The Sino-Soviet split (1956–1966) was the breaking of political relations between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), caused by doctrinal divergences that arose from their different interpretations and practical applications of Marxism–Leninism during the Cold War (1945–1991).[2] In the late 1950s and the early 1960s, Sino-Soviet debates about the interpretation of Orthodox Marxism became specific disputes about the Soviet Union's policies of national de-Stalinization and international peaceful coexistence with the Western world. Against that political background, the international relations of the PRC featured official belligerence towards the West, and an initial, public rejection of the Soviet policy of peaceful coexistence between the Eastern bloc and the Western bloc, which Mao Zedong said was Marxist revisionism by the Russian communists.[2]

In 1956, Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and Stalinism in the speech On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences (25 February 1956) and began the de-Stalinization of the USSR, whilst the PRC and the USSR progressively diverged in their interpretations of and practical applications of Marxism; by 1961, their intractable ideological differences provoked the PRC's formal denunciation of Soviet communism as the work of "revisionist traitors" in the USSR.[2] Among the Eastern Bloc countries, the Sino-Soviet split was a question of who would lead the revolution for world communism: China or Russia, and to whom would the vanguard parties of the world turn for political advice, financial aid, and military assistance.[3] In that vein, the USSR and the PRC competed for the ideological leadership of world communism, through the communist parties native to the countries in their spheres of influence.[4]

In the Western world, the Sino–Soviet split transformed the geopolitics of the bi-polar cold war into a tri-polar cold war; as important as the erection of the Berlin Wall (1961), the defusing of the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), and the end of the Vietnam War (1945–1975), because the rivalry, between Chinese Stalinism and Russian coexistence, facilitated and realised Mao's Sino–American rapprochement, by way of the 1972 Nixon visit to China. Moreover, the Sino-Soviet split voided the Western political perception that "monolithic communism", the Eastern Bloc, was a unitary actor in geopolitics, especially during the 1947–1950 period in the Vietnam War, which led to U.S. military intervention to the First Indochina War (1946–1954).[5] Historically, the ideological Sino-Soviet split facilitated the Marxist–Leninist Realpolitik by which Mao established the tri-polar geopolitics (PRC–USA–USSR) of the late-period Cold War (1956–1991).[6]


Reluctant co-belligerents

In the east Asian theatre of the Second World War (1939–45), Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the KMT expediently allied with the Communist Mao Zedong of the CPC to fight the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45) to expel Imperial Japan from China.

In the course of the Second World War (1939–45), the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the nationalist Kuomintang party (KMT) set aside their civil war in order to fight, defeat, and expel Imperial Japan from China. To that end, the leader of the USSR, Joseph Stalin, ordered Mao Zedong, leader of the CPC, to co-operate with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, leader of the KMT, in fighting the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945). Following the surrender of Japan (15 August 1945), the CPC and the KMT resumed their civil war, from which the CPC emerged victorious.[7]

At war's end, Stalin advised Mao to not seize political power at that time, and, instead, to collaborate with Chiang due to the USSR–KMT Treaty of Friendship and Alliance (1945); in communist solidarity, Mao abided Stalin.[8] Yet, three months after the Japanese surrender, in November 1945, when Chiang opposed the annexation of Tannu Uriankhai (Mongolia) to the USSR, Stalin broke the treaty requiring the Red Army's withdrawal from Manchuria (giving Mao regional control) and ordered General Rodion Malinovsky to give to the Chinese communists the spoils of war captured from the Imperial Japanese Army.[9]

In the post-war 1945–1950 period, the United States had fully financed the KMT, Chiang, his nationalist political party, and the National Revolutionary Army, his armed forces in the civil war; and, despite having lost the war to the communists, the U.S. sent General George Marshall to broker peace between the communist and anti-communist belligerents; Mao was willing to compromise and co-operate with Chiang, who refused to compromise and co-operate with the communist leader. In the concluding, three-year period of the Chinese Civil War (1927–1949), between the KMT and the CPC, the Chinese Communist Revolution (1946–1949) defeated and expelled the KMT from mainland China. Consequently, the KMT retreated to Taiwan (December 1949), where Gen. Chiang Kai-shek later established the Republic of China, in 1950.[10]

Chinese communist revolution

The Leader of the PRC, Chairman Mao, and the American journalist Anna Louise Strong, in 1967.

As a revolutionary theoretician of Communism seeking to realise a socialist state in China, Mao developed and adapted the urban ideology of Orthodox Marxism for practical application to the agrarian conditions of pre-industrial China and the Chinese people.[11] Mao's Sinification of Marx, Socialism with Chinese characteristics, established political pragmatism as the first priority for realising the accelerated modernisation of a country and a people; and ideological orthodoxy as the secondary priority, because Orthodox Marxism originated for practical application to the socio-economic conditions of industrialised Western Europe in the 19th century.[12]

In 1947, whilst fighting the Chinese Communist Revolution against the KMT nationalists, Mao despatched the American journalist Anna Louise Strong to the West, bearing political documents explaining China's socialist future, and asked that she "show them to Party leaders in the United States and Europe", for their better understanding of the Chinese Communist Revolution, but that it was not "necessary to take them to Moscow".

