Kang Sheng

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Kang Sheng in Yan'an during the 1940s

Kāng Shēng (Chinese 康 生; real name Zhang Shaoqing; * 1898 in Jiaonan , Shandong Province in the People's Republic of China; † December 16, 1975 ) was a high-ranking member of the Communist Party of China and of his time one of the most important and most feared specialists for Country's security and intelligence operations.

As one of the responsible forces behind the purge movement in 1942 in Yan'an and the "anti-right movement" (1957-58), he was seen by some as a direct comparison to the head of the Soviet secret police under Josef Stalin , Lavrenti Beria . Kang is referred to as the founder of the Chinese gulag , played an active role in the Cultural Revolution and during this acted as an advisor to the Gang of Four .

As the main initiator of the great purges between 1938 and 1975 in his de facto function as head of the CCP's secret service, he has several million people or “deviants” on his conscience.

He either had them transported to the Chinese labor camp " Laogai " (up to 20 years of camp work) or had them killed.

During his life he was considered an opium addict .


Kang Sheng was born the son of a wealthy landowner in Jiaonan, Shandong Province. His original name was Zhang Shaoqing.

In his early childhood he attended the Guanhai Boys' School. He later studied at the Qingdao Teachers' College and then taught at the Zhucheng Elementary School.

As early as the beginning of the 1920s, his thinking and attitudes towards communism were approached by studying socialist literature.

From 1922 to 1924, Kang took advantage of the opportunity to study in Europe, doing an internship at a Berlin university and making contacts with other Chinese communists. These included future PRC Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping , the de facto leader of the CCP in the late 20th century.

In 1924, Kang Sheng enrolled at Shangda University in Shanghai. He joined the CCP in 1925.

From 1926 he took over the management of the organization office of the Shanghai Communist Party. This epoch can be seen as the beginning of his work for the Chinese secret service . Kang's responsibilities included finding safe meeting places and homes for the party's leaders. The party leadership seemed to Kang particularly suitable for this task due to his education and his secrecy.

After the failed workers' strike in Shanghai in 1927, Kang Sheng went underground to avoid arrest by the Kuomintang . Due to the strong decimation of the party during the subsequent purge of the Kuomintang, the party leadership in Shanghai decided to set up a security apparatus to protect the headquarters . In this context, Kang continued to take care of "organizational issues" and found safe meeting places. For this purpose he recruited a small spy network . In 1930, Kang was promoted to senior director of the Central Committee's Organization Department.

In 1933 he was sent to Moscow as deputy representative of the Shanghai CCP at the Comintern , where he studied Soviet intelligence and security techniques. In Moscow he also made contacts with Southeast Asian and European communists. In 1936 the Comintern made a secret service trip to Europe, during which the Kang took the opportunity to analyze the situation of the communists in the West and to establish contact.

In 1937 he left Moscow to return to the PRC. He joined the communists in the Yan'an base established by Mao Zedong . During this time, Kang met an acquaintance from earlier days whom he introduced to comrade and later party chairman Mao Zedong. It was Mao's future wife, Jiang Qing . Kang's fate continued to be closely linked to Jiang Qing's. In the course of their lives, both helped each other to gain social advancement and power.

In November 1938, Kang took over the post as head of the "Department of Social Affairs", whose areas of responsibility corresponded to those of a secret service. These were the intelligence service, counter-espionage , internal repression, persecution of dissidents, setting up central archives, radio broadcasts, establishing contacts with other military-political institutions and foreign secret services. In this office, Kang succeeded in building a spy network in the areas occupied by the Guomindang, but also within the CCP party apparatus. Kang's power was expanded considerably when he succeeded in gaining a leading position in the diplomatic and military intelligence services.

When in 1942 criticism of the dissolute lifestyle of the party elite was raised at the Yan'an base, the leading party cadres initiated a "campaign to correct the style," led by Kang Sheng. The aim of the campaigners was to sort out unpleasant deviants and critics. The residents of the Yan'an base were forced to criticize one another, denounce one another, and study the 22 principles of communism . The campaign culminated in a party purge .

In 1945, Kang was criticized for his rigorous actions during the correction campaign and had to give up the leadership of the secret services as a result. This initially limited Kang's power.

