- Mao’s China and the Sino-Soviet Split: Ideological Dilemma by Mingjiang Li
In his study of Sino-Soviet relations during the Cold War, Mingjiang Li, a political scientist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, argues that “when ideological differences exist between two countries, political leaders in one country are likely to regard the ideological and political orientation of the other country as a [End Page 260] challenge and even a threat to their own domestic ideological and political program and goals” (p. 1). Relying on documents from the Chinese Foreign Ministry archive, Li uses his concept of “ideological dilemma” as an interpretative framework to reassess major events in Sino-Soviet relations from 1956 to the Zhenbao Island border clashes in 1969. Li states in his introductory chapter that he attempts to contribute not only to the empirical study of the process of the Sino-Soviet split but also to “International Relations theories” (p. 11). This is the first book on the Sino-Soviet split in English that has made extensive use of declassified documents from the Chinese Foreign Ministry archive, and as such it offers a Chinese perspective on the process of the Sino-Soviet split based primarily on Chinese sources.
Although Li should be commended for his attempt to seek “a more coherent theoretical approach to the study of the Sino-Soviet split as well as the role of ideology in foreign policy in general” (p. 5), his efforts to weave theoretical considerations with historical narrative often are problematic. For example, how widely applicable is his concept of “ideological dilemma?” Does it apply only in selected, bounded historical conditions? If so, which conditions?
Regarding the impact on Sino-Soviet relations of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Li is not the first to argue that “Beijing’s overall reaction to the Soviet Congress was far more positive than we had assumed” (p. 8). In an important 2007 book on Sino-Soviet relations, Zhongsu guanxi shigang, 19 17–1991 [An Outline of the History of Sino-Soviet Relations, 1917–1991] (Beijing: Xinhua Chubanshe, 2007), pp. 160–161, the main editor, Zhihua Shen, writes: “For the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there was no fundamental divergence between itself and the CPSU in terms of the political and economic programs of the 20th Congress. The 20th Congress had no immediate negative effect on Sino-Soviet relations.” Li does not mention Shen’s book in his bibliography (p. 200), though he cites Shen’s earlier article on the impact of the 20th Congress on Sino-Soviet relations (p. 165, n. 17).
Regarding the linkage between the Great Leap Forward and the Sino-Soviet split, Shen writes in his 2007 book that in July 1959, after learning about Nikita Khrushchev’s criticism (while in Poland) of the People’s Communes, Mao Zedong resented what he saw as the Soviet leader’s intrusion into the Chinese debate on the side of the “rightists” in the CCP. By this time, not only had Mao linked Defense Minister Peng Dehuai’s criticism of the Great Leap Forward and the People’s Communes to Khrushchev, but he also was determined to launch a personal attack on Khrushchev and to allow the clashes between China and the Soviet Union to come into the open. Shen concludes in his 2007 book (pp. 246–248): “The Soviet attitude toward the People’s Communes indicated Sino-Soviet divergence in domestic policies, which Mao could no longer tolerate and resolved to criticize Moscow publicly.” Hence, Li’s contention that “domestic political criticism against Mao’s radical program, coupled with Khrushchev’s disapproval of and even mockery of Mao’s Great Leap Forward, significantly exacerbated Sino-Soviet differences” (p. 9) is not a novel one. [End Page 261]
Historians have not ignored the temporary détente in Sino-Soviet relations from late 1960 to the summer of 1962, contrary to what Li asserts (p. 9). The Chinese historian Danhui Li has a chapter in Shen’s 2007 book (pp. 253–295) discussing both...