Mao trusted Strong because of her positive reportage about him, as a theoretician of Communism, in the article "The Thought of Mao Tse-Tung", and about the CPC's communist revolution, in the book Dawn Comes Up Like Thunder Out of China: An Intimate Account of the Liberated Areas in China (1948), which reports that the intellectual feat of Mao Zedong was “to change Marxism from a European [form] to an Asiatic form . . . in ways of which neither Marx nor Lenin could dream."

Treaty of Sino-Soviet friendship

In 1950, Mao and Stalin safeguarded the national interests of China and Russia with the Treaty of Friendship, and Alliance and Mutual Assistance (1950–1979). For the PRC, the treaty was a geopolitical relationship in three parts: (i) political, (ii) military, and (iii) economic.[13] Stalin's largesse to Mao included a loan for $300 millions; military aid should Japan attack the PRC; the transfer to Chinese control of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria; the return to Chinese control of Port Arthur and Dairen; and Chinese recognition of the independence of the Mongolian People's Republic (1924–1992).

A PRC postage stamp commemorating the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance (1950)

Despite the favourable terms, the treaty of socialist friendship included the PRC to the geopolitical hegemony of the USSR, yet, unlike the governments of the soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, the USSR did not control the government of the People's Republic of China. In six years' time, the great differences between the Russian and Chinese interpretations and applications of Marxism–Leninism voided the Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship.[14][15]

In 1958, guided by Soviet economists, the PRC applied the USSR's model of planned economy, which featured centralised control, and gave first priority to the development of heavy industry, and second priority to the production of consumer goods. Later, ignoring the guidance of technical advisors, Mao developed the Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) to transform agrarian China into the industrialised People's Republic of China, with disastrous results for people and land. Mao's unrealistic goals for agricultural production went unfulfilled because of poor planning and realisation, which aggravated rural starvation and increased the number of deaths caused by the Great Chinese Famine (1959–1961), which resulted from three years of drought and poor weather.[16][17]

Socialist relations repaired

In 1954, Premier Nikita Khrushchev repaired relations between the USSR and the PRC with trade agreements, formal acknowledgement of Stalin's economic unfairness to the PRC, fifteen industrial-development projects, and exchanges of technicians (ca. 10,000) and political advisors (ca. 1,500), whilst Chinese labourers were sent to fill shortages of manual workers in Siberia. Despite such economic relations between socialist nations, Mao of the PRC and Khrushchev of the Soviet Union disliked each other, personally and ideologically.[18] Yet, by 1955, consequent to Khrushchev's having repaired Russian relations with Mao and the Chinese, 60 per cent of the PRC's exports went to the USSR, by way of the Five-year plans of China, begun in 1953.[19]

Discontents of de-Stalinization

In early 1956, Sino-Soviet relations began deteriorating consequent to Khrushchev's de-Stalinization of the USSR, which he initiated with the speech On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences, which criticised Stalin and Stalinism, especially the Great Purge (1936–1938) of Soviet society, of the rank-and-file of the armed forces, and of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In light of de-Stalinization, the CPSU's changed ideological orientation — from Stalin's confrontation of the West to Khrushchev's coexistence with the West — posed problems of ideological credibility and political authority for Mao, who had emulated Stalin's style of leadership and practical application of Marxism–Leninism in the development of Socialism with Chinese characteristics and the PRC as a country.[20]

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 against the rule of Moscow was a serious political concern for Mao, because it had required military intervention to suppress, and its occurrence denied the political legitimacy of the communist party to be in government. In response to that discontent among the European members of the Eastern Bloc, the CPC denounced the USSR's de-Stalinization as Marxist revisionism, and reaffirmed the Stalinist ideology, policies, and practices of Mao's government as the correct course for achieving socialism in China. In the event, such Sino-Soviet divergences of Marxist–Leninist praxis and interpretation began fracturing "monolithic communism" — the Western misperception of absolute ideological unity in the Eastern Bloc.[21]

From Mao's perspective, the success of the Soviet foreign policy of peaceful coexistence with the West would geopolitically isolate the PRC;[22] whilst the Hungarian Revolution indicated the possibility of anti-communist revolt in the PRC, and in China's sphere of influence. To thwart such discontent, Mao launched the Hundred Flowers Campaign (1956) of political liberalization — the freedom of speech to publicly criticize government, the bureaucracy, and the CPC; but the campaign proved too-successful when it featured blunt criticism of Mao, as the Chinese head-of-state and as the chairman of the Communist Party of China.[23] Consequent to the relative freedoms of the de-Stalinized Soviet Union, Mao retained the Stalinist model of Marxist–Leninist economy, government, and society for the People's Republic of China.[24]

