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Sino-Soviet split

Chairman Mao Zedong and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, publicly international allies, privately ideological enemies. (China, 1958).

In political science, the term Sino Soviet split (1960 1989) denotes the worsening of political and ideologic relations between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) during the Cold War (1945 1991). The doctrinal divergence derived from Chinese and Russian national interests, and from the r gimes' respective interpretations of Marxism: Maoism and Marxism Leninism. In the 1950s and the 1960s, ideological debate between the Communist parties of Russia and China also concerned the possibility of peaceful coexistence with the capitalist West. Yet, to the Chinese public, Mao Zedong proposed a belligerent attitude towards capitalist countries, an initial rejection of peaceful coexistence, which he perceived as Marxist revisionism from the Soviet Union. Moreover, since 1956, the PRC and the USSR had (secretly) diverged about Marxist ideology, and, by 1961, when the doctrinal differences proved intractable, the Communist Party of China formally denounced the Soviet variety of Communism as a product of The Revisionist Traitor Group of Soviet Leadership , the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, headed by Nikita Krushchev. [1]




The ideological roots of the Sino-Soviet split originated in the 1940s, when the Communist Party of China (CCP), led by Mao Zedong, fought the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 45) against the Empire of Japan, whilst simultaneously fighting the Chinese Civil War against the Nationalist Kuomintang, led by Chiang Kai-shek. In fighting the over-lapping wars, Mao ignored much of the politico-military advice and direction from Joseph Stalin and the Comintern, because of the practical difficulty in applying traditional Leninist revolutionary theory to China, because there were only peasants, and no urban working class, as in Russia.

During the Second World War (1939 45) Stalin had urged Mao into a joint, anti-Japanese coalition with Chiang. After the war, Stalin advised Mao against seizing power, and to negotiate with Chiang, because Stalin had signed a Treaty of Friendship and Alliance with the Nationalists in mid-1945; Mao followed Stalin's lead, calling him the only leader of our party . Unwisely, Chiang Kai-Shek opposed USSR s accession of Tannu Uriankhai, a former Qing Empire province; Stalin broke the treaty requiring Soviet withdrawal from Manchuria three months after Japan s surrender, and gave Manchuria to Mao. Soon afterwards, a two-month Moscow visit by Mao culminated in the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Alliance (1950), which comprised a $300 million low-interest loan and a 30-year military alliance.

Communist state alignments in 1980: pro-Soviet (red); pro-Chinese (yellow); and the non-aligned North Korea and Yugoslavia (black). Somalia had been pro-Soviet until 1977. Cambodia (Kampuchea) had been pro-China until 1979.

Simultaneously, Beijing had begun trying to displace Moscow as the ideological leader of the world Communist movement. Mao (and his supporters) had advocated the idea that Asian and world communist movements should emulate China s model of peasant revolution, not the Soviet model of urban revolution. In 1947, Mao gave US journalist Anna Louise Strong documents, directing her to show them to Party leaders in the United States and Europe , but he did not think it was necessary to take them to Moscow . Earlier, she had written the article The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung and the book Dawn Out of China, reporting that his intellectual accomplishment was to change Marxism from a European to an Asiatic form... in ways of which neither Marx nor Lenin could dream , which the Soviet government banned in the USSR. Years later, at the first international Communist conclave in Beijing, Mao advocate Liu Shaoqi praised the Mao Tse-tung road as the correct road to communist revolution, warning it was incorrect to follow any other road; moreover, he praised neither Stalin nor the Soviet communist model, as had been the practice among Communists. Yet, with political and military tensions at crisis in the Korean Peninsula, and a fear of US military intervention there, geopolitical circumstances disallowed the USSR and China any ideological split, hence their alliance continued.

During the 1950s, Soviet-guided China followed the Soviet model of centralized economic development, emphasising heavy industry, and delegating consumer goods to secondary priority; however, by the late 1950s, Mao had developed different ideas for how China could directly advance to the communist stage of Socialism (per the Marxist denotation), through the mobilization of China s workers. These ideas progressed to the Great Leap Forward (1958 61).

