China and Russia

Peking and Moscow

by Klaus Mehnert
Putnam, 522 pp., $6.95

Escape from Red China

by Robert Loh, as told to Humphrey Evans
Coward-McCann, 384 pp., $5.75

The Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union…cannot share the views of the Chinese leadership about the creation ‘of a thousand times higher civilization’ on the corpses of hundreds of millions of people.”

Communist Party of the Soviet Union, July 14, 1963

The leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union has allied itself with United States Imperialism, the Indian reactionaries and the renegade Tito clique against socialist China and against all Marxist-Leninist parties, in open betrayal of Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism…”

Communist Party of China, September 6, 1963


The partnership of Peking and Moscow has failed, I believe, for two major reasons. First, China desperately needs great capital assistance for economic development. This assistance Russia has consistently refused to supply. Second, China has wished to make militant opposition to “United States imperialism” the keystone of the world strategy of the partnership. Russia has temporized, wavered and eventually rejected this Grand Design.

The Khrushchev leadership in the USSR may believe that much of the world can be won for “the socialist camp,” in the long run, by the attractions of future Soviet economic achievements. Even if it believes nothing of the kind, this Russian leadership is disposed to concentrate, for the present, on becoming rich in goods, while engaging some stakes, involving limited risks, in the competitions of world politics. The Maoist leadership, on the other hand, has demonstrated outstanding capacity in training infantry but not in producing rice. Its potential of capital accumulation is too meager to make a long rivalry in world economic competition at all attractive. This leadership strains for a Great Leap Forward and dreams that, if such a Great Leap might only once succeed, China would pass out of constriction into freedom.

The partnership founders on inequality and the absence of community. China wants much from Russia. But the Russians would be content if the Chinese would quietly lie down and die.


On October 1, 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed, the population of mainland China was perhaps 535 million. Now it is probably in the general area of 730 million. The fourteen-year increase is about equal to the total population of the United States. And the overwhelming majority of these 730 million live, still today, in the borderland where hunger fronts on starvation. Fragmentary information suggests some improvements in food supplies since the worst days of 1960-61. It is less well known that China is now straining her pitiful foreign exchange resources to purchase more grain abroad in 1963 than ever before. Such grain purchases—all from non-Communist countries—totalled 5,715,000 metric tons in 1961 and 4,750,000 in 1962; commitments for 1963 shipment now exceed 6,100,000 metric tons.

Mao was acutely aware of China’s need for foreign aid even before he took power in Peking. He then conducted a polemic against the comrades who said China could go it alone. In April 1949 he warned them that the speed of China’s economic construction would depend partly on “…the support of the working class of the countries of the world and chiefly the support of the Soviet Union…” Again in June 1949 he rebuked those who said, “Victory is possible even without international help.” He responded flatly, “This is a mistaken idea.” He looked for “genuine and friendly help” to “the anti-imperialist front headed by the Soviet Union.”

After taking power, Mao spent the winter of 1949-50 in Moscow. There he received from Stalin, in financial assistance for economic development, practically nothing. In this, the death of Stalin and the rise of Khrushchev made no change. Perhaps the Russians paid for some of the munitions used in the Korean war—to which the Chinese, for their part, contributed an American-estimated 900,000 casualties. Until the summer of 1960, thousands of Russian technicians did serve in China, though at Chinese expense. The Russians apparently made a gift of many thousands of blueprints. Otherwise they made no capital grants. They sold goods for money. And of credits, for economic development, it is unlikely that the maximum capital sum outstanding (including both formal loans and trade deficits) ever amounted to as much as two dollars per capita of China’s population. Even a Maoist finds it difficult to build a brave new life with two dollars. In reduction of previously outstanding debts. China exported to the USSR, in the seven years 1956 through 1962, according to Russian official figures, more than $1.1 billion more of goods than China imported from the USSR. To satisfy these debts, China exported food to Russia even in the years 1960-62, when most Chinese lived close to starvation.

In October 1961, Chou En-lai was privileged to be a guest in Moscow at the Congress which adopted the new Party Program of the Soviet Union. In that lengthy program of a fraternal Party, together with one bland sentence on China, he could read:

In the current decade (1961-1970) the Soviet Union will surpass the strongest and richest capitalist country, the U.S.A., in production per head of population;…everyone will live in easy circumstances:…hard physical work will disappear; the U.S.S.R. will have the shortest working day.

The statement is false: no competent person can believe that, by 1970, the Soviet Union will surpass the U.S.A. in production per capita. And yet, what a bitter contrast with China! Chou came from a country which had barely averted mass starvation. In China, people were named heroes for working night and day—sleeping in the fields or at the work bench. What to him was this talk of Russian “easy circumstances” and of their “shortest working day”? What would there be in all this for China? On the record, nothing.