Conflicting national interests

The strait of Taiwan

In July 1958, at Beijing, Khrushchev and Mao were negotiating joint Sino-Soviet naval bases in China, from which nuclear-armed Soviet submarines would deter US intervention to that region of eastern Asia. The naval-base agreement failed when Mao accused Khrushchev of trying to establish Soviet control of the PRC's coast.[25] At the end of August, Mao sought the PRC's sovereignty upon Taiwan island (the Republic of China), and launched the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (23 August – 22 September 1958) by first attacking the Matsu islands and Kinmen island.

In launching that regional war against the KMT nationalists, Mao did not inform Khrushchev. Formal, ideological response to such a geopolitical contingency compelled Khrushchev's revision of the USSR's policy of peaceful coexistence to include regional wars, like Mao's second war-crisis in the strait of Taiwan. Mao's withholding of information from Khrushchev worsened their personal-political relations, especially because the US threatened nuclear war upon China and Russia, if the PRC invaded Taiwan; thus did Mao's continual shoot-outs with Chiang Kai-shek impel Khrushchev into Sino-American quarrels about a long-lost civil war.[26]

In the context of the tri-polar Cold War, Khrushchev doubted the mental sanity of Mao, because his unrealistic policies of geopolitical confrontation might provoke nuclear war between the capitalist and the communist ideological blocs; so, to thwart Mao's warmongering, Khrushchev cancelled foreign-aid agreements and the delivery of Soviet atomic bombs to the PRC.[27]

Two Chinas

Throughout the 1950s, Khrushchev maintained positive Sino-Soviet relations with foreign aid (especially Soviet technology for Project 596, the Chinese atomic bomb) but the political tensions perdured, because the economic benefits of the USSR's peaceful-coexistence policy voided the belligerent PRC's geopolitical credibility among the nations under Chinese hegemony, especially after a failed PRC–US rapprochement. In the Chinese sphere of influence, that Sino-American diplomatic failure and the presence of US atomic bombs in Taiwan justified Mao's confrontational foreign policies — such as the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis (23 August – 22 September 1958) with Taiwan, a second Republic of China, headed by Chiang Kai-shek, whom the US sponsored and officially claimed and recognised as the leader of the two Chinas.[28]

In late 1958, the CPC revived Mao's guerrilla-period cult of personality to portray Chairman Mao as the charismatic, omniscient leader solely qualified to control the policy, the administration, and the popular mobilisation required to realise the Great Leap Forward (1958–1962) to industrialise China.[29] Moreover, to the Eastern bloc, Mao portrayed the PRC's warfare with the nationalist Republic of China and the accelerated modernisation of the Great Leap Forward as Stalinist examples of Marxism—Leninism adapted to Chinese conditions. Those circumstances allowed ideological Sino-Soviet competition, and Mao publicly criticised Khrushchev's economic and foreign policies as deviations from Marxism–Leninism in the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, to the pragmatic Khrushchev of the USSR, the PRC's Stalinist worldview remained the destabilising threat to peaceful coexistence in the tri-polar Cold War (Russia, and, to protect that East–West rapprochement, Khrushchev undermined Mao's belligerence by reducing the USSR's foreign aid to the PRC.[30]


The Communist bloc: pro-Soviet (red), pro–Chinese (yellow), the non-aligned (black) North Korea and Yugoslavia.

To Mao Zedong, the events of the 1958–1959 period indicated that Khrushchev of the Soviet Union was politically untrustworthy as an orthodox Marxist.[31] In 1959, Soviet Premier Khrushchev met with US President Dwight Eisenhower (r. 1953–1961) to decrease geopolitical tensions with the US; to that end, the USSR (i) reneged an agreement for technical aid to develop a Chinese atomic bomb, and (ii) sided with India in the Sino-Indian War (20 October – 21 November 1962). Each Russo-American collaboration offended Mao's sensibilities as a Marxist–Leninist; thereafter, Mao perceived Khrushchev as a Marxist who had become too-tolerant of the West, despite the USSR sometimes confronting the Western powers, as in the Berlin blockade, in 1948, in Eastern Germany. The Communist Party of China believed that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union concentrated too much on "Soviet–US co-operation for the domination of the world", with geopolitical actions that contradicted Marxism–Leninism.[32]

Khrushchev, Mao, and the Balkans

The Sino-Soviet split (1956–66) began with Khrushchev insulting Mao's Chinese Communism.
Stalinist solidarity: Mao Zedong of the PRC and Enver Hoxha of Socialist Albania