After Joseph Stalin s death in 1953 there was a temporary revival of Sino-Soviet friendship; thus, in 1954, the Soviets calmed Mao with an official visit by Premier Nikita Khrushchev that featured the formal hand-over of the L shun (Port Arthur) naval base to China. The Soviets provided technical aid in 156 industries in China s first five-year plan, and 520 million rubles in loans; thus at the Geneva Conference of 1954, the PRC and the USSR jointly persuaded the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, led by Ho Chi Minh, to temporarily accept the West s division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel north.

Premier Khrushchev s post-Stalin policies began to irritate Mao; disagreeing when Khruschev denounced Stalin with On the Personality Cult and its Consequences speech to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956; and when he restored relations with Yugoslavia, led by Josip Broz Tito, whom Stalin had denounced in 1948. These occurrences shocked Mao, who had supported Stalin ideologically and politically, because Khrushchev was dismantling Mao s support of the USSR with public rejections of most of Stalin s leadership and actions such as announcing the end of the Cominform, and (most troubling to Mao), de-emphasising the core Marxist Leninist thesis of inevitable war between capitalism and socialism. Resultantly, contradicting Stalin, Khrushchev was advocating the idea of Peaceful Coexistence , between communist and capitalist nations which directly challenged Mao s lean-to-one-side foreign policy, adopted after the Chinese Civil War, when he feared direct Japanese or US military intervention, the circumstances that pragmatically required a PRC Soviet alliance. In de-Stalinizing the USSR, Khrushchev was dissolving the condition that had made the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship (1950) attractive to China. Mao thought that the Soviets were retreating ideologically and militarily from Marxism-Leninism and the global struggle to achieve global communism, and by apparently no longer guaranteeing support to China in a Sino-American war; therefore, the roots of the Sino-Soviet ideological split were established by 1959.


The door to the nuclear war shelter complex in the tunnels of Underground Project 131, in Hubei, China.
The door to the nuclear war shelter complex in the tunnels of Underground Project 131, in Hubei, China.
In 1959, Premier Khrushchev met with US President Dwight Eisenhower (1953 61) to decrease Soviet American tensions and with the Western world in the Cold War. Moreover, the USSR was astonished by the Great Leap Forward, had renounced aiding Chinese nuclear weapons development, and refused to side with them in the Sino-Indian War (1962), by maintaining a moderate relation with India actions deemed offensive by Mao as Chinese Leader. Hence, he perceived Khrushchev as too-appeasing with the West, despite Soviet caution in international politics that threatened nuclear warfare (i.e., the US, UK and USSR were nuclear powers by the late 1950s), wherein the USSR managed superpower confrontations such as the status of post-war Berlin.

At first, the Sino-Soviet split manifested itself indirectly; arguments between the CPSU and the CPC criticized the client states of the other; China denounced Yugoslavia and Tito, the USSR denounced Enver Hoxha and the People's Socialist Republic of Albania; but, in 1960, they criticized each other in the Romanian Communist Party congress, when Khrushchev and Peng Zhen openly argued. Premier Khrushchev insulted Chairman Mao Zedong as a nationalist, an adventurist, and a deviationist . In turn, Mao insulted Khrushchev as a Marxist revisionist, criticizing him as patriarchal, arbitrary and tyrannical . In follow-up, Khrushchev denounced China with an eighty-page letter to the conference.

Khrushchev also withdrew nearly all Soviet technical experts from China, leaving some major projects in an unfinished state. Many blueprints and specifications were also withdrawn.[2]

In November 1960, at a congress of 81 Communist parties in Moscow, the Chinese argued with the Soviets and with most other Communist party delegations yet compromised to avoid a formal ideologic splitting; nonetheless, in October 1961, at the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union they again argued openly.[3] In December, the USSR severed diplomatic relations with the People s Socialist Republic of Albania, graduating the Soviet Chinese ideological dispute from between political parties to between nation-states.

In 1962, the PRC and the USSR broke relations because of their international actions; Chairman Mao criticized Premier Khrushchev for withdrawing from fighting the US in the Cuban missile crisis (1962) Khrushchev has moved from adventurism to capitulationism ; Khrushchev replied that Mao s confrontational policies would provoke a nuclear war. Simultaneously, the USSR sided with India against China in the Sino-Indian War (1962). Each r gime followed these actions with formal ideological statements; in June 1963, the PRC published The Chinese Communist Party s Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement, and the USSR replied with an Open Letter of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; these were the final, formal communications between the two Communist parties. Furthermore, by 1964, Chairman Mao asserted that a counter-revolution in the USSR had re-established capitalism there; consequently, the Chinese and Soviet Communist parties broke relations, and the Warsaw Pact Communist parties followed Soviet suit.

