Michelle has a J.D. and her PhD in History.
Because the Soviet Union and China were both communist states, they had reason to try to get along. The Chinese communists did not control China until 1949, by which time Joseph Stalin had run the Soviet Union for over two decades. Stalin viewed China as a country he could provide guidance to, and Mao Zedong, the Chinese communist leader, was willing to accept assistance from the Soviet Union, who had sent many advisors to China to try to get them to follow the Soviet model of development.
Even though Mao disagreed with Stalin on many things, he respected Stalin as a leader. After Stalin's death in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev eventually became leader of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev began the process of de-Stalinization in 1956, criticizing many aspects of Stalin's reign, especially the political repression and brutality. Mao was angry about this denouncement of Stalin, a man he had admired. Moreover, some of the aspects of de-Stalinization, such as denouncing Stalin's cult of personality, also applied to Mao, who was, at the time, trying to build his own cult of personality. De-Stalinization thus contributed to the split between the two countries. Mao also resented that the Soviets did not treat him as a superior leader. Mao viewed himself, not Khrushchev, as world communism's main leader.
Their differences were more than just personality-based, they were political. Khrushchev wanted to reduce the risk of nuclear war with the United States. He initially refused to help China develop nuclear weapons and emphasized the policy of ''peaceful coexistence'' between communist states and capitalist states. Mao saw this as a retreat from the worldwide struggle for communism.
In the late 1950s, relations reached their breaking point. In 1958, China invaded the Kinmen and Matsu Islands, which were then occupied by Chinese nationalists. Khrushchev was furious that Mao invaded without consulting him first, as the Americans viewed Khrushchev as partially responsible for the invasion.
The split revealed itself in other areas of international relations too. For example, China had tense relations with India. This came to a head in 1959, when India supported Tibetans who were rebelling against Chinese occupation. While the Soviet Union didn't outwardly support Tibet, they implicitly criticized China by printing articles that were critical of the Chinese in these regards.
At a meeting of communists in Romania the following year, these disagreements all came out in the open, with Khrushchev trading insults with Chinese communist leaders close to Mao.
The Cuban Missile Crisis
Things didn't get any better in the 1960s. In 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis took place, in which the United States and the Soviet Union were led to the brink of nuclear war. After the crisis, Mao was critical of Khrushchev for backing down. However, for Soviet and American leaders, the crisis made nuclear disarmament (which were attempts to reduce the number of nuclear arms, and thus decrease the risk of nuclear war) a very important issue. Less than a year after the crisis, the Soviet Union, America, and the United Kingdom signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited nuclear weapons tests ''or any other nuclear explosion'' in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. Khrushchev, for his part, thought Mao was a ''lunatic'' whose response to the possibility of losing hundreds of millions of lives in nuclear war, was ''So what? War is war.''
Their relationship wasn't helped by the Sino-Indian War, which began in 1962. In this war between India and China, the Soviet Union ultimately decided to support India. By 1963, the two countries barely communicated.
The late 1960s and 1970s weren't much better. Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev as Soviet leader in 1964, but it didn't do much to improve the two countries' relationship. In 1972, U.S. President Richard Nixon took advantage of the split between the two countries to visit China, greatly irritating the Soviet Union, who did not want to see their main communist competitor improve relations with their main capitalist competitor. Even after Mao's death in 1976, relations still did not change much. It was only in the 1980s, that relations began to improve, and even then they were relatively cold.
Results of the Split
Due to the poor relations between the two countries, China undertook its own path to developing communism, as exemplified in Mao's Great Leap Forward in 1957 and the Cultural Revolution in 1965, which differed from Soviet advice. The Great Leap Forward was Mao's attempt to quickly turn China into an industrial power, and involved the forced collectivization of agriculture and extremely brutal policies. Even though some aspects of the Great Leap Forward resembled Soviet industrialization efforts, they contradicted Khrushchev's criticism of the Stalin years.
Likewise, the Cultural Revolution involved building up the cult of personality for Mao. Similarly, the split deepened differences between communist groups around the world, as some identified more with China and others with the Soviet Union. Finally, the split allowed the United States to work with the Soviet Union on nuclear disarmament, and also to eventually develop better relations with China.
Let's take a moment to review what we've learned. In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev began a policy of de-Stalinization, a process of political reform that involved criticizing some of the repression of Joseph Stalin's rule and cult of personality. De-Stalinization kicked off a bad relationship between Khrushchev and China's leader, Mao Zedong.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet Union and the United States were brought to the brink of war. After the crisis, the Soviet Union began pursuing a policy of nuclear disarmament, which involved trying to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world. To that end, the Soviet Union, America, and the United Kingdom signed the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited nuclear weapons tests, or any other nuclear explosion, in the atmosphere, in outer space, and under water. This angered Mao, who wanted China to have its own nuclear weapons.
The countries were further divided in the Sino-Indian War, when the Soviets backed India instead of China. Even after Khrushchev was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev as Soviet leader in 1964, it didn't do much to improve the two countries' relationship.
The split revealed itself in policies pursued by China that differed from Soviet advice, including the Great Leap Forward, in which Mao forced a number of brutal economic policies on the Chinese people, and the Cultural Revolution, in which Mao tried to create his own cult of personality in contrast with de-Stalinization. Even after Mao's death in 1976, relations still didn't change much. It was only in the 1980s that relations began to improve.
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