In the 1950s, the looming Sino-Soviet split was manifested in public denunciation and criticism of the allied countries of China and Russia. The PRC denounced the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–1992) as not socialist for having a mixed economy, and attacked Marshal Tito (Josip Broz) as an ideological deviationist for pursuing a politically non-aligned foreign policy that was separate and apart from the geopolitics of the USSR and the PRC, whilst remaining in the Eastern bloc. The USSR criticized the People's Socialist Republic of Albania as a politically-backward socialist state, and the Albanian leader, Enver Hoxha, for not transcending Stalinism and for allying with the PRC, from which followed the Soviet–Albanian split (1955–1961). Moreover, to further thwart the Chinese Communists, the USSR publicly gave moral support to the anti–PRC rebels of the Tibetan uprising (10–23 March 1959).

Mao, Khrushchev, and the US

In 1960, Mao expected Khrushchev to aggressively deal with Eisenhower by holding him to account for the USSR having shot down a U-2 spy plane (1 May 1960) photographing Soviet military bases for the CIA; aerial espionage that the US said had been discontinued. In Paris, at the Four Powers Summit meeting (15–16 May 1960), Khrushchev demanded and did not receive from Eisenhower an official US apology for the CIA's aerial espionage of the USSR. In China, Mao and the CPC interpreted Eisenhower's refusal to apologise to the USSR as disrespectful of the national sovereignty of socialist countries, and held political rallies aggressively demanding Khrushchev's military confrontation with the American aggressors; without such decisive action, the Communist leader Khrushchev lost face with the PRC. In the Socialist Republic of Romania, at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers Parties (November 1960), in Bucharest, Mao and Khrushchev respectively attacked the Russian and the Chinese interpretations of Orthodox Marxism and Leninism as the wrong road to world socialism in Russia and China. Mao said that Khrushchev's emphases on consumer goods and material plenty would make the Soviet people ideologically soft and un-revolutionary; Khrushchev replied that: “If we could promise the people nothing, except revolution, they would scratch their heads and say: ‘Isn’t it better to have good goulash?’[33]

Personal attacks

In the 1960s, the split featured public displays of acrimonious intramural quarrels between Stalinist Chinese and anti-Stalinist Russian communists. At the Romanian Communist Party (PCR) Congress, the CPC's Peng Zhen quarrelled with Khrushchev, after the latter had insulted Mao as a Chinese nationalist, a geopolitical adventurist, and an ideological deviationist from Orthodox Marxism. In turn, Peng insulted Khrushchev as a Marxist revisionist whose political regime as premier of the USSR showed him to be a "patriarchal, arbitrary, and tyrannical" ruler.[34] In the event, Khrushchev denounced the PRC with 80 pages of critical complaints to the congress of the PRC. In June 1960, at the zenith of de-Stalinization, the USSR denounced Albania as a politically backward country for retaining Stalinism as government and model of socialism. In turn, Bao Sansan said that the CPC's message to the cadres in China was: “When Khrushchev stopped Russian aid to Albania, Hoxha said to his people: ‘Even if we have to eat the roots of grass to live, we won’t take anything from Russia.’ China is not guilty of chauvinism, and immediately sent food to our brother country.”[35]

In response to the insults, Khrushchev withdrew 1,400 Soviet technicians from the PRC, which cancelled some 200 joint-scientific-projects meant to foster Sino-Soviet amity and co-operation between socialist nations. In response, Mao justified his belief that Khrushchev had, somehow, caused China's great economic failures, and the famines occurred in the period of the Great Leap Forward; nonetheless, the PRC and the USSR remained pragmatic allies, which allowed Mao to alleviate famine in China and to resolve Sino-Indian border disputes. To Mao, Khrushchev had lost a measure of political authority and ideological credibility, because his U.S.-Soviet policy of geopolitical détente resulted in successful military (aerial) espionage against the USSR, and public confrontation with an unapologetic capitalist enemy. That miscalculation of person and circumstance voided diplomacy between the U.S. and the USSR at the Four Powers Summit.[36]

Monolithic communism fractured

In late 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis (16–28 October 1962) concluded when the U.S. and the USSR respectively agreed to remove intermediate-range PGM-19 Jupiter nuclear missiles (pictured) from Italy and Turkey, and to remove intermediate-range R-12 Dvina and R-14 Chusovaya nuclear missiles from Cuba. In the context of the Sino-Soviet split, Mao said that the USSR's military stand-down was Khrushchev's betrayal of Marxist–Leninist geopolitics.

In late 1961, at the 22nd Congress of the CPSU (17–31 October 1961), the PRC and the USSR revisited their doctrinal disputes about the orthodox interpretation and application of Marxism–Leninism.[37] In December 1961, the USSR broke diplomatic relations with People's Socialist Republic of Albania (1945–1991), which escalated the Sino-Soviet disputes from the political-party level to the national-government level. In that vein, the USSR publicly approved of India's annexation of Goa (18–19 December 1961) from Portugal, which the PRC minimised by saying that: "India's apparent contribution to anti-imperialist struggle consists of taking on the world's smallest imperialist power."

