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  • Sino-Soviet Romances
  • Walter C. Clemens Jr. (bio)
Elizabeth McGuire, Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018).

Forget about ideology. Forget about geopolitics and nationalism. Forget Confucianism. Taoism, Marxism, and Leninism. Despite its title, this book is not about “red at heart.” It focuses on individuals—Russians and Chinese, teenagers as well as twenty-somethings—who fell in love with each other in a foreign land. Still, the book does illuminate macro history through its stories about individual lives and loves. To do all this, Elizabeth McGuire draws on personal memoirs and documents from Soviet and Chinese archives—even what Soviet censors said about emotional letters between lovers, many of whom worried about political correctness. McGuire frames all this in the bigger picture provided in more than 300 secondary sources in English, Chinese, and Russian. McGuire has also interviewed some of the “Sino-Soviet” children born in the halcyon years of Sino-Soviet relations—some now in their eighties. An assistant professor at California State University, East Bay, McGuire has studied, lived, and worked in Beijing as well as Moscow.

To be sure, many Chinese in the 1920s did fall in love with the Soviet revolution. Soviet ideology and praxis offered young Chinese a model for bringing modernity and Communist values to their homeland. To the extent there was a love affair, however, it was one-sided. Chinese looked to the Soviet Union for guidance, while Russians looked to Europe and the United States. Many Chinese stayed in the Soviet Union for years, while most Soviets working in China went there to do a job as advisers, [End Page 477] experts, or teachers. Few learned Chinese. When the Sino-Soviet couples moved from Russia to China, their children were puzzled about their own identities. Transplanted to China, many suffered severe culture shock: they did not know the language, customs, or political milieu.

Disappointed in 1921–1923 by the failure of Germany to join the Communist movement, Soviet leaders shifted their hopes to China. Their strategy became muddled, however, by the Kremlin’s two-stage doctrine for societies emerging from feudalism. Lenin argued that countries like China and Turkey first needed a bourgeois-nationalist transformation before they were ready for a Communist-led socialist revolution. The confusion intensified in 1923 when Sun Yatsen sent his trusted lieutenant Chiang Kaishek (Jiang Jieshi) on a three-month mission to Moscow to seek military support for war against warlords in northern China. Chiang studied Communist writings and cried out, as he departed Moscow, “Long live the Comintern! Long live the Soviets!” (p. 99). Chiang Kaishek became the commandant of the Whampoa Military Academy set up in Guangdong in 1924 by “Stalin’s man in China,” Mikhail Borodin (1884–1951).1 Many of the instructors were Russian, but Zhou Enlai was one of several Chinese instructors. By 1925 Stalin planned to infiltrate the nationalist Guomindang (GMD) with Communists who would transform it into a true revolutionary party—a goal in play at Sun Yatsen University in Moscow as well (p. 121).

The shift in Soviet attentions was manifest as the Kremlin’s man in Germany, Karl Radek (a Jewish Galician), was named rector of Sun Yatsen University in Moscow, founded to indoctrinate the next wave of Chinese leaders. There was already an “Eastern” university, managed by the Ministry of Nationalities, but Sun Yatsen University was supervised by the Central Executive Committees of the Russian Communist Party and the GMD.2 Material conditions at Sun Yatsen University were far more comfortable than for students elsewhere in Soviet Russia or China and included five meals a day plus tea. The diplomat Adolf Ioffe, a Jew born in Crimea, headed the board of a society founded to support the university. Everybody who was anybody in the Soviet leadership became involved in Sun Yatsen University. [End Page 478]

When Sun Yatsen died a year after Lenin in 1925, his portrait was hung next to Lenin’s in Moscow’s Sun Yatsen University. There are universities named for Sun Yatsen in several mainland Chinese cities as well as in Taipei.

Two future top leaders of...


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pp. 477-484
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