China and the USSR



At first, China's relations with the USSR were close – they had to be, since China was weak, and the USSR was the only friendly world power.

By the late 1950s, however, relations had become strained, and even broke out in open warfare in 1969.


The following websites will help you complete the task:


Sino-Soviet Relations:
Narrative account



Why China forged close relations with the USSR, 1949-57

a.  Soviet Communism

The USSR was the world’s first communist state, and Mao always recognised its unique place in history, and in communism; in the early years of the PRC, the USSR was China’s model for development

b.  China needed Soviet economic aid

Mao had no experience of industrialisation, and no resources for it, so in 1949, he signed the Treaty of Friendship; the Soviets sent experts, aid and loans – though Mao was later to feel that he had been exploited

c.  Fear of the USA

Especially in the early years of the PRC, Mao feared a US invasion to re-establish Chiang Kai-shek, and he needed the support of the USSR as a deterrent

d.  Support in the United Nations

In the UN, the USA recognised Taiwan as the legitimate government of China – only the USSR supported the cause of the PRC

e.  Korea, 1950

In the Korean War, China and the USSR both supported North Korea, though the cost to China was much greater, and Mao was later to feel that he had been exploited


Treaty of Friendship, Dec 1949

a.  $300m loans and aid

Though 95% of the Soviet money was in the form of loans, at a high rate of interest, plus the PRC was forced to send a substantial portion of its bullion reserves to the USSR

b.  20,000 experts

Though the USSR did not supply its 20,000 economic experts free; the PRC had to pay for them. Also Soviet ‘experts’ did not give independent advice, they imposed Soviet ideology … some of their advice (e.g. Lysenkoism) was rubbish

c.  80,000 students

The Soviets agreed to receive and train Chinese students to study science and technology in Russia

d.  Dalian and Lushun ports

China ceded to the USSR use of two ports – Dalian and Lushun – in Manchuria

e.  Xinjiang mineral rights

China ceded mineral rights in Xinjiang to the USSR


Korean War, 1950-53

a.  Kim Il Sung, Jun 1950

In 1949, Kim Il Sung asked permission of Stalin and Mao to attack South Korea, which he did in June 1950; the UN sent troops to defend South Korea

b.  People’s Volunteers, Nov 1950

By November 1950, the UN/US army under MacArthur had almost reached the Chinese border; after two warnings, 200,000 Chinese troops ('People's Volunteers') attacked – they had modern weapons supplied by Russia

c.  Human Wave tactics, Dec 1950

In December 1950, 500,000 more Chinese troops entered the war, drove the Americans back (using costly 'human wave tactics'); they advanced into South Korea, but the Americans fought back to the 38th parallel

d.  Chinese losses and resentment

The Chinese admitted to losing 390,000 men dead, modern sources put the figure at nearly a million casualties; Mao resented that the Soviets did not commit men and made the Chinese pay for all the weapons they supplied

e.  Panmunjong Truce, 1953

Only Stalin's influence was keeping China in the war; within a month of his death in 1953, the Chinese had signed a truce to end the fighting


Why did China break with the USSR?

a.  Mao’s Moscow visit, 1949

Stalin treated Mao badly on his first visit to Moscow, housing him in a poor villa with no facilities

b.  Treaty of Friendship, 1950

Mao came to resent the high cost the Treaty of Friendship and came to believe that China had been exploited by the USSR

c.  Korean War, 1950-53

Mao came to resent the high cost of the war to China and came to believe that China had been exploited by the USSR

d.  Ideological differences, 1957

At the Moscow Conference in 1957, Mao disagreed forcefully with Khrushchev’s policy of peaceful coexistence; Khrushchev called the Great Leap Forward ‘harebrained’

e.  Khrushchev’s Beijing visit, 1958

When Khrushchev went to Beijing to try to repair relations, Mao put him in a poor hotel without air-conditioning, and humiliated him by insisting on holding the talks in a swimming pool (Khrushchev could not swim)


China’s relations with the USSR, 1959-69

a.  Taiwan, 1958

Mao prepared an invasion of Taiwan, but had to back down when the USSR refused to offer even moral support

b.  Albania, 1961

When the Albanian government refused to obey Moscow, the USSR withdrew its financial support; Mao stepped in and gave the Albanians money and technical aid

c.  Moscow Conference, 1961

The Chinese walked out of the Conference over Albania; Khrushchev called Mao an ‘Asian Hitler’, Mao called him ‘a useless old boot’

d.  Sino-Indian War, 1962

When a border war broke out between India and China, the USSR gave fighter-planes to the Indians

e.  Sino-Soviet Confrontation, 1969

In 1969 there was a series of Sino-Soviet border clashes; China and the USSR reoriented their nuclear missiles away from the USA and at each other



In 1976, Kenneth G Lieberthal – an American scholar who became a Professor at Michigan University 1983-2009 – analysed Long Live Mao Zedong's Thought (the selected writings of Mao Zedong).
Read the following passage (his abstract of his conclusions) and write answers to the questions which follow:

Kenneth G. Lieberthal, Mao Tse-Tung's Perception of the Soviet Union, 1976
The analysis of these documents reveals that Mao's core assumptions about the Soviet system changed dramatically during 1958-1962.
•  In 1955 Mao regarded the Soviets as a model for building socialism, if one to be evaluated critically.
•  In 1958 he stated that China would continue to learn much from the Soviet experience, but must take a selective approach to applying this experience.
•  In the fall of 1959 Mao stressed that it was intolerable to allow foreign Communist parties to meddle in Chinese Communist Party affairs.
•  During 1960 he hinted at concern about a Soviet armed attack.
•  In 1962 Mao claimed that the USSR had now become a reactionary fascist dictatorship.
By 1964 Mao introduced a new element into his analysis: referring to the threatening posture of colluding imperialist and revisionist forces, he mentioned a potential nuclear strike against China.  Thus he recognized the military threat posed by the USSR, although Moscow's large-scale troop and weapons deployments did not begin until 1965.

How useful is this passage for an historian who wants to study the history of Mao Zedong's relations with the Soviet Union?

Explain why Mao initially sought close relations with the Soviet Union.

Explain why relations between China and the Soviet Union broke down.