In late 1962, the PRC broke relations with the USSR, because Khrushchev did not go to war with the U.S. over the Cuban Missile Crisis (16–28 October 1962). Regarding that Soviet loss-of-face, Mao said that "Khrushchev has moved from adventurism to capitulationism" with a negotiated, bilateral, military stand-down. To which Khrushchev replied that Mao's belligerent foreign policies would lead to an East–West nuclear war.[38] For the Western powers, the Cuban Missile Crisis made nuclear disarmament the political priority; thus the U.S., the UK, and the USSR agreed to the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (5 August 1963), which formally forbade nuclear-detonation tests in the Earth's atmosphere, in outer space, and under water, yet did allow underground nuclear-detonation tests. In that time, the PRC's nuclear weapons program was nascent (Project 596), and Mao perceived the test-ban treaty as the nuclear powers' attempt to thwart the PRC's becoming a nuclear superpower.[39]

As a Marxist–Leninist, Mao was much angered that Khrushchev did not go to war with the Americans over their failed Bay of Pigs Invasion (17–20 April 1961) and the United States embargo against Cuba of continual economic and agricultural sabotage. For the Eastern Bloc, Mao addressed those Sino-Soviet matters in "Nine Letters" critical of Khrushchev and his leadership of the USSR. Moreover, the break with the USSR allowed Mao to reorient the development of the People's Republic of China with formal relations (diplomatic, economic, political) with the countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.[40]

Formal statements

Sino-Soviet split
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese中蘇交惡
Simplified Chinese中苏交恶
Russian name
RussianСоветско–китайский раскол
RomanizationSovetsko–kitayskiy raskol

In the 1960s, the Sino-Soviet split allowed only written communications between the PRC and the USSR, in which each country supported their geopolitical actions with formal statements of Marxist–Leninist ideology as the true road to world communism, which is the general line of the party. In June 1963, the PRC published The Chinese Communist Party's Proposal Concerning the General Line of the International Communist Movement,[41] to which the USSR replied with the Open Letter of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union; each ideological stance perpetuated the Sino-Soviet split.[42] In 1964, Mao said that, in light of the Chinese and Russian differences about the interpretation and practical application of Orthodox Marxism, a counter-revolution had occurred and re-established capitalism in the USSR; consequently, following Soviet suit, the Warsaw Pact countries broke relations with the People's Republic of China.

In late 1964, after the deposition of Khrushchev (r. 1958–1964), PRC Premier Zhou Enlai met with the new leaders of the USSR, First Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Alexei Kosygin, but their ideological differences proved a diplomatic impasse to renewed economic relations. Back in China, Zhou reported to Mao that Brezhnev's Soviet government had retained the ideological stance of peaceful coexistence, the stance of the previous Soviet government, which Mao had denounced as "Khrushchevism without Khrushchev"; the Sino-Soviet split remained open. At the Glassboro Summit Conference (23–25 June 1967), between Kosygin and U.S. President L.B. Johnson, the PRC accused the USSR of betraying the peoples of the Eastern bloc countries. The official interpretation, by Radio Peking, reported that Soviet and American politicians discussed "a great conspiracy, on a worldwide basis . . . criminally selling the rights of the revolution of [the] Vietnam people, [of the] Arabs, as well as [those of] Asian, African, and Latin-American peoples, to U.S. imperialists".[43]


Cultural Revolution

Chairman Mao and Lin Biao among Red Guards, in Beijing, during the Cultural Revolution.

In 1966, Mao Zedong launched the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) to counter the Soviet-style bureaucracies of personal-power-centres established in education, agriculture, and industrial management. Abiding Mao's proclamations for universal ideological orthodoxy, schools and universities closed throughout China when students organised themselves into politically radical Red Guards. Lacking a leader, political purpose, and social function, the ideologically discrete units of Red Guards soon degenerated into political factions, each of whom claimed to be ideologically truer to the socialist philosophy of Mao than were the other factions.[44]

In establishing the universal orthodoxy of ideology presented in the Little Red Book (Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung), the political violence of the Red Guards provoked civil war in parts of China, which Mao suppressed with the People's Liberation Army (PLA), who imprisoned the fractious Red Guards. Moreover, when Red Guard factionalism occurred in the PLA, Mao's power-base, he dissolved the Red Guards, and then reconstituted the CPC with the new generation of Maoists who had perdured and survived the Cultural Revolution that purged the "anti-Communist" old generation from the Communist Party of China and the PRC.[45]

