In this article, I examine the impact of Sino-North Korean relations on Pyongyang’s articulation of “independence (chaju)” as an indispensable ideological weapon to oppose Seoul’s claim to unification. From 1955–1966, Beijing figured predominantly in North Korea’s vocabulary and discourse of “independence” while the two allies confronted complex outstanding issues such as the August 1956 Plenum Incident, withdrawal of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA), the Sino-Soviet split, and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Instead of analyzing the evolution of Sino-North Korean bilateral relations per se, I explore the historical process by which “independence” as the self-proclaimed source of Pyongyang’s superior nationalism and popular appeal visà-vis the southern masses resulted from the best and worst of Sino-North Korean relations. Against the backdrop of dramatic reversals in the bilateral relationship, Pyongyang sought to maximize its influence on unification discussions in South Korea and undermine Seoul’s regime consolidation by progressively (1) selling, (2) arming, and (3) declaring “independence” as the unchanging premise of both its peaceful and militant unification policy. Pyongyang navigated the ups and downs of Sino-North Korean relations from 1955–1966 to formulate “independence” as the most correct anti-American/anti-imperialist ideological position that sealed Kim Il Sung’s exclusive right to command nationwide leadership.


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pp. 513-534
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