For nine years, Peking reported—and, I think, believed—that Communist China was making unprecedented economic progress. In this reporting, it was seconded by the plaudits of Simone de Beauvoir, of Joan Robinson, of C.P. Snow and of similar voices from the West. Then came five years of acknowledged reverses, errors, “shortening of the front,” calamities. In the first period, the belief in achieved progress dulled the edge of Chinese resentment over Russian niggardliness. But not so in the conflict of world political strategies. There the clash came much earlier. Indeed it would be possible to argue that, in broad world policy, the Chinese have never moved. Only the Russians have considered, then probed, reviewed, shifted, reconsidered, and changed.

A statement made by Mao in November 1948 will do service as an epitome of his policy in 1963. This 1948 statement will also serve as a summary both of the justly famous Chinese editorial of December 31, 1962 (“The Differences Between Comrade Togliatti And Us”) and of the decisive letter (of June 14, 1963) from the Chinese party to the Russian party. The 1948 document carries a title adequate for all three Maoist pronouncements: “Revolutionary Forces Of The World Unite, Fight Against Imperialist Aggression!” At that time Mao already said:

Since the victory of World War II, U.S. imperialism and its running dogs in various countries have taken the place of fascist Germany, Italy and Japan and are frantically preparing a new world war and menacing the whole world; this reflects the utter decay of the capitalist world and its fear of imminent doom. This enemy still has strength; therefore, all the revolutionary forces of all countries must likewise unite, must form an anti-imperialist front headed by the Soviet Union and follow correct policies; otherwise, victory will be impossible. This enemy has a weak and fragile foundation, he is disintegrating internally,…he can be defeated. It will be a very great mistake to overestimate the enemy’s strength and underestimate the strength of the revolutionary forces.

That is what Mao has been telling the Russians for fifteen years. “Imperialism is weak. U.S. imperialism is its one citadel. The Revolution is strong! The Soviet Union is the Revolution’s historic leader.’ Be of good cheer! Lead the assault. We will follow.” But the Russians—and particularly Khrushchev’s Russians—were not of the stuff of Mao’s dreams.

Even the characteristic clichés of Maoist world policy are more than fifteen years old. In August 1945, he wrote, “U.S. imperialism while outwardly strong is inwardly weak.” At the same time, “Can atom bombs decide wars? No, they can’t.” A year later came the famous phrase, “All reactionaries are paper tigers.” Then also, “The atom bomb is a paper tiger which the U.S. reactionaries use to scare people.” And in January 1948 Mao named as the first “erroneous tendency” in the Chinese party “fear of U.S. imperialism.” So, in the years before the formal birth of the People’s Republic of China, a view of the world political contest had been developed. Friends and enemies had been named. The foundation for the later Chinese “Hate America!” creed had been laid. Mao’s strategy of world politics had been formulated.

It was the great misfortune of the Peking-Moscow partnership—otherwise it might still be in moderate good health—that it blundered decisively at birth. (Whose the fault, we do not know.) The irretrievable error was to attack Korea before Formosa. Truman and Acheson had already declared U.S. neutrality in the Chinese civil war. The U.S. would not then have opposed Mao’s blow at Chiang. The attack on Formosa would undoubtedly have succeeded. Once finished with Chiang, Peking would have been the capital of all China. Its claim to China’s seat in the United Nations would have been without a challenger. Then would have been time enough to proceed with mediatizing or subverting puny neighbors.

But the aggression in Korea brushed all those opportunities aside. American policy on east Asia was reversed. The United States rearmed, so that by 1953 American military expenditure was greater than any nation had previously spent on armament during peace. The United States did indeed now set a policy of “containing” Chinese offensives. In time, this United States policy became more and more comprehensive. Its decisive step was from Korea and Formosa to Vietnam. And the Russians never agreed to a direct clash with the United States for China’s sake. The Russians gave Mao only rhetorical support in the two probes (1954-55 and 1958) of what were now Formosan-American defenses. It was in this theater that the Chinese may have first hoped to use a few little Russian-designed nuclear bombs. And it was probably in fear of just such a use, as I suspect the archives will one day show, that the Russians first temporized, then promised, then qualified, then withdrew an offer to supply their Chinese partner the technology of nuclear weapons. This sequence—of promising, then qualifying (possibly through newly stipulating Russian control over nuclear warheads), then withdrawing—seems to have run 1957, 1958, 1959. The Russians may well have felt themselves safer with the quiescent American enemy than with the adventurous Chinese partner. And just that was the rub.

