Show and Tell 4

For this module’s Show and Tell project, I wanted to discuss relations between the USSR and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in its early years. The USSR and the PRC were allies from the founding of the PRC in 1949 until the mid-1950’s. According to The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection, when the PRC was founded, “Moscow dispatched thousands of Soviet advisors to assist in the construction of socialist China. In this era of cordial relations with the USSR, Stalinist models were adopted in almost every sphere of Chinese life, including industry, law, education, and art.”1 As the leader of the first socialist country, Stalin wanted to politically and economically influence China in building a new socialist republic. Premier Zhou Enlai and the Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Yanuarevich Vyshinsky signed a “Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Assistance” on February 14, 1950 to make their alliance official.2 This was a few months before the outbreak of the Korean War. 

In this treaty, there are several mentions of a defensive alliance against Japanese imperialism so both countries can be protected after WWII. Its first line is, “Being determined, by strengthening friendship and co-operation between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the People’s Republic of China, jointly to prevent the revival of Japanese imperialism and the repetition of aggression on the part of Japan or any other State that might in any way join with Japan in acts of aggression.”3 Protection from Japanese military aggression was a priority for the governments of both countries, especially since the Chinese had just won a war against Japan after they invaded in the 1930’s. The Soviets and the Chinese promised to send military aid if the other country was attacked by Japan or its allies, and they stated that their goal was to promote peace in East Asia and the rest of the world.4 The treaty also mentioned that the countries would economically assist each other if necessary and “strengthen the economic and cultural ties”5 between them.

Here is a Chinese propaganda poster from 1950 designed by Li Binghong that promotes the Sino-Soviet alliance. It is titled, “The Sino-Soviet Alliance for Friendship and Mutual Assistance promotes enduring world peace.”6

Poster showing Stalin and Mao witth their countries' flags in the background, overlooking a crowd of people dancing. They are surrounded by flowers and fruit. There is a framed picture of a dove in front of them.

In this poster, there are images of Mao and Stalin that are much larger than the drawings of the people celebrating under them. I think it portrays the two leaders as god-like figures who are worshiped by their people. The picture of the dove in the middle is a lithograph drawn by Pablo Picasso that was used during the Paris Peace Conference of 1949,7 and using it in this poster conveys the message that the Sino-Soviet alliance would bring about world peace after World War II. There are fruits and flowers around the border, and I think they symbolize the prosperity that the Sino-Soviet alliance would bring to China. 

The Soviets and the Chinese fought on the same side during the Korean War just a few months after their alliance treaty was signed. The Soviet Union supported communist North Korea and the US supported anti-communist South Korea after World War II. During the war, Chinese volunteer troops arrived in North Korea and pushed American soldiers south after they got close to the Chinese border.8

Divisions between the Soviets and the Chinese started forming when Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), made a speech in 1956 criticizing Stalin. During the 20th Congress, leaders of the CPSU met to discuss the Soviet Union’s future economic development after Stalin’s death. Khrushchev’s “Secret Speech” denouncing Stalin’s crimes caused a lot of controversy among people living in socialist countries because Stalin had established a “cult of personality.”9 Mao was not completely against criticizing Stalin’s mistakes, but he opposed Khrushchev’s decision to not consult with the PRC before denouncing Stalin because it “left all the Communist parties in the world totally unprepared and sowed ideological confusion.”10 Mao was also concerned about the effects of Khrushchev criticizing Stalin’s “cult of personality” because Chinese people became skeptical of how Mao was portraying himself.11 Despite growing tensions, the USSR and the PRC were still allied at this point because in 1956, the CCP assisted the CPSU in putting down uprisings in Hungary and Poland.12 The beginning of conflicts between the USSR and the PRC cannot just be explained by Khrushchev’s 1956 speech.

The USSR was an invaluable ally to the PRC during its early years. The Soviets and the Chinese fought together in the Korean War and promised to give each other economic and military aid if they needed it. However, ideological differences between Mao and Khrushchev in the mid-1950’s began to divide the two countries. By the early 1960’s, they had completely broken off the alliance. 

Bibliography:

Kelly, Martin. “Korean War Essentials.” ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-korean-war-104794 (accessed April 24, 2023).

Shen, Zhihua, and Yafeng Xia. Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945-1959: A New History. The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.

“The Sino-Soviet Alliance for Friendship and Mutual Assistance Promotes Enduring World Peace.” Chineseposters.net. Chinese Posters Foundation. Accessed April 24, 2023. https://chineseposters.net/posters/pc-1950-s-002.

“Treaty with the Soviet Union.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed. Edited by Janet Chen et. al. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014.

  1. “Treaty with the Soviet Union.” In The Search for Modern China: A Documentary Collection. Third ed, Edited by Janet Chen et. al., (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2014), 373.
  2. Chen, The Search For Modern China, 373.
  3. Chen, The Search for Modern China, 374.
  4. Chen, The Search for Modern China, 374
  5. Chen, The Search For Modern China, 375.
  6. “The Sino-Soviet Alliance for Friendship and Mutual Assistance Promotes Enduring World Peace,” Chinese Posters, accessed April 24, 2023, https://chineseposters.net/posters/pc-1950-s-002.
  7. Chinese Posters, “The Sino-Soviet Alliance”
  8. Martin Kelly, “Korean War Essentials,” ThoughtCo, updated May 9, 2019, https://www.thoughtco.com/things-to-know-about-korean-war-104794
  9. Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945-1959: A New History, The Harvard Cold War Studies Book Series, (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015), 144-145.
  10. Shen and Xia, Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 150.
  11. Shen and Xia, Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 150.
  12. Shen and Xia, Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 157.

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