As social engineering, the Cultural Revolution reasserted the political primacy of the Maoism, but also stressed, strained, and broke the PRC's relations with the USSR and the West.[46] Geopolitically, despite their querulous "Maoism vs. Marxism–Leninism" disputes about interpretations and practical applications of Orthodox Marxism, the USSR and the PRC advised, aided, and supplied North Vietnam during the Vietnam War (1945–1975),[47] which Maoism defined as a peasant revolution against foreign imperialism. In socialist solidarity, the PRC allowed safe passage for the Soviet Union's matériel to North Vietnam to prosecute the war against the US-sponsored South Vietnam.[48]

Sino-Soviet border war

The Sino-Soviet split allowed minor border disputes to escalate to firefights for areas of the Argun and Amur rivers (Damansky–Zhenbao is southeast, north of the lake (2 March – 11 September 1969).
The door to the anti-bomb shelter in the tunnels of Underground Project 131, in Hubei, China.

In the late 1960s, the continual quarrelling between the CPC and the CPSU, about the correct interpretations and applications of Marxism–Leninism escalated to small-scale warfare at the Sino-Russian border.[49]

In 1966, for diplomatic resolution, the Chinese revisited the national matter of the Sino-Russian border demarcated in the 19th century, but originally imposed upon the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912) by way of unequal treaties that annexed Chinese territory to the Russian Empire (1721–1917). Despite not asking the return of territory, the PRC asked the USSR to formally and publicly acknowledge that such an historic injustice against China (the 19th-century border) was dishonestly realised with the Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860); the Soviet government ignored the matter.

In 1968, the Soviet Army had massed along the 4,380-kilometre (2,720 mi) border with the PRC, especially at the Xinjiang frontier, in north-west China, where the Soviets might readily induce the Turkic peoples into a separatist insurrection. In 1961, the USSR had stationed 12 divisions of soldiers and 200 aeroplanes at that border, by 1968, the Soviet Union had stationed six divisions of soldiers in Outer Mongolia and 16 divisions, 1,200 aeroplanes, and 120 medium-range missiles at the Sino-Russian border to confront 47 light divisions of the PLA; by March 1969, the border confrontations escalated into the Sino-Soviet border conflict (2 March – 11 September 1969), which featured fighting at the Ussuri River, the Zhenbao Island incident, and at Tielieketi.[50]

Nuclear China

In the early 1960s, fearful of the PRC achieving nuclear-power status, the U.S. governments of the Kennedy administration (1961–1963) and of the Johnson administration (1963—1969) considered ways to either sabotage or directly attack the Chinese nuclear program — aided by Nationalist China or by the USSR — but Khrushchev refused to co-operate with a joint Soviet-American first-strike that would launch a nuclear war.[51] In the event, on 16 October 1964, the PRC detonated their first nuclear bomb, Project 596, a uranium-235 implosion-fission device,[52] with an explosive yield of 22 kilotons of TNT;[53] and acknowledged that Russia's technical assistance helped China realise Project 596.[54]

In 1969, the Nixon administration warned the USSR that a unilateral first-strike nuclear attack against the PRC would provoke World War III.[55] Aware of the Soviet nuclear threat, the PRC built large-scale underground bomb shelters, such as the Underground City in Beijing, and the military bomb shelters, of Underground Project 131, a command center in Hubei, and the 816 Nuclear Military Plant, in the Fuling District of Chongqing city.

Geopolitical pragmatism

To counter the USSR, Chairman Mao met with U.S President Nixon, and established Sino-American rapprochement, in 1972.

In October 1969, after the seven-month Sino-Soviet border conflict (March–September 1969), at Beijing, Premier Alexei Kosygin secretly spoke to Premier Zhou Enlai to jointly determine the demarcation of the Russo-Chinese border. Despite the border demarcation remaining indeterminate, the premiers' meetings restored Sino-Soviet diplomatic communications, which, by 1970, allowed Mao to understand that the PRC could not simultaneously fight the U.S. and the USSR, whilst suppressing internal disorder. In July 1971, Henry Kissinger, the Nixon administration's National Security Advisor, went to Beijing to arrange Pres. Nixon's visit to the PRC (21–28 February 1972). In terms of diplomacy, Kissinger's actions of Sino-American rapprochement offended the USSR, who then convoked a summit meeting with Nixon, which re-cast the bi-polar geopolitics of the Russo-American cold war into the tri-polar cold-war geopolitics among the PRC, the U.S., and the USSR.