After Leonid Brezhnev deposed Premier Khrushchev in October 1964, the Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai travelled to Moscow, in November, to speak with the new leaders of the USSR, Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin, but returned disappointed to China, reporting to Mao that the Soviets remained firm; undeterred, Chairman Mao denounced Khrushchevism without Khrushchev , continuing the Sino-Soviet polemics.

With the onset of the post-1945 Sino-Soviet split causing an imbalance in the power equilibrium between the capitalist West and the Soviet bloc, the Cold War morphed from a bipolar conflict to a tripolar one. This was a significant change in power dynamics, and had widespread but subtle effects on American-Soviet interactions.


The disputed Argun and Amur river areas; the Damansky Zhenbao is southeast, north of the lake. (2 March 11 September 1969)

The ideologic antagonists, Chairman Mao and U.S President Richard Nixon, met in China, in 1972.
The ideologic antagonists, Chairman Mao and U.S President Richard Nixon, met in China, in 1972.

Cultural Revolution

Meanwhile, in China, Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution (1966 76) to rid himself of internal enemies and re-establish his sole leadership of party and country; and to prevent the development of Russian-style bureaucratic communism of the USSR. He closed the schools and universities and organized the students in the Red Guard, a thought police politically commissioned to discover, denounce, and persecute teachers, intellectuals, and government officials who might be counter-revolutionaries and secret bourgeois, all of which enforced the cult of personality of Chairman Mao. In purging the enemies of the state from Chinese society, the Red Guard divided into factions, and their subsequent violence provoked civil war in some parts of China; Mao had the Army suppress the Red Guard factions; and when factionalism occurred in the Army, Mao dispersed the Red Guard, and then began to rebuild the Chinese Communist Party. [4] The political house-cleaning that was the Cultural Revolution stressed, strained, and broke China s political relations with the USSR, and relations with the West. Nevertheless, despite the Maoism vs. Marxism Leninism differences interpreting Marxism, Russia and China aided North Vietnam, headed by Ho Chi Minh, in fighting the Vietnam War (1945 75), which Maoism defined as a peasant revolution against foreign imperialism. The Chinese allowed Soviet mat riel across China for the North, to prosecute the war against the Republic of Vietnam, a U.S. client state. In that time, besides the Socialist People's Republic of Albania, only the Communist Party of Indonesia advocated the Maoist policy of peasant revolution.[5]

National interests conflict

Since 1956, the Sino Soviet ideological split, between Communist political parties, had escalated to small-scale warfare between Russia and China; thereby, in January 1967, Red Guards attacked the Soviet embassy in Beijing. Earlier, in 1966, the Chinese had revived the matter of the Russo-Chinese border that was demarcated in the 19th-century, and imposed upon the Qing Dynasty (1644 1912) monarchy by means of unequal treaties that virtually annexed Chinese territory to Tsarist Russia. Despite not asking the return of territory, the Chinese did ask the USSR to formally (publicly) acknowledge that said border, established with the Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860), was a historic Russian injustice against China; the Soviet government ignored the matter. Then, in 1968, the Red Guard purges meant to restore doctrinal orthodoxy to China had provoked civil war in parts of the country, which Mao resolved with the People's Liberation Army suppressing the pertinent cohorts of the Red Guard; the excesses of the Red Guard and of the Cultural Revolution declined. Mao required internal political equilibrium in order to protect China from the strategic and military vulnerabilities that resulted from its political isolation from the community of nations.

