his relationship with Mao. In addition to politics, Kang and Mao also shared an interest in classical culture, including poetry, painting and calligraphy.[48]

Kang acted decisively to protect Mao and rebut the charges against Jiang Qing. Invoking his background as head of the Organization Department and as an expert on security and espionage matters, Kang vouched for Jiang Qing. She was a Party member in good standing, he declared, and had no affiliations that would bar marriage to Mao. Kang's personal knowledge of Jiang Qing's past was fragmentary and certainly insufficient to allow him to prove that she was not a KMT agent, but he doctored her record, destroyed adverse material, discouraged hostile witnesses, and coached her on how to answer the probing questions of high-level interrogators who hoped to discredit Mao.[47]

At Yan'an, Kang was close to Jiang Qing, who may have been Kang's mistress when he visited Shandong in 1931.[46] In Yan'an, Jiang became the lover of Mao Zedong, who later married her. In 1938, Kang earned Mao and Jiang's gratitude by supporting their liaison against the opposition of more socially conservative cadres, who were aware of her past and uncomfortable with it. Byron & Pack assert that

Kang Sheng was a valuable catch for Mao as he strove to consolidate the power he had won at the Zunyi Conference in January 1935. Kang could betray all the secrets of Wang Ming and his supporters. He was au fait with Moscow politics and police methods, and sufficiently fluent in Russian to act as a major contact with Soviet visitors. He had absorbed sufficient Marxism-Leninism and Stalinist polemicizing to affect the patina of a theorist, and he was a fluent writer.[45]

After assessing the situation on the ground in Yan'an, however, in 1938 Kang decided to re-align himself with Mao Zedong. Kang's motives are easy to imagine. For Mao's part, as MacFarquhar put it,

When Kang Sheng arrived in the Party's redoubt at Yan'an in late November 1937 as part of Wang Ming's entourage, he may have already realized that Wang Ming was falling out of favor, but he initially supported Wang and the Comintern's efforts to guide the Chinese Communists back into line with Soviet policy, especially the need to align with the Kuomintang against the Japanese. Kang also brought Stalin's obsession with Trotskyism to play in helping Wang defeat the efforts of Zhou Enlai and Dong Biwu to bring Chen Duxiu back into the Party.[44]


Tito made these comments to Hua Guofeng on his only visit to China, in 1977 after Kang was dead, and certainly had his own agenda in doing so, but as Faligot and Kauffer remark, "[i]n any case, Tito certainly got the measure of Kang's psychology: a multifaceted game of mirrors was certainly his style, even in the 1930s."[43]

It can be said without any shadow of a doubt that at that time Kang Sheng was playing a multiple game. On the one hand he was humoring Stalin, but at the same time he was betraying his confidence. Similarly, he had made contact with the Trotskyists, and had considered joining their movement, but he had also taken steps to infiltrate and sabotage their Fourth International….[42]

Kang had played a wily game in the complex and murky world of Stalin's Moscow, earning the following comment from Josip Broz Tito, who had met Kang in Moscow in 1935:

Stalin was more tolerant of the Chinese in Moscow than he was of other foreign Communists, who were purged along with their Soviet comrades. This may have been motivated by a concern about the potential threat of a Japanese invasion of the Soviet Far East. In any case, at this time Stalin began to promote the idea of a united front of the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang against the Japanese, a policy that Wang Ming and Kang quickly endorsed. In November 1937, following the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and the Japanese invasion of China, Stalin dispatched Wang and Kang to Yan'an on a specially provided Soviet plane.[41]

Kang gained great power from the Elimination Office, which he used to silence opponents and witnesses to any embarrassing episodes in his past, especially his arrest in Shanghai. … This was not the first time the Chinese in Moscow had fallen victim to purges. Soviet authorities had made numerous arrests at Moscow Sun Yat-sen University during the late 1920s; students disappeared into the night, never to be seen again. But Kang worked his own variation: in the past, the Chinese had been purged by the Soviets; now, under Kang, they were liquidated by their fellow Chinese.[40]

Following the assassination of Sergei Kirov in December 1934, Joseph Stalin commenced his great purges of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[38] Following this example, and with Wang Ming's support, Kang established in 1936 the Office for the Elimination of Counterrevolutionaries and worked closely with the Soviet secret police, the NKVD, in purging perhaps hundreds of Chinese then in Moscow.[39] As Byron and Pack put it:

