Die Sowjetunion und das kommunistische China 1945-1950: Der beschwerliche Weg zum Bündnis

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Book Review

Die Sowjetunion und das kommunistische China 1945-1950:
Der beschwerliche Weg zum Bündnis

Dieter Heinzig, Die Sowjetunion und das kommunistische China 1945-1950: Der beschwerliche Weg zum Bündnis. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesselschaft, 1998. xix, 710 pp. 148.00 Deutschmarks.

After the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, the Russian government opened some of the former Soviet archives for scholarly research. The status of those archives has been a constant source of frustration ever since. The most important repositories of documents on the Cold War--the Presidential Archive, the foreign intelligence archive, the state security (KGB) archive, and the main archive of the Ministry of Defense--have remained sealed. A handful of other repositories have been relatively open and accommodating, but, even at those archives, nettlesome problems have arisen. Although the partial opening of archives in Moscow has been a welcome change from the complete lack of access during the Communist era, scholars who were hoping that the archives would be fully opened after the demise of the Soviet Union have been sorely disappointed.

For a few select topics, however, the situation has been much more auspicious. The Russian authorities have been willing to release unusually large amounts of sensitive documentation about the Korean War, the Cuban missile crisis, Sino-Soviet relations in the first several years after World War II, and one or two other topics. Scholars focusing on these events have been able to draw on a much greater volume of high-level documentation than is available for other subjects. Many valuable books and articles on the "favored" topics have already been produced, and more are likely to be published soon. Perhaps the best of the studies to appear thus far is Dieter Heinzig's comprehensive survey of Soviet relations with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from 1945 to 1950. Heinzig's book will remain the definitive treatment of the subject for many years to come.

Heinzig has consulted a vast array of declassified Soviet archival materials, published Soviet records, and retrospective accounts by former Soviet officials in both memoirs and interviews. He has benefited greatly from documents released by Sergei Tikhvinskii and Andrei Ledovskii, two long-standing "China hands" in Moscow who were influential advisers during the Soviet era and enjoyed privileged access to closed archives in the 1990s. In addition to relying on new sources from Russia, Heinzig has [End Page 107] made extensive use of available Chinese sources and of many Western sources. Although the archives in Beijing are still sealed to foreign and most Chinese researchers, a large number of important first-hand accounts by former Chinese diplomats and party functionaries have appeared, and some official collections of declassified documents have been published. Moreover, some useful documents have surfaced from Chinese regional archives, which have been more accessible (at least for Chinese researchers) than the repositories in Beijing. Heinzig is well aware of the limits as well as the value of the Soviet and Chinese sources, and he makes judicious use of them, indicating where uncertainty and gaps remain. In writing his book, he has built on and gone well beyond recent works by Chen Jian, Michael Sheng, John Garver, Xue Litai, Sergei Goncharov, Yang Kuisong, Roderick MacFarquhar, Michael Hunt, and others who have drawn on newly available sources. Heinzig carefully points out where and why his own findings and conclusions differ from theirs, and he also takes due account of the secondary literature published in earlier decades, before the East-bloc archives were (partly) opened. The exhaustive research and meticulous weighing of evidence that went into Heinzig's book are truly impressive.

This massive volume--a 653-page text with more than 2,300 footnotes, a twenty-page documentary appendix, and a lengthy bibliography of sources in English, German, Russian, and Chinese--is the capstone to a long and productive scholarly career, which began in the late 1950s. In the late 1960s Heinzig edited the two-volume autobiography of Zhang Kuotao, a senior Chinese Communist official in the 1920s and 1930s who was ousted from the party by Mao Zedong. In the 1970s Heinzig completed an authoritative, detailed study of Soviet military advisers to the Kuomintang in the 1920s, Sowjetische Militärberater bei der Kuomintang, 1923-1927, which was published in 1978 by the same press that has put out his latest book. In addition to these seminal works, Heinzig has produced many other analyses of Chinese politics, Sino-Soviet relations, Chinese foreign policy, and regional security problems in the Pacific Ocean and East Asia.

Die Sowjetunion und das kommunistische China draws on some of Heinzig's earlier research, but it is more sweeping and ambitious than what he has attemped before. Heinzig sets out to trace the "difficult road" (beschwerliche Weg) that led from the Soviet treaty of alliance and friendship with Republican China in August 1945 to the new Soviet treaty of friendship, alliance, and mutual assistance with Communist China in February 1950. To set the scene, Heinzig provides a concise but thorough overview of the emergence of the CCP in the early 1920s (when it was purely a creation of the Soviet Union), the subsequent evolution of the party (a process of "Sinoization," though with pronounced Soviet leanings), the development of Soviet-Kuomintang relations in the 1920s and 1930s, the dual Soviet policy in China during the Japanese occupation and World War II (when the CCP's posture toward Moscow was one of "obedience with reservations"), and the brief "flirtation" between the CCP and the United States in 1944-1945 (when the Chinese Communists were trying to minimize American involvement in China). Heinzig then recounts the civil war that engulfed China after World War II, providing 120 dense pages on the events of 1945-1948. This preliminary material alone is enough to make for a very useful book, but [End Page 108] the analysis becomes even more exhaustive when Heinzig turns to the central focus of his study--namely, the decisive events of 1949 and early 1950, when the Chinese Communists achieved final victory in the civil war and, after considerable delay, signed a security treaty with the Soviet Union. Heinzig's fascinating account of this brief but momentous period, which he divides into two chapters totaling some 420 pages, is remarkable in its breadth, circumspection, attentiveness to detail, and eloquence.

