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  • Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962–1967
  • Xiaojia Hou (bio)
Sergey Radchenko. Two Suns in the Heavens: The Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy, 1962–1967. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009. 315 pp. Hardcover $65.00, ISBN 978-0-804-75879-6.

The Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s and the 1960s was one of the most important events in the Cold War. It cracked the socialist bloc and shifted the global balance of the power. Nevertheless, the subject has been poorly understood. The scholarship is murky even on the question of what happened, largely owing to the lack of primary sources. Scholars have debated the nature of the Sino-Soviet split for decades as they wrestle with the question of whether the Sino-Soviet split was a quarrel over ideology or a conflict of national interests. Though the debate continues, Radchenko claims neither to provide an ultimate answer nor to offer a radical new interpretation on the issue. His goal is modest: With newly accessible socialist bloc archives, he intends to take a closer look at the course of the split, and then go a little further to explain why the Soviet and Chinese leaders failed to understand each other by exploring cultural stereotypes and racism rooted in the Sino-Soviet relations.

The book begins in 1962 and ends in 1967, which Radchenko admits is an arbitrary decision. There is nothing special about 1962 (p. 19); Sino-Soviet friction [End Page 369] that was rooted much earlier continued in this year. To help the audience comprehend the subject, Radchenko has to provide some insights into how the split began, which returns to the debate on the nature of Sino-Soviet split. Unquestionably, Mao Zedong took the initiative to attack the Soviet Union as revisionists who had betrayed the revolution. As for why, the book title already reveals Radchenko’s inclination. It was about the power struggle between Mao Zedong and Soviet leaders over the authority of the communist world revolution: “[T]here was only enough room for one sun in the communist heavens” (p. 140). In addition to personal ambition, Mao had other motivations: He wanted to arouse revolutionary spirit to cure China’s domestic problems, and he used ideology as the tool to undermine his domestic rival, Liu Shaoqi.

After his analysis of the beginning of the rift, Radchenko moves into the core of the book, outlining the series of events that unfolded during the course of the Sino-Soviet split. In 1962, Khrushchev was confused, upset, and angry by China’s critique of him. He did not understand what the Chinese leadership wanted, and he tried on numerous occasions to search for an answer. Over the next year, he made conciliations, such as on the Sino-India border conflict, to please his Chinese comrades. Chinese leaders failed to appreciate his efforts. In the summer of 1963, China even disseminated their “Twenty-five Points” critique of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev was infuriated and became suspicious of Mao’s ambition. He thought he knew the problem: Mao wanted a split with the Soviet Union despite Khrushchev’s own goodwill. As a reply, Khrushchev ordered the draft of an open letter to all Soviet communists, which triggered a series of polemic exchanges of public word battles between the Soviet Union and China. This was the time that Mao turned to the Third World to win support for his moral superiority, and Khrushchev increasingly engaged in the Third World issue. It was, unfortunately, also the time that the Sino-Soviet border talks began, which naturally bore no fruit. Instead they paved the way for more border incidents and clashes.

Khrushchev fell in October 1964 and was replaced by Brezhnev. A window opened for a reappraisal of China policy in the top Soviet ranks, and new Soviet leaders took the initiative to contact Chinese leaders hoping for the normalization of Sino-Soviet relations. However, Mao did not withdraw his aspiration to be recognized as the sole owner of the Marxist truth, inside and outside China (p. 129), and, for their part, Brezhnev and Soviet comrades could not amend the partly unconscious Soviet stand...


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pp. 369-372
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