Vietnam, Laos, India, Cuba, de-Stalinization, Tito, Hoxha—all these are repetitions, details, and the working out of consequences. The summer of 1960 saw one climax in these consequences, when the Russians straightforwardly denounced the Chinese, in international communist circles, for rigid revolutionary militancy, and the Chinese responded with charges of Russian yielding to passive bourgeois reformism. The Russians then pulled their experts out of China and began to cut the supply of capital equipment to the bone. But the first great public climax in these tensions—where the attitude to conciliation of the United States was the decisive issue, implicating all else—came, with appropriate pantomine, at Moscow in July 1963. What a pantomine indeed was enacted in those July days when Khrushchev, in the Kremlin, was slapping Harriman on the shoulder, in warm congratulation, while Suslov was escorting a tight-lipped, failed mission of Chinese comrades to their departure!


Robert Loh, assisted by Humphrey Evans, has written a little book which illumines much of what was going on within Communist China from September 1949 through June 1957. It is perhaps the most valuable account we have, for those years, of things that can now be known only from direct experience. Loh was not so high-placed as another who has reported, Chou Ching-wen, nor is he so learned and reflective as Mu Fu-sheng. But, of what is to be known only through personal acquaintance, he tells us more than they. His is also a brightly written book. I wish a million copies could be distributed in the United States.

Loh was born in 1924 to prosperous parents who lived in Shanghai. After World War II, he did graduate study in political science at the University of Wisconsin. In September 1949, he returned to mainland China, against the advice of his father and friends, who had moved to Hongkong. He reports his mind:

Academically, I disapproved of Communism, but I actively disliked the Nationalists…Our only choice was to back a reactionary regime which had never proven adequate and now was defeated, or to believe in the promises of a new regime whose power was paramount. This was not really a choice at all, and my sympathies began to turn toward the Communists.

In mainland China, Loh became a university instructor. Shanghai businessmen told him Mao would take twenty-five years to come to the threshold of socialism. Loh seems also to have lived in a fog of self-delusion for about twenty months. The comrades took him to a land reform lynching-bee. He observed missionary teachers being arrested as spies. And he was marched day-long in parades against American imperialism. But it was only after April 1951, with the opening of the Campaign for Suppression of Counter-Revolutionaries (directed against former Kuomintang associates), that he began to understand the goals and methods of Communist action. He watched truckloads of people being taken out to be shot. He saw a friend who had worked for the Kuomintang in the United States, and had voluntarily returned to work in Communist China, sentenced to death through labor reform. He found himself confronted with the alternatives of denouncing former friends or dying with them. Then he gave up the academic career and took the safer one of a manager of flour mills. He also determined to leave China as soon as possible.

After October 1949, when Communist rule was unchallenged, the Maoist leadership set out methodically to accomplish its counterpart of the Stalin purges of the 1930’s. But Mao had a great advantage over Stalin. All his purges were—like the Stalin purge of the Russian Army—entirely anticipatory. And Mao did not need to purge the Party itself, in any major way: in Chinese communism, he was a Lenin who had survived to do the work of Stalin. Those groups were marked out for preventive therapy who might, one day, cause trouble. These included landowners, former Kuomintang members, persons educated abroad, capitalists, former government officials, former trade union officials, and intellectuals—as well as their relatives, friends and associates. Was this blood so innocent? Let it be shed to cement the revolution! Many hundreds of thousands were accordingly executed, more or less at random. Loh reports Mao to have said in 1957 that the number of counter-revolutionaries executed “was not much greater than 700,000.” Were they not all class enemies? The remainder were required to occupy themselves accusing those executed, particularly the closest—a husband, a father, a teacher, an intimate friend. Anybody who failed to accuse promptly was marked down for subsequent attention. No person would emerge alive who, when charged with political wrong by high authority of Party or State, persistently asserted his innocence of any wrongdoing deserving punishment. Large numbers of second-line wrongdoers were sentenced to labor reform, where a term beyond two years (most counter-revolutionaries got ten) was regarded as a lingering death sentence. In all, some millions of people were probably done to death, and the whole population was converted to submissiveness.

Loh became a fellow-traveller. Eventually, had he remained in China, he would have become a Communist. During the Five-Anti Campaign (directed against business), he had his turn at confessing acts of wrongdoing obligingly supplied by his accusers. Emerging successfully from this test, he became a bigshot. He was elected to public offices, gave official lectures to other businessmen, and was a member of the first Chinese “tourist” delegation to the USSR. He was included in a meeting of eighty businessmen with Comrade Mao. He had special duties as a stage manager for the reception and deception of foreign guests. With one foot in private business and the other in public duties, he could observe both Communist labor management and the “peaceful transformation of capitalism into socialism.”