Concerning the 4,380 kilometres (2,720 mi) Sino-Soviet border disputes, Soviet propaganda agitated against the PRC's complaint about the unequal Treaty of Aigun (1858) and the Convention of Peking (1860), which cheated Imperial China of territory and natural resources in the 19th century. To that effect, in the 1972–1973 period, the USSR deleted the Chinese and Manchu place-names — Iman (伊曼, Yiman), Tetyukhe (野猪河, yĕzhūhé), and Suchan — from the map of the Russian Far East, and replaced them with the Russian place-names: Dalnerechensk, Dalnegorsk, and Partizansk, respectively.[56][57] To facilitate social acceptance of such cultural revisionism, the Soviet press misrepresented the historical presence of Chinese people — in lands gained by Tsarist Russia — which provoked Russian violence against the local Chinese populations; moreover, politically inconvenient exhibits were removed from museums,[56] and vandals covered with cement the Jurchen-script stele, about the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234), in the Khabarovsk, some 30 kilometers from the Russo-Chinese border, at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers.[58]

Competition in the Third World

In the 1970s, Sino-Soviet rivalry had extended to Africa and the Middle East, where each socialist country funded Marxist–Leninist political parties and militias, such as the Ogaden War (1977–1978) between Ethiopia and Somalia, the Rhodesian Bush War (1964–1979) between white colonists and anti-colonial natives, and the Bush War's aftermath, the Zimbabwean Gukurahundi massacres (1983–1987), the Angolan Civil War (1975–2002) between competing national-liberation groups was a Soviet-American proxy war, the Mozambican Civil War (1975–1992), and Palestinian guerrilla factions. In Thailand, the pro-Chinese front organisations were based upon the local Chinese minority population, and thus were politically ineffective.[59]

After Mao

Transition to pragmatism

The elimination of Marshal Lin Biao, in 1971, lessened the political damage caused by Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and facilitated the PRC's transition to the Realpolitik of the Tri-polar Cold War.

In 1971, the politically-radical phase of the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) concluded with the failure of Project 571, the coup d'état meant to depose Mao Zedong, and the death of Marshal Lin Biao, Mao's executive officer. Afterwards, the PRC resumed political normalcy, until the death of Chairman Mao (9 September 1976) and the emergence of the politically radical Gang of Four, who argued for ideological orthodoxy at the expense of internal development, whom the security forces soon suppressed.

The re-establishment of Chinese domestic tranquility ended armed confrontation with the USSR, but it did not improve diplomatic relations, because in 1973, the Soviet Army garrisons at the Russo-Chinese border were twice as large as in 1969. The continued military threat from the USSR  prompted the PRC to denounce "Soviet social imperialism", by accusing the Soviet Union of being an enemy of world revolution.

In late 1977, at the 11th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (12–18 August 1977), the politically-rehabilitated Deng Xiaoping was appointed to manage internal modernization programs. Avoiding attacks upon Mao Zedong, Deng's political moderation began the realisation of Chinese economic reform, by way of systematic reversals of Mao's inefficient policies, the transition from a planned economy to a socialist market economy.[60][61] In the 1980s, the PRC pursued Realpolitik policies, such as "seeking truth from facts" and the "Chinese road to socialism", which withdrew the PRC from the high-level abstractions of ideology, polemic, and the Marxist revisionism of the USSR, which diminished the political importance of the Sino-Soviet split.[60][61]

See also


  1. ^ Lorenz M. Lüthi (2010). The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton UP. p. 1. ISBN 978-1400837625.
  2. ^ a b c Chambers Dictionary of World History, B.P. Lenman, T. Anderson, Editors, Chambers: Edinburgh:2000. p. 769.
  3. ^ Robert A. Scalapino, "Sino-Soviet Competition in Africa", Foreign Affairs (1964) 42#4, pp. 640–654. in JSTOR Archived 9 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Scalapino, Robert A. (1964). "Sino-Soviet Competition in Africa". Foreign Affairs. 42 (4): 640–654. doi:10.2307/20029719. JSTOR 20029719.
  5. ^ Rothbard, Murray N. "The Myth of Monolithic Communism", Libertarian Review, Vol. 8., No. 1 (February 1979), p. 32.
  6. ^ The historian Lorenz M. Lüthi said that the split helped to determine the framework of the second half of the Cold War in general, and influenced the course of the Second Vietnam War, in particular. Like a nasty divorce, it left bad memories and produced myths of innocence on both sides.Lorenz M. Lüthi (2010). The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton UP. p. 1. ISBN 9781400837625.
  7. ^ Zubok, Vladislav and Pleshakov, Constantine. Inside the Kremlin's Cold War: From Stalin to Khrsuchchev (1996) p. 56.
  8. ^ Dictionary of Wars, Third Edition (2007), George Childs Kohn, Ed., p. 121.
  9. ^ 杨奎松《读史求实》:苏联给了林彪东北野战军多少现代武器 Archived 26 September 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Dictionary of Wars, Third Edition (2007), George Childs Kohn, Ed., pp. 121–122.
  11. ^ Lüthi, Lorenz M. Historical Background, 1921–1955, The Sino–Soviet split: Cold War in the Communist World (2008) p. 26.
  12. ^ The New Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought, Third Edition (1999) Allan Bullock and Stephen Trombley, Eds., p. 501.
  13. ^ Lüthi, Lorenz M. The Sino–Soviet split: Cold War in the Communist World (2008) pp. 31–32.
  14. ^ Crozier, Brian The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire (1999) pp. 142–157.
  15. ^ Peskov, Yuri. "Sixty Years of the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance Between the U.S.S.R. and the PRC, February 14, 1950" Far Eastern Affairs (2010) 38#1 pp. 100–115.
  16. ^ Lüthi, Lorenz M. The Sino–Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World (2008) p. 31.
  17. ^ Shen, Zhihua and Xia, Yafeng. "The Great Leap Forward, the People's Commune and the Sino-Soviet split" Journal of contemporary China 20.72 (2011): pp. 861–880.
  18. ^ Luthi, Lorenz (2008). "Historical Background, 1921–1955". The Sino–Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 39–40. ISBN 978-0691135908.
  19. ^ Shabad, Theodore (December 1955). "Communist China's 5 Year Plan". Far Eastern Survey. 24 (12): 189–191. doi:10.2307/3023788. JSTOR 3023788.
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  24. ^ Lüthi, Lorenz M. The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World (2008), "The Collapse of Socialist Unity, 1956–57", pp. 76–77.
  25. ^ Lüthi, Lorenz M. The Sino–Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World (2008)  pp. 91–92, "Mao's Challenges, 1958"
  26. ^ Lüthi, Lorenz M. The Sino–Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World (2008)  p. 103, "Mao's Challenges, 1958"
  27. ^ Sheng, M. (2008). "Mao and China's Relations with the Superpowers in the 1950s: A New Look at the Taiwan Strait Crises and the Sino-Soviet Split". Modern China. 4 (34): 499. doi:10.1177/0097700408315991.
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Further reading