Heinzig's findings and conclusions, buttressed by reams of evidence, are in some instances fully compatible with those of previous studies. Like Chen Jian, Michael Sheng, and a number of other scholars, Heinzig persuasively debunks the "revisionist" claim that the United States had a "lost chance" to win the CCP over to its side in 1944, 1947, or 1949. Mao and other Chinese Communist leaders, as Heinzig shows, were never interested in alignment or friendship with the United States and wanted only to undercut (or at least offset) American support for the Kuomintang. Heinzig's analysis of the Chinese civil war confirms the findings of recent studies that have highlighted the importance of Soviet backing for the CCP, contrary to Mao's later assertions. Although the Soviet Union in 1945 established a formal alliance with the Kuomintang and strongly advised the CCP not to resume its drive for all-out power, Heinzig refutes Mao's subsequent claim that Moscow neglected and impeded the Chinese Communists during the civil war. Josif Stalin's "double game" in China was obviously not what Mao would have liked, but it made eminent sense from Moscow's perspective. Stalin had planned all along to facilitate the CCP's rise to power in Manchuria, and he steadily expanded the level of Soviet aid to the CCP as the war in China progressed and it became clear that the Kuomintang government was more vulnerable than Stalin initially assumed. During the decisive stages of the fighting, Soviet military supplies to the CCP--as Heinzig shows--proved crucial. Heinzig also puts to rest another myth purveyed in later years by Mao, who alleged that Stalin had urged the CCP to "stop at the Yangzi" in early 1949 rather than pressing on to gain control over the whole of China. Heinzig finds no credible evidence to support Mao's post-hoc contention, and he marshals a plethora of evidence that contravenes it.

On many other issues as well, Heinzig breaks valuable new ground. He shows, even more convincingly than others have, that Soviet policy toward China was strongly influenced by Stalin's assessment of U.S. intentions and motives. The Soviet leader was determined to avoid any steps vis-à-vis China that would provoke a direct military clash with the United States. According to Heinzig, Stalin's disinclination to risk war with the United States largely accounted for his unwillingness to invite Mao to Moscow during the civil war, despite Mao's persistent requests. Only after it became clear in 1949 that the United States would not intervene to prevent the CCP from coming to power was Stalin willing to contemplate such a visit. Heinzig's account of the secret missions by high-ranking Soviet and CCP officials in the first half of 1949--the talks held by Anastas Mikoyan at the CCP's headquarters in Xibaipo in February and the visit by Liu Shaoqi to Moscow five months later--draws on a wealth of largely untapped materials. New documentation also enriches Heinzig's discussion [End Page 109] of events that followed the establishment of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in October 1949. Of particular note is his 200-page chapter on Mao's long-awaited sojourn in Moscow from mid-December 1949 through mid-February 1950 and the tortured negotiations that produced the Sino-Soviet security treaty, the main text of which was finally signed on 14 February 1950. (Secret protocols to the treaty were signed in March and April 1950.) Heinzig meticulously sifts through huge amounts of archival material and first-hand accounts to reconstruct what happened. He shows that many of the issues in dispute between Moscow and Beijing in 1950 were the same ones that arose during the Soviet-Kuomintang treaty negotiations in 1945.

In contrast to scholars who have played up the ideological bonds between the Soviet Union and Communist China, Heinzig finds that the evidence is more conducive to a power politics interpretation. He maintains that the "traditional national interests" of the two sides ultimately shaped their behavior. In support of this claim Heinzig emphasizes the points of contention between Moscow and the CCP from the 1920s on, and he argues in his concluding chapter that the roots of the Sino- Soviet split of the 1960s lay in the differences that emerged during the Stalin era. Perhaps this is so, but Heinzig may well overstate his case here. In retrospect, the link between the earlier differences and the bitter rift of the 1960s may seem stronger than it actually was. It would have been impossible to achieve identical views on all issues in the 1930s and 1940s. Heinzig tends to exaggerate the importance of some of the divergences. (He is not alone in this regard. In recent years a number of Western scholars have been surprised when archival materials revealed that the Soviet Union and its allies did not always view things identically and did not necessarily approach every issue the same way. Why anyone would find this surprising is unclear.)

It has long been known--well before the archives opened--that Soviet and CCP leaders did not always see eye-to-eye, but what is striking is that the lingering disagreements did not inhibit the PRC from staunchly allying itself with the Soviet Union from 1949 through the early to mid-1950s. So determined was Mao to consolidate the alliance that he not only stayed in Moscow for two months and put up with Stalin's rude treatment, but also accepted what from China's standpoint was a less than ideal treaty. (Later on, some former Chinese officials insisted that the PRC had achieved all it wanted in the Moscow negotiations. Heinzig conclusively rebuts these assertions by analyzing and reproducing the relevant documents, which indicate that important concessions were made by both sides, particularly by the Chinese.) Heinzig is undoubtedly justified in arguing that a Sino-Soviet alliance was not a foregone conclusion (the same is true of most things in life), and he rightly eschews the excessive emphasis that some scholars have accorded to ideology. Nonetheless, he is wont to underestimate the role of ideological affinity in Mao's decision to ally China so closely with the Soviet Union for several years.

These minor problems in no way detract from the richness of Heinzig's elaborately documented volume, which sets a standard for all future studies of Sino-Soviet relations and the Cold War in general. Despite the formidable obstacles to archival research [End Page 110] in Moscow and Beijing, this book demonstrates the magnitude of what can be accomplished with the materials now available.

Reviewed by Mark Kramer, Harvard University

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