After Leaning to One Side: China and Its Allies in the Cold War

Shen and Li are highly regarded in China for their nuanced histories of key episodes in the Cold War, which form a solid contribution to the field of Cold War international history. Their work belongs to a wave of independent Chinese scholarship that demystifies China’s role in the conflict by showing the country to be a self-interested state like any other. In these translated selections from their work, they address key episodes in relations among China, the Soviet Union, North Korea, and North Vietnam. The basic method is a painstaking analysis of documents; still, the stories crackle with the tension of real politics. They find that Mao’s decision to enter the Korean War was not planned in advance but was taken reluctantly in response to the American intervention, which Mao had not expected; that disputes over command, strategy, and logistics bitterly divided the Chinese and Korean allies throughout the war and after; and that North Korean leader Kim Il Sung’s fear of a pro-China faction in his own party led to the withdrawal of Chinese troops from the North in 1958. Throughout the episodes Shen and Li studied, national interest always trumped proletarian solidarity, a truth that remains useful as contemporary observers peer behind the façade of Beijing-Pyongyang comity today.

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