Border war

Meanwhile, during 1968, the Soviet Army had amassed along the 4,380 km (2,738 mi.) border with China especially at the Xinjiang frontier, in north-west China, where the Soviets might readily induce Turkic separatists to insurrection. Militarily, in 1961, the USSR had 12 divisions and 200 aeroplanes at that border; in 1968, there were 25 divisions, 1,200 aeroplanes, and 120 medium-range missiles. Moreover, although China had exploded its first nuclear weapon (the 596 Test), in October 1964, at Lop Nur basin, the People's Liberation Army was militarily inferior to the Soviet Army. By March 1969, Sino Russian border politics became the Sino-Soviet border conflict at the Ussuri River and on Damansky Zhenbao Island; more small-scale warfare occurred at Tielieketi in August. In The Coming War Between Russia and China (1969), US journalist Harrison Salisbury reported that Soviet sources implied a possible first strike against the Lop Nur basin nuclear weapons testing site.[6] The U.S. warned the USSR that a nuclear attack against China would precipitate a world-wide war; the USSR relented.[7] Aware of that possibility, China built large-scale underground shelters, such as Beijing s Underground City, and military shelters such as the Underground Project 131 command center, in Hubei, and the "816 Project" nuclear research center in Fuling, Chongqing.

Geopolitical pragmatism

In 1969, after the Sino-Soviet border conflict, the Communist combatants withdrew. In September, Soviet Minister Alexei Kosygin secretly visited Beijing to speak with Premier Zhou Enlai, and in October, the PRC and the USSR began discussing border-demarcation. Although they did not resolve the border demarcation matters, the meetings restored diplomatic communications; by 1970, Mao understood that the PRC could not simultaneously fight the USSR and the USA, whilst suppressing internal disorder. Moreover, as the Vietnam War continued, and Chinese anti-American rhetoric continued, Mao perceived the USSR as the greater threat, and thus pragmatically sought rapprochement with the US, in confronting the USSR. In July 1971, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger secretly visited Beijing to prepare the February 1972 head-of-state visit to China by U.S. President Richard Nixon. Moreover, the diplomatically offended Soviet Union also convoked a summit meeting with President Nixon, thus establishing the Washington Beijing Moscow diplomatic relationship, which emphasized the tripolar nature of the Cold War, occasioned by the ideological Sino Soviet split begun in 1956.

Concerning the 4,380 km (2,738 mi.) Sino Soviet border, Soviet counter-propaganda advertised against the PRC s drawing attention to the unequal Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860). Moreover, between 1972 and 1973, the USSR deleted the Chinese and Manchu place-names Iman ( , Yiman), Tetyukhe (from , y zh h ), and Suchan from the Soviet Far East map, and replaced them with the Russian place-names Dalnerechensk, Dalnegorsk, and Partizansk.[8][9] In the Stalinist tradition, the pre 1860 Chinese presence in lands Tsarist Russia acquired with, the Treaty of Aigun and the Convention of Peking, became a politically incorrect subject in the Soviet press, inconvenient museum exhibits were removed from public view,[8] and the Jurchen-script text about the Jin Dynasty stele, supported by a stone tortoise in the Khabarovsk Museum, was covered with cement.[10]

International Communist rivalry

In the 1970s, Sino Soviet ideological rivalry extended to Africa and the Middle East, where the Soviet Union and Red China funded and supported opposed political parties, militias, and states, notably the Ogaden War (1977 1978) between Ethiopia and Somalia, the Rhodesian Bush War (1964 1979), the Zimbabwean Gukurahundi (1980 1987), the Angolan Civil War (1975 2002), the Mozambican Civil War (1977 1992), and factions of the Palestinian people.


The elimination of Marshal Lin Biao, in 1971, ameliorated the Cultural Revolution (1966 76). Paramount Leader of China, Deng Xiaoping (center), with U.S. President Gerald Ford (left); peaceful coexistence redux. (China, 1975)

The transition

In 1971, the failed coup d tat by and death of Lin Biao, Mao s executive officer, concluded the radical phase of the Cultural Revolution (1966 76); afterwards, China resumed political normality, until Mao s death in September 1976, and the emergence of the politically radical Gang of Four. The re-establishment of Chinese domestic tranquility ended armed confrontation with the USSR, but did not improve diplomatic relations, because, in 1973, the Soviet Army garrisons at the Russo Chinese border were twice as large as the 1969 garrisons. That continued military threat prompted the Chinese to denounce Soviet social-imperialism , and to accuse the USSR of being an enemy of world revolution despite the PRC having discontinued sponsoring world revolution since 1972, when it pursued a negotiated end to the Vietnam War (1945 75).