Wang Ming's influence over the main Communist forces was minimal after Mao Zedong's emergence from the Zunyi Conference of January 1935 as the undisputed head of the Party. From Moscow, Wang and Kang did seek to maintain control over Communist forces in Manchuria, which were ordered by them to conserve their strength and avoid direct confrontation with the Japanese army. This directive, which Kang later denied even existed, was resisted by some Manchurian leaders and later criticized by Mao Zedong as evidence of Wang Ming having stifled Manchuria's revolutionary potential.[37]

[T]he Long March helped the Chinese Communist Party to achieve a greater independence of Moscow. Everything tended in the same direction – Mao Zedong's appointment as Chairman of the Party, happening as it did in unusual conditions, practical difficulties in maintaining contact, the Comintern's tendency to remain in the background to help the creation of popular fronts, under cover of patriotism or ant-fascism. In fact, after the Zunyi Conference, the Russians seem to have had less and less influence in the Chinese Communist Party's internal affairs. In light of more recent history, this was perhaps one of the major consequences of the Long March.[36]

As Byron and Pack put it, "Kang had no cause to regret working with Wang in Moscow. His own prestige and power grew ever greater, and his cocoon of privilege insulated him from the irritations of daily life. But being in Moscow also excluded Kang and Wang Ming from the drama that was unfolding in China at the time."[34] That "drama" included the epic retreat of the Communists from Jiangxi Province to Yan'an, which became known to history as the Long March, and the ever-growing power within the CPC of Mao Zedong.[35] As the French military historian Jacques Guillermaz observed,

In July 1931, Wang Ming removed himself to Moscow and assumed the position of chief Chinese representative on the Comintern. Kang and his wife Cao Yi'ou followed two years later. Kang remained in Moscow for four years, acting as Wang's deputy on the Comintern, returning to China in 1937.[31] While in Moscow, Kang was elected a member of the Politburo of the CPC, perhaps as early as 1931[32] but more probably in January 1934.[33]


The April 1931 arrest and defection to the Kuomintang of Gu Shunzhang, former Green Gang gangster and member of the Party's Intelligence Cell, led to serious breaches in Party security and the arrest and execution of Xiang Zhongfa, the Party's General Secretary.[29] In response, Zhou Enlai created a Special Work Committee to oversee the Party's intelligence and security operations. Chaired by Zhou personally, the committee included Chen Yun, Pan Hannian, Guang Huian and Kang Sheng. When Zhou left Shanghai for the Communist base in Jiangxi Province in August 1931, he left Kang in charge of the Special Work Committee, a position he held for two years. In this role, Kang was "in charge of the entire Communist security and espionage apparatus, not only in Shanghai but throughout KMT China."[30]

After Li Lisan's adventurism and the failed Changsha operation of June 1930 lost Li the support of the Party, Kang moved adroitly to align himself with the Comintern's new favorite, Wang Ming,[24] and Pavel Mif's young students from Sun Yat-sen University, later known as the 28 Bolsheviks, who took control of the Party Politburo at the Fourth Plenum of the Sixth Central Committee on January 13, 1931.[25] Kang allegedly demonstrated his loyalty to Wang Ming by betraying to the Kuomintang secret police a meeting convened on January 17, 1931 by He Mengxiong, who had been strongly opposed to Li Lisan and was disgruntled by Pavel Mif's high-handed role in securing the ascendancy of Wang within the Chinese Communist Party.[26] On the night of February 7, 1931, He Mengxiong and 22 others were executed by the Kuomintang police at Longhua, Shanghai.[27] Among those murdered were five aspiring writers and poets, including Hu Yepin, lover of Ding Ling and father of her child, later canonized as a martyr by the Party.[28]

In 1930, while in Shanghai, Kang was arrested along with several other Communists, including Ding Jishi, and later released. Ding's uncle Ding Weifen, who was head of the Kuomintang Central Party School in Nanjing, where he worked with Chen Lifu, head of the Kuomintang's secret service.[22] Kang later denied he had ever been arrested, as the circumstances of his release suggested that he had, as Lu Futan alleged in 1933, "sold out his comrades" in order to secure his freedom. As Byron and Pack note, however, "Kang's arrest in itself is no proof that he was turned by his captors or forced into long-term cooperation with them. KMT [Kuomintang] prisons were notoriously chaotic and corrupt." [23]


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