  • Chang, Jung, and Jon Halliday. Mao: The Unknown Story. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
  • Ellison, Herbert J., ed. The Sino-Soviet Conflict: A Global Perspective (1982) online
  • Floyd, David. Mao against Khrushchev: A Short History of the Sino-Soviet Conflict (1964) online
  • Ford, Harold P., "Calling the Sino-Soviet Split " Calling the Sino-Soviet Split", Studies in Intelligence, Winter 1998-99.
  • Friedman, Jeremy. "Soviet policy in the developing world and the Chinese challenge in the 1960s." Cold War History (2010) 10#2 pp. 247–272.
  • Friedman, Jeremy. Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World (UNC Press Books, 2015).
  • Goh, Evelyn. Constructing the US Rapprochement with China, 1961–1974: From "Red Menace" to "Tacit Ally" (Cambridge UP, 2005)
  • Heinzig, Dieter. The Soviet Union and Communist China, 1945–1950: An Arduous Road to the Alliance ( M. E. Sharpe, 2004).
  • Jian, Chen. Mao's China & the Cold War. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
  • Kochavi, Noam. "The Sino-Soviet Split." in A Companion to John F. Kennedy (2014) pp. 366–383.
  • Li, Hua-Yu et al., eds China Learns from the Soviet Union, 1949-Present (The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series) (2011) excerpt and text search
  • Lüthi, Lorenz M. (2010). The Sino-Soviet Split: Cold War in the Communist World. Princeton UP. ISBN 9781400837625.
  • Mark, Chi-Kwan. China and the world since 1945: an international history (Routledge, 2011)
  • Olsen, Mari. Soviet-Vietnam Relations and the Role of China 1949–64: Changing Alliances (Routledge, 2007)
  • Ross, Robert S., ed. China, the United States, and the Soviet Union: Tripolarity and Policy Making in the Cold War (1993) online
  • Scalapino, Robert A (1964). "Sino-Soviet Competition in Africa". Foreign Affairs. 42 (4): 640–654. doi:10.2307/20029719. JSTOR 20029719.
  • Westad, Odd Arne, ed. Brothers in arms: the rise and fall of the Sino-Soviet alliance, 1945–1963 (Stanford UP. 1998)

Primary sources

  • Luthi, Lorenz M. (2008). "Twenty-Four Soviet-Bloc Documents on Vietnam and the Sino-Soviet Split, 1964–1966". Cold War International History Project Bulletin. 16: 367–398.
  • [Bao] Sansan and Bette Bao Lord (1964/1966), Eighth Moon: The True Story of a Young Girl's Life in Communist China, reprint, New York: Scholastic, Ch. 9, pp. 120–124. [summary of lectures to cadres on Sino-Soviet split].
  • Prozumenshchikov, Mikhail Yu. "The Sino-Indian Conflict, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Sino-Soviet Split, October 1962: New Evidence from the Russian Archives." Cold War International History Project Bulletin (1996) 8#9 pp. 1996–1997. online

External links