Transcending Mao

After thwarting the 1976 coup d tat by the radical Gang of Four, who argued for ideologic purity at the expense of internal development, the Chinese Communist Party politically rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping, and appointed him head of the internal modernization programs in 1977. Whilst reversing Mao s policies (without attacking him), the politically moderate Deng s political and economic reforms began China s transition from a planned economy to a semi capitalist mixed economy, which he furthered with strengthened commercial and diplomatic relations with the West. In 1979, on the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the PRC, the government of Deng Xiaoping denounced the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution as a national failure; and, in the 1980s, pursued pragmatic policies such as seeking truth from facts and the Chinese road to socialism , which withdrew the PRC from the high-level abstractions of ideology, polemic, and Russian Marxist revisionism; the Sino Soviet split had lost some political importance.[11][12]

Competing hegemonies

After the r gime of Mao Zedong, the PRC USSR ideological schism became useless domestic politics, but useful geopolitics wherein the Russian and Chinese hegemonies conflicted in the pursuit of national interests. The initial Russo Chinese proxy war occurred in Indochina, in 1975, where the Communist victory of the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) and of North Vietnam in the thirty-year Vietnam War had produced a post colonial Indochina that featured pro-Soviet, nationalist r gimes in Vietnam (Socialist Republic of Vietnam) and Laos (Lao People's Democratic Republic), and a pro-Chinese nationalist r gime in Cambodia (Democratic Kampuchea). At first, Vietnam ignored the Khmer Rouge domestic reorganization of Cambodia, by the Pol Pot r gime (1975 79), as an internal matter, until the Khmer Rouge attacked the ethnic Vietnamese populace of Cambodia, and the border with Vietnam; the counter-attack precipitated the Cambodian Vietnamese War (1975 79) that deposed Pol Pot in 1978. In response, the PRC denounced the Vietnamese deposition of their Maoist client-leader, and retaliated by invading northern Vietnam, in the Sino-Vietnamese War (1979); in turn, the USSR denounced the PRC s invasion of Vietnam.

In December 1979, the USSR invaded the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan to sustain the Afghan Communist government. The PRC viewed the Soviet invasion as a local feint, within Russia s greater geopolitical encirclement of China. In response, the PRC entered a tri-partite alliance with the U.S. and Pakistan, to sponsor Islamist Afghan armed resistance to the Soviet Occupation (1979 89). (cf. Operation Storm-333) Meanwhile, the Sino Soviet split became manifest when Deng Xiaoping, the Paramount Leader of China, required the removal of three obstacles so that Sino-Soviet relations might improve:

  1. The massed Soviet Army at the Sino-Soviet border, and in Mongolia.
  2. Soviet support of the Vietnamese occupation of Kampuchea (Cambodia).
  3. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

Moreover, from 1981 to 1982, Deng Xiaoping distanced the PRC from the United States because of its weapons sales to the Nationalist Republic of China in Taiwan island, and because the PRC was the junior partner in the current Sino American relations. Hence, in September 1982, the 12th Chinese Communist Party Congress declared that the PRC would pursue an independent foreign policy . Meanwhile, in March 1982 in Tashkent, USSR Secretary Leonid Brezhnev gave a speech conciliatory towards the PRC, and Deng Xiaoping took advantage of Brezhnev s proffered conciliation; in autumn of 1982, Sino-Soviet relations resumed (semi-annually), at the vice-ministerial level. Three years later, in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the USSR, he worked to restore political relations with China; he reduced the Soviet Army garrisons at the Sino Soviet border, in Mongolia, and resumed trade, and dropped the 1969 border-demarcation matter. Nonetheless, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan remained unresolved, and Sino-Soviet diplomacy remained cool, which circumstance allowed the Reagan government to sell American weapons to Communist China and so geopolitically counter the USSR in the Russo American aspect of the three-fold Cold War.


In May 1989, Soviet President Gorbachev visited the People s Republic of China, where the government doubted the practical efficacy of perestroika and glasnost. Since the PRC did not officially recognise the USSR as a socialist state, there was no official opinion about Gorbachev s reformation of Soviet socialism; yet privately, the Chinese Communists thought the USSR unprepared for such political and social reforms without first reforming the economy of the USSR. The Chinese perspective derived from how the Paramount Leader, Deng Xiaoping, effected economic reform with a semi-capitalist mixed economy, while the political power remained with the Chinese Communist Party. Ultimately, Gorbachev's reformation of Russian society ended Soviet-Communist government, and provoked the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

See also


External links

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