In the PRC

After the communists came to power in 1949, Kang held the post of governor of Shandong and became a member of the administrative and military committee of East China, one of the five major administrative districts into which the state was divided after the communist takeover. He succeeded in rebuilding the province, which had been largely ruined by the war, into a stable economic region. While working with the local public security service (Gonganbu), Kang continued to work in this area and was considered an advisor to the secret services.

Between 1949 and 1954, Kang Sheng rarely revealed himself in public. However, he is also known to have played an instrumental role in organizing the construction of the Chinese atomic bomb . His contribution to this was mainly in the repatriation of Chinese nuclear scientists from abroad.

In late 1954, with the help of Jiang Qing, Kang regained influence and was elected to the executive committee at the conference of the Central Committee .

From 1955, Kang's activities were divided into two different areas. On the one hand, he acted from 1956 as vice-president of the committee for the spread of the colloquial language in China.

On the other hand, he worked as the head of the international contacts department. In this area he was responsible for contact with other communist states and in this function played a key role in the Sino-Soviet rift that began in the late 1950s and culminated in 1969 with multiple border battles. At the 8th Party Congress of the CCP in 1956, Kang was re-elected to the Party's Central Committee, but was downgraded from full member to partial member at the first plenary session of the new Central Committee.

He is also said to have played an active role in the “anti-right-wing campaign” initiated by Mao Zedong in 1957/58. Kang is said to have been instrumental in the purges and the fall of Peng Dehuai .

In 1962, Kang became a member of the Secretariat of the Communist Party under Deng Xiaoping. In 1965 he was appointed deputy chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress . From July 1966 he was promoted to advisor to the “ Group Cultural Revolution ” under the Central Committee of the Communist Party and from the 11th plenum of August 1966 to a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo . After the 9th Party Congress in 1969, Kang was officially number 5 in the party hierarchy, making him one of the most powerful men in the country. Kang was considered a radical proponent and co-initiator of the cultural revolution started by Mao Zedong . Here, too, he was instrumental in the purges and the overthrow of many high-ranking party members such as Liu Shaoqi , Deng Xiaoping and Lin Biao . His last action is the 1976 campaign to criticize deviants from the law, which was directed against Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai. Kang, who was still involved in the preparations for this campaign, died of bladder cancer on December 16, 1975 before it was actually carried out.

In 1980, Kang Sheng was posthumously expelled from the party and held responsible for the persecution of hundreds of party cadres during the Cultural Revolution.


Since the mid-1950s, Kang Sheng was married to Cao Yi'ou, with whom he had a son: Zhang Zishi. His daughter Yu Ying was from his first marriage. In addition, Kang adopted the son of Jiang Qing's former husband, Yu Qiwei, and his new wife, Fan Jin, after Yu Qiwei's death.

Kang was respected for his learning throughout his life. He was considered a special expert on the Chinese classic novel " The Dream of the Red Chamber " and other classic novels. However, he was particularly famous for his calligraphy skills . In the private exchange between Kang Sheng and Mao Zedong, letters were always written with a brush.


  • Roger Faligot, Rémi Kauffer: The master of shadows. Kang Sheng and the Chinese Secret Service 1927–1987 ("Kang Sheng"). Ehrenwirth, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-431-02970-1 .
  • Roderick MacFarquhar, Michael Schoenhals: Mao's last revolution . Belknap Press, Cambridge, Mass. 2006, ISBN 978-0-674-02748-0 .
  • Donald W. Klein, Anne B. Clark: Biographic Dictionary of Chinese Communism . Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1971, ISBN 0-674-07410-6 .
  • Roderick MacFarquhar: The Coming of the Cataclysm (The Origins of the Cultural Revolution; Vol. 3). University Press, Oxford 1999, ISBN 0-231-11082-0 .
further reading
  • Wolfgang Bartke: Who was Who in the People's Republic of China . KG Saur, Munich 1997, ISBN 3-598-11331-5 .
  • Wolfgang Bartke: Biographical Dictionary and Analysis of China's Party Leadership 1922–1988 . KG Saur, Munich 1990, ISBN 3-598-10876-1 .