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The rise and fall of the Sino-Soviet alliance 1949-1989

Radchenko, Sergey ORCID: 2017. The rise and fall of the Sino-Soviet alliance 1949-1989. Naimark, Norman, Pons, Silvio and Quinn-Judge, Sophie, eds. The Cambridge History of Communism. Volume 2: The Socialist Camp and World Power 1941–1960s, Vol. 2. The Cambridge History of Communism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 243-268. (10.1017/9781316459850.011)

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Few Cold War topics have received more generous scholarly attention than the Sino-Soviet relationship. There has been sustained interest in the subject since the early 1960s, when the split between Moscow and Beijing first became public knowledge. Among the early treatments were the classic studies by Zagoria, Donald, The Sino-Soviet Conflict, 1956–1961 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1962) and by Gittings, John, Survey of the Sino-Soviet Dispute (London: Oxford University Press, 1968). The former sought the middle ground between the proponents of the “they are just faking it” school and the sober-minded camp that deemed the split as final and irreversible. The latter dissected the Sino-Soviet polemic under as good a microscope as Western Kremlinology could muster. The 1970s and the 1980s witnessed the rise of theoretical approaches to the troubled relationship. Partly because the deep hostility between two ostensibly communist powers offered such a useful case study for billiard-ball conceptions of international politics, realists of all stripes embraced the subject with gusto. Examples include Pollack, Jonathan D., The Sino-Soviet Rivalry and Chinese Security Debate (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1982), and Ellison, Herbert J., The Sino-Soviet Conflict: A Global Perspective (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982). Improvements in Sino-Russian relations in the 1990s prompted scholars to reassess previous approaches, with some – e.g. Wishnick, Elizabeth, Mending Fences: The Evolution of Moscow’s China Policy from Brezhnev to Yeltsin (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001) – striking a cautiously positive note, while others, such as Lo, Bobo in his Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2008), maintained a degree of skepticism about the relationship, which, in just half a century, went from unbreakable friendship, to primordial enmity, to friendship once again.In the meantime, the study of Sino-Soviet relations – formerly the subject of diplomatic gossip and conferences of political scientists – was handed over to historians. Armed with newly released archival documentation, they scrutinized the story of the rise and fall of the alliance and came up with answers to please theorists of all persuasions. One of the earliest was the still relevant Westad, Odd Arne (ed.), Brothers in Arms: The Rise and Fall of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1945–1963 (Washington, DC, and Stanford: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 1998), which, being an edited volume, offered a usefully multicausal explanation but specifically emphasized ideology as an important factor. Coming in the wake of many a realist study that perceived ideology as a cover-up for “real” national interests, Brothers in Arms represented an important new departure for Cold War historiography. By contrast, Heinzig, Dieter’s The Soviet Union and Communist China 1945–1950: The Arduous Road to the Alliance (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2004) erred on the side of geopolitics. Some of the same themes were picked up in Luthi, Lorenz’s seminal Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), which put great stress on ideological factors in the alliance and in Radchenko, Sergey’s Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962–1967 (Washington, DC, and Stanford: Woodrow Wilson Center Press and Stanford University Press, 2009), which rehabilitated realist ideas about Sino-Soviet relations, diluting them in anecdotes about pride, arrogance and cultural prejudice. A similar approach was adopted also in Shen, Zhihua and Xia, Yafeng, Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945–1959: A New History (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015), a panoramic overview of the early years of the relationship, which highlights the struggle for leadership between Mao Zedong and Nikita Khrushchev.Matters of culture and ideology were broached in Jersild, Austin, The Sino-Soviet Alliance: An International History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014) – which looks at, among other things, the low politics of cultural, scientific and economic exchange between China and the USSR – and in Li, Mingjiang, Mao’s China and the Sino-Soviet Split: Ideological Dilemma (London: Routledge, 2012), which highlights the centrality of Chinese domestic politics in the Sino-Soviet relationship. Meanwhile, Friedman, Jeremy opens new vistas to scholars of Sino-Soviet relations by exploring why and how Moscow and Beijing competed for influence in the Third World. His Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015) highlights the divergence between Chinese and Soviet revolutionary experiences. Still, for all the new evidence that has come to light since the 1990s, scholars remain as deeply divided as they have ever been. Every new study tilts the pendulum of opinion this way or that; yet it seems to be destined to swing perpetually between fuzzy conceptions such as “national interests,” “ideology,” “culture,” “equality” and “leadership,” dismaying and delighting generations of historians who today know so much and yet so little about the inner dynamics of the love/hate relationship between Beijing and Moscow, which never fails to surprise.

Item Type: Book Section
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Department of Politics and International Relations (POLIR)
Cardiff Law & Politics
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
ISBN: 9781107133549
Last Modified: 26 Oct 2022 07:15

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