The one thing hard to accept in the picture Loh reports is the extent of dissimulation. He insists that a great deal was mere role playing. For example, he says practically none of the businessmen believed themselves guilty of the crimes to which they confessed, and the Communists knew the businessmen did not believe these things. Disbelief did not matter so long as one walked submissively, in fear and trembling, and kept up the show that one did believe. Again, with respect to a very important course on Communism, in 1956, he concludes: “I am also safe in saying that every student who attended the whole course graduated less convinced about Communism than when he began.” He reports that ordinary industrial workers understood the significance of the Hungarian revolt and threatened the Chinese Communists with like treatment. (When the Chinese government then pressed the Russian government to send its army into Budapest, the Chinese were presumably responding also to their own rebellious elements.) And Loh argues that the Hundred Flowers episode of May-June 1957 showed unmistakably that, in every level of society, the Chinese of that day were too intelligent to believe the Communist hogwash which they mechanically intoned when in fear of destitution or death. If so, they were indeed very resistant. Loh reports that, under the regime of 1951-57, it was a rare Chinese of his acquaintance who knew two people to whom he dared speak his full mind. Under such total isolation how long can sane skepticism maintain itself?


Klaus Mehnert has given us a book of long perspective on the Peking-Moscow relationships. He is a distinguished West German scholar, editor and publicist, who has the advantage of having spent a total of five years in the USSR and five years in China, at various times since 1906. Those who have read his Soviet Man And His World will know that he can write well and even with picturesque charm, especially where he has face-to-face acquaintance. Moreover, he is always a conscientious, trustworthy guide; these are great qualities, particularly where the reader, who is no expert, is to go on so wide a tour. He takes the reader back, for a brief perspective, to Confucian society and to fifteenth-century Moscow. Then he comes forward swiftly to the two peoples as they are today, to their respective post-revolutionary societies, and to their subsequent relationships of neighborhood and rivalry. Mehnert does not stretch evidence. He is also a very learned man, as his Peking and Moscow testifies. Its 454 pages of text are supported by 58 pages of notes and bibliography—some 1,100 notes in all. There is also a useful index. With all that, the book makes pleasant reading. Its origin in a translation from the German is not obtrusive. At its best, the book is delightful. The author carries his learning easily. His is a thoughtful, informative treatment. I hope it will have many American readers.

The reservations I nevertheless have about this book may be condensed into three. First, Mehnert observes the liberty of a guide who has standing and authority. He takes us where he finds it interesting to go, and when our journeying with him is done we have been to many important places. But he breaks off somewhat as suits his fancy. And, in the end, we are not convinced he has followed a systematic plan. Second, he describes better than he reasons. He poses large historical questions which would tax the resources of a Tocqueville or a Maitland, but he does not pursue these questions and articulate them. We are promised a great vista, then snatched away after having been enriched only with a sigh. Third, Mehnert lingers on the long reaches of time to the relative neglect of most recent developments. He defines his theme as “China’s relationship with the Soviet Union.” But he has not attempted a sequential, proportioned narrative of the recent history of that relationship. It is perhaps unwise that he has been induced to date his English preface July 15, 1963. He does not provide an adequate account of the great exchanges of programs and recriminations that took place between December 31, 1962 and July 14, 1963.

My own impulse, after reading Mehnert’s book, is to proceed somewhat as I did as a child when offered raisin bread: I picked out the raisins and left the bread. Here the bread of larger structural analysis and reasoning is not extraordinary. But there are many raisins, and they are so tasty! I instance Mehnert’s description, in the first chapter, of Chinese modes of valuing and thinking, particularly where the thinking is illustrated by Mehnert’s own Shanghal experience as an editor. I have never seen this subject so sharply illumined in a few pages. A second example, from Chapter VI, is Mehnert’s portrayal of the pretended voluntary surrender of most of their property by the Chinese “national bourgeoisie.” How effectively the author’s general knowledge, drawn from printed materials, is sharpened even by one Communist-supervised interview with a Mr. Shao in China in 1957! Again, as an example of Mehnert at his best, I would cite almost the whole of his Chapter X, “Both Sides Of The Longest Frontier.” (Only the subsection on population and agriculture requires the courtesy of oblivion.) This brilliant tour goes from Vladivostok to Tibet. And the reader who wishes to understand the position of Mongolia in world affairs will, I believe, learn far more from these few pages of Mehnert than from the whole of the recent travelogue of Owen Lattimore.

