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Question: How far did the relationship between China and the Soviet Union change between 1917-62?
In the years 1911-62, there were many changes to China’s relationship with the Soviet Union. The change came in terms of who they supported, at first it was the GMD but they changed and supported the CCP. The relationship developed even further when Khrushchev offered help to Mao to make China a communist state. However, there was also continuity as their relationship dwindled when Mao began suspecting Khrushchev of being a revisionist.
Initially, the Soviet Union mainly supported the GMD but were also open to helping the CCP out. They supported the GMD as their ideals of the Three Principles of People were rooted in ideas of equality, similar to the Soviet Union’s ideas. The CCP at the time was extremely small so the Comintern encouraged the CCP to become a group within the GMD and also funded them US$5000 a year which the CCP could not turn down. The Soviet Union helped the United Front (between GMD and CCP) extensively during the Northern Expedition where Comintern advisers Alfred Joffe organised negotiations and Mikhail Borodin organised the GMD with a powerful central leadership and acquired lots of arms. This showed that the Soviet Union was willing to help out China to become a communist state.
The relationship changed during the CCP’s struggle against the GMD where the Soviet Union began supporting the CCP more. Chiang kai-shek dismissed the Comintern advisers nearer to the end of the Northern Expedition where he started to launch the Shanghai massacre and extermination campaign. From here, Comintern began supporting the CCP instead as they realised the GMD were increasingly capitalist. However, there was still continuity as after the Long March, the Soviet Union still recognised the GMD as the legal government. The Soviet Union sent planes to assist the GMD to fight against Japan during WW2, showing that they still supported both the GMD and CCP’s efforts. Moreover, in spring of 1949 Stalin told Mao during the Chinese civil war that he should be happy just controlling northern China. This made Mao begin his suspicions that the Soviet Union were not genuinely trying to help China.
A big change during the Five Year Plans (1st Five year Plan and Great Leap Forward) where the relations flourished China increasingly relied on the Soviet Union to draw on their knowledge to create a communist state. During the Treaty of Friendship, Alliance and Mutual Assistance, China was given a loan of US$300 million, and provided 10,000 military and economic advisers to help China during the Great Leap Forward. In 1954, Khrushchev offered a generous trade package and promised to help China with its nuclear programme. 10,000 Soviet advisers travelled to China where they helped select the Lop Nur Salt Lake for nuclear testing and build the first heavy-water reactor. 11,000 Chinese specialists and 1000 scientists travelled to the Soviet Union to train in new technology. However, there was still continuity as Mao still suspected that Stalin wanted to weaken China to become the leading communist country, and blamed Stalin for the high price China had to pay for the salaries of the advisers and the Soviet weapons to supply its troops in the Korean war. Therefore while the Great Leap Forward showed that the Soviet Union were willing to help China, there were inconsistencies with the prices that China had to pay.
Towards the end of the Great Leap Forward, relations between China and the Soviet Union changed drastically as Mao and Khrushchev’s relationship soured, leading to the Sino-Soviet Split. In 1956, Khrushchev denounced the cult of Stalin and similar criticism could be directed at the cult of Mao. In 1959, Khrushchev called the Great Leap Forward a foolish scheme. He retracted all scientists and engineers and destroyed nuclear documents. Here, Mao’s suspicions were confirmed as he now thought that the Soviet Union was becoming revisionist and betrayed the communist movement entirely.
Ultimately, the relationship between the Soviet Union and China fluctuated greatly. It could be argued that change was extensive as the Soviet Union changed who they supported in China - at first they mainly supported the GMD, but changed sides to support the CCP through the civil war and Great Leap Forward. On the other hand, it could be argued that change was limited because Mao had always been suspicious that the Soviet Union was revisionist and wanted to weaken China (suspicions of Stalin and Khrushchev’s denouncement). In conclusion, it could appear that there were large changes in the relationship between the Soviet Union and China, but it could also be argued that the Soviet Union never fully supported China.