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  • Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution by Elizabeth McGuire
  • Deborah Kaple
Elizabeth McGuire. Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. 462 pp. $34.95 (cloth).

In a welcome new addition to the history of the Sino-Soviet relationship, Elizabeth McGuire’s new book illuminates the myriad of personal connections that made up this unusual partnership. Unlike other large efforts whereby one country helps another country to recover from war, like Douglas MacArthur’s efforts in Japan or George Marshall’s in Europe, the Sino-Soviet engagement involved thousands of personal relationships spanning numerous years. McGuire’s book, a genuine chronicle of personal Sino-Soviet relations beginning in the 1920s, is a far more accurate record [End Page E-3] of the Sino-Soviet relationships than what is available from the Soviet advisers’ literature. This convincing and extremely readable account describes how thousands of Chinese people literally fell in love with the idea of communism, with Russians in the Soviet Union, and with the Russians who brought communism to China.

After the fall of the Qing dynasty, many Chinese who cared about the fate of their country looked around the world to learn of other ways to live and to govern. News of the Russian Revolution in 1917 electrified China’s budding revolutionaries and gave them hope for a new future for China. The Russian Revolution was interesting to them because it was not just a political movement; it also gave rise to radical ideas in art, literature, clothing, living arrangements, and music; in short, it was a radical social revolution with great appeal. Many of the Chinese revolutionaries already were familiar with Russia through its literature, having read the classic, romance-laden nineteenth-century Russian writers. Now, at a time when drastic changes were needed in China, they became smitten with the Russian Revolution and its fascinating possibilities for dramatic social transformation.

As it happened, the Russians also were looking around the world, since the Bolsheviks fully expected other countries, like Germany, to fall to communism once the world heard about the revolutionary success in St. Petersburg. When world revolution did not happen, in 1919, Lenin and Trotsky founded the Communist International (the Comintern) to help foment revolution all over the world by sending trained Communists into countries that seemed ripe for revolution. The very next year, Comintern agents found their way to China. By 1921, they located the small group of Chinese communists and Marxists, began giving them revolutionary advice, and ultimately underwrote the founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At this early date, the Chinese revolutionaries who made up the group hosted by Comintern members Maring (1883–1942) and Nikolsky (1898–1938) had a hard time grasping what Bolshevism was, and instead they “were attracted to communism largely by its revolutionary allure, the romanticism of class conflict, and its egalitarian ideals.”1

McGuire describes many key moments in both countries that helped the Chinese romance with Russia develop. In the fall of 1920, Comintern agent Grigorii Voitinskii (1893–1953; born Grigorii Zarkhin) and revolutionary socialist Chen Duxiu opened the Shanghai Language School with Russian funds. It was a place where “young leftists” could enroll with the goal of going to the Soviet Union to “learn about the Russian Revolution.” Suddenly there was keen interest in seeing the world’s most exciting communist experiment on the ground, and thousands of Chinese flocked to study at the newly opened Communist University for the Toilers of the East in Moscow. Although conditions at this university were abysmal and disorganized, the students learned a lot by being in Moscow and made valuable contacts with each other. Here McGuire also offers her wonderful cameos of three students: Emi Xiao (埃弥萧 Aimi Xiao 1896–1983; born 萧克森 Xiao Kesen), Qu Qiubai (瞿秋白 1899–1935), and Peng Shuzhi (彭述之 1896–1983), all of whom had important roles to play later in China. In yet another fascinating cameo that makes this book so special, she chronicles the experience of Chiang Kai-shek’s son Jiang Jingguo, also known as “Kolia-kitaets” (“the Chinese named...


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