- Chinese Scholars on Revolutionary Russia
In 2013, the People's Publishing House launched a new multivolume series on Soviet history, the first of its kind in the People's Republic of China (PRC). The two books reviewed here, both works within this series, can be seen as an indication of current Chinese research on revolutionary Russia.
Intellectuals in China have been interested in the October Revolution and the New Economic Policy (NEP) since these events first took place, and both the revolution and the policies of the 1920s have long been seen as important reference points for nation building.1 After the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War and the founding of the PRC, Russian and Soviet historical studies in China were deeply affected by The History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks): A Short Course, which was accepted by the Communist Party of China (CPC) for many years as a de facto encyclopedia of Marxism-Leninism and an indispensable guide to the early history of the USSR. The Short Course, however, attributed the success of the revolution and of socialist construction almost exclusively to Lenin and Stalin. Today Chinese scholars are prepared to look much more broadly at the causes and consequences of revolutionary change in Russia, challenging some of the simplifications of the Short Course. The dissolution of the USSR has played a role in this adjustment, as have the profound reforms that have taken [End Page 671] place in China since the Deng Xiaoping era, including expanded access to paper-based and online archives and increased academic exchanges between Russia and China.2
During the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese scholars edited and translated a number of relevant source collections.3 This effort was followed in 2002 by the publication of the wide-ranging Selected Archives on Soviet History, which offered Chinese translations of numerous Soviet state documents on domestic, diplomatic, and military affairs.4
Since the reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping, Chinese scholars have been increasingly interested in the history of 1917—in particular, the causes of the February overthrow of the monarchy and the origins, nature, and significance of the October Revolution. According to the traditional view, tsarist Russia before the February Revolution was a "focus of all the contradictions of imperialism" and had been the "weakest link" in the imperialist chain that united the world's great powers. Since the reform era, however, this view has been revisited, and new trends suggest a reconsideration of the context and causes of the February Revolution. One approach that scholars have taken has been to focus on the experience of social groups, such as the prerevolutionary bourgeoisie and the upper nobility, as well as on the crisis of governance that increasingly preoccupied and ultimately sidelined the regime. Another has been to examine the positive contributions of the Constitutional Democratic Party and the State Duma in the years before the revolution.5 [End Page 672]
In their work on the October Revolution, Chinese scholars have traditionally devoted their greatest attention to the presumed inevitability of the revolution, the Bolsheviks' policies toward the revolutionary peasantry, and Lenin's personal contributions.6 These studies have reached a number of conclusions: the revolution was rooted in historical forces; the Bolsheviks had established a united front to seize power and put forward the fourth slogan of "Freedom," in addition to their call for "Peace, Land, and Bread"; and the revolution was socialistic and democratic in nature. At the same time, these studies had limitations. The October Revolution was viewed as an unproblematically predictable outcome of Russia's social and economic development, while the historical process that unfolded between February and October tended to be simplified; and the roles of the Provisional Government, the Liberals, Mensheviks, Socialist Revolutionaries (SRs), and even certain voices within the Bolshevik leadership were neglected. The research, which was expressly politicized, made frequent references to Lenin...