Typical omissions and commissions. In Chapter V, “…Stalin…delivered up the proletariat to the power of the State, and turned the labor unions from representatives of the workers’ interests into mere tools of State and Party.” This is Leninist mythology: Lenin had done it before Stalin. In Chapter VII, “The Troublesome Intellectuals,” the narrative is thin on the Russian side; the decade since Stalin’s death gets only a few sentences. In Chapter VIII, “The Party And Its Style,” there is much suggestive material on the respective styles but nothing about what the Party does, in either country. In Chapter XIII Mehnert laboriously demolishes the straw man that Peking viewed the Hungarian revolt more favorably than Moscow. The issue is the opposite. Did only Chinese pushing overcome Russian hesitations about using their army against Nagy?

In Chapter XVI, Mehnert asks why the Chinese are more ready for militant action, which may result in war, than the Russians. He concludes:

The inhabitants of the Soviet Union, who have begun more and more to enjoy the pleasures of prosperity and have moved by the millions into their long-awaited flats, look at the prospect of a destructive war in quite a different light from the Chinese, the majority of whom have little more to lose than their harrassed and unhappy lives.

Without undue moralising, I confess I find this conclusion obtuse and quite unworthy of the author. Is it really true that a prosperous man (with a flat) values his life more than a poor man (without a flat)? And, if this were true, what difference would it make? Not that “the inhabitants” of the USSR or “the majority” of Chinese were involved in these greater or lesser belligerencies but only, in each case, a handful of authoritarian leaders.

In one of his several long vistas, all of which have a family resemblance, Mehnert tells us that “the Russian” is endowed with “…a dynamic impulse toward the Absolute; it was this that shaped the type of man capable of religious devotion and boundless self-sacrifice, without which Communism’s secular doctrine of salvation cannot exist either.” The Chinese, on the other hand, is materialistic and practical, “having a marked preoccupation with this world.” And Mehnert concludes, “For this reason it will not be easy for Mao and his followers to maintain the revolutionary impetus of the early days…” But, some hundreds of pages later, Mehnert is telling us that it is the Russians who wish to concentrate on materialistic accumulation, while the Chinese are more interested in the Messianic task of world revolution. What then is the explanatory value of the earlier formulation?

And what of policy? I shall follow Chinese number-worship and call Mehnert’s a policy of two banners. One may be inscribed NATO and the other The Beacon Of Light Unto The Gentiles. For the first banner Mehnert says:

Of more lasting effect, however, in the relations between the two Red powers than even the most active policy on the part of the West would be the continuous manifestation of the West’s own strength, Should it show itself to be weak, undecided and disunited, it would confirm Mao’s image of it as a “paper tiger.” This would remove one of the most serious differences of opinion between Peking and Moscow, and one could then await the day when the two Red powers would combine to overthrow the “decadent West” and divide up the globe between them.

And for The Beacon Of Light, Mehnert contributes:

In the final analysis it all depends on whether the West succeeds in developing its own way of life to the point where its spiritual freedom and richness, its social justice, its assured prosperity, its willingness to assist other nations, its moral standards and its tolerance, will one day exert an irresistible attraction on all the people of the earth, including those of China and the Soviet Union.

So much study, so much travel, so much learning, and such ordinary fruit! It is enough to make one despair of scholarship.

What Mehnert advocates amounts to holding fast to the policies of the 1950’s, while uttering mellifluous words. And to reject this particular abdication of initiative is the peculiar responsibility, in this generation, of Americans. Mao would never have broken with Khrushchev—and the initiative toward an open break has always been Chinese—over the downgrading of Stalin, or communes, or even the indulgence of Titoist variations. The break might not have come at all if the USSR had atoned for what Mao regarded as a defeatist world policy by generous fraternal participation in carrying the tremendous load of Chinese economic development. But, in the end, the break came on the great issue, the Russian failure of militancy in opposing the devil—U.S. imperialism. And it is just because the core of Maoist world policy is militant opposition to the United States that this peculiar responsibility falls on Americans.

Mao has been so stupid as to proclaim that he is not afraid of the United States. The appropriate American response, in the little world of this generation, is to acknowledge to ourselves that we certainly are afraid of China—afraid of what China may become, of what China may do. And the great opportunity presented by the conclusion of a nuclear test treaty is not primarily the search for further reasonable accommodation with the USSR—in itself highly desirable—but rather the reopening of a search for conciliation with China. This course means to desist immediately from trying to hem China in when she negotiates an air transportation agreement with Pakistan or a trade arrangement with Japan. It means to try, over and over again, to convince the Chinese that they can live with the American devils, and the American devils will not stand across the path of their living. In this effort of conciliation, sustained initiative cannot be with China, which is weak, poor, and miserable. It must be with the United States, which is strong and rich and can be rationally self-confident.