Sulian zhuanjia zai Zhongguo (1948-1960) [Soviet Experts in China: 1948-1960] (review)
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Reviewed by
Shen Zhihua, Sulian zhuanjia zai Zhongguo (1948–1960) [Soviet Experts in China: 1948–1960] (Beijing: Zhongguo guoji chubanshe, 2003). 417 pp. ¥26.00.

In this meticulously researched and carefully argued book, Shen Zhihua, a leading Chinese scholar on Sino-Soviet relations, writes about an important but inadequately researched subject: the contributions of Soviet experts to China's development and their experiences during a time of great change in Sino-Soviet relations, from 1948 to 1960. Shen has written widely on high-level relations between the two countries, but in this volume he focuses on non-elite interactions in order to provide a fuller picture of the Sino-Soviet relationship (pp. 3–6). Shen addresses three sets of questions: Why did Soviet leaders send experts to the other socialist countries, and what impact did the experts have in those countries? Why did Nikita Khrushchev withdraw Soviet experts from China in 1960, and what were the consequences of this action? What were the main features of relations among the socialist countries, especially ties between the Soviet Union and the other socialist states?

Although Shen wanted mainly to write a book about Soviet experts in China, he also discusses the reasons for the Sino-Soviet split, arguing that it was the almost inevitable outcome of the personality clash between the leaders of the two countries. An emotional and unpredictable Khrushchev collided with an unruly Mao Zedong, and they eventually came to dislike each other so much that they could no longer work together. By 1960, Khrushchev was unwilling to tolerate a "student" who had once been eager and humble but had now become increasingly independent and arrogant despite still having to depend on the "teacher" in certain areas.

The book is impressively researched and well documented. The richness of information and insights Shen presents was possible because of the three major sources he used: Russian archival materials; declassified Chinese documents from local archives in Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Helongjiang, Jilin, Changchun, Liaoning, and Fujian, where many Soviet experts lived and worked; and interviews with retired Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials, military officers, educators, editors, Russian-language interpreters, scientists, technicians, and laborers who had worked with the Soviet experts.

The structure of the book's coverage of Sino-Soviet relations is chronological, with the four chapters divided equally between the two main Soviet leaders during this period—Josif Stalin (chapters 1 and 2—"Getting Closer, 1948–1949" and "Forming Alliances, 1949–1953") and Nikita Khrushchev (chapters 3 and 4—"The Honeymoon, 1953–1957" and "Moving toward the Split, 1958–1960").Within each chapter, Shen proceeds thematically as well as chronologically. In addition to discussing the Soviet experts in China, he compares their experiences with those of Soviet experts in other socialist countries.

In dealing with this extremely complicated subject, Shen skillfully brings together [End Page 142] many factors: elite politics; political upheavals and conflicts within the Communist world; China's desperate need for Soviet expertise in a wide range of areas, especially military technology; the domestic political context of both countries' policies concerning Soviet experts; the important contributions Soviet experts made to China's scientific, technological, and economic prowess; and, of course, the human dramas of the Soviet experts and the Chinese who worked with them. Many of the Soviet advisers developed warm relations with the Chinese they encountered, and most of the Chinese whom Shen interviewed still expressed fondness for the Soviet experts they knew in those days. To be sure, some problems occasionally arose between the Soviet advisers and the Chinese, and people on both sides sometimes acted rudely and arrogantly.

Why did Soviet leaders send experts to the other socialist states? Shen argues that Soviet policy on this matter reflected a fundamental difference between the East European countries on the one hand and China on the other. In Eastern Europe, according to Shen, Soviet experts were used as "one of the tools to control and supervise those countries" (p. 13). In the case of China, however, they were sent at the request of the CCP. As a result, Chinese leaders were able to control the flow of Soviet experts to meet the country's needs until 1958...