Soviet Union Model Essay

2013 (b) How far would you agree that the role of the Soviet Union was crucial in the early years of the People’s Republic of China (1949–1956)?

Essay Plan

Overall argument: Crucial until Stalin’s death in 1953. Still highly important 1953-1956 but gradually dwindles under Khrushchev, becoming increasingly antagonistic, leading to Sino-Soviet Split and eventual removal of Soviet experts.


- 1950 Sino-Soviet treaty of friendship, aid and support

- Stalin compels Mao to send an army to fight in the Korean War (1950-1953)

- Chinese negotiate exit from Korean War immediately after Stalin’s death – shift in relations


- First five-year plan help of Soviet experts

- However, Khruschev criticises Stalin’s cult of personality in 1956 – is this also an attack on Mao?

- Collectivisation of agriculture followed Soviet Union’s path towards communes which was instigated by Stalin but Khruschev critiqued the communes – Mao could not tolerate this, important factor eventually leading to Sino-Soviet Split in 1958.

This essay argues that the role of the Soviet Union in the fledgling People’s Republic of China was crucial until 1953 and remained important until 1956 but came under increasing strain upon the appointment of Khrushchev as Stalin’s successor. Indeed, the CCP adopted the same policy of land reform as the USSR, applying it throughout China and entered the Korean War at Stalin’s request. The 1950 Sino-Soviet treaty of friendship ensured the supply of aid and experts. After Stalin’s death, the First Five Year Plan, instigated in 1953, was modelled on the economic development of the Soviet Union and certainly a success in urban areas. Equally, the collectivisation of agriculture, commencing in 1953 followed the Soviet Union’s path towards a socialist economy but this was something that Stalin’s successor Khrushchev had reservations about, eventually attacking Mao’s move towards communes in 1958. Moreover, in 1956, Khrushchev criticised Stalin’s Cult of Personality leaving Mao in a difficult position when his popularity had reached extraordinary heights. In 1956, Khrushchev had also advocated a policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’ with capitalist nations. Ultimately, Khrushchev’s ‘revisionism’ from 1953 - 1956 became a precursor to the Sino-Soviet Split of 1958.

After Mao founded the PRC in October 1949, it is unsurprising that the first foreign leader he met was Stalin in December of the same year, which was an important symbolic gesture demonstrating that China viewed the Soviet Union as their principal ally despite Stalin’s less than forthcoming support during the Chinese Civil War. The Sino-Soviet friendship treaty was signed in 1950. Although Stalin granted Mao a $300 million loan, this was subject to a very high rate of interest. However, Mao’s hands were tied as he feared a US invasion to reinstate Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, so support of the USSR acted as a deterrent, balancing global power relations.  Therefore, in the immediate aftermath of the PRC’s founding, the Soviet Union was vital in supporting economic development and providing China a buffer against potential invasion from hostile countries.

Moreover, just a year after the founding of the PRC, China found itself heading to war in Korea.  Stalin had applied pressure on Mao to enter the conflict, whilst the Soviet Union didn’t send any of their own troops. Mao undoubtedly agreed for two reasons. First of all, he was in desperate need of technology, equipment and expertise vital to the industrialisation of China. Secondly, Mao feared that US troops would cross the border from North Korea into China to launch an invasion. A propaganda poster made by the US army satirised the power relations in the communist bloc with Stalin pictured as the master, Mao pictured as the servant and Korean leader Kim Il Sung as an ox. Stalin and Mao’s vision of communism differed, therefore China’s entrance into the Korean War meant they would be in no position to question the Soviet dominance of global communism. As such, despite ideological differences China had no choice but to acquiesce to Stalin’s demands in the first years of the PRC.

The Korean war eventually drew to a stalemate and the Chinese had long wished to negotiate a peace treaty to avoid further unnecessary death, but this had been blocked by Stalin. Very soon after his death, an amnesty was soon signed. This is simultaneously a sign of how much China obeyed the Soviet Union but also a gesture of independence when political uncertainty and a power struggle beset the USSR before Nikita Khrushchev became leader.

Between 1953 and 1956, the lingering influence of Stalin upon China’s economy, both agricultural and industrial could be firmly felt. Mao’s first five-year plan was adapted from the Soviet Union who had successfully transformed into a world power during the 1930s. The plan placed emphasis upon the development of heavy industry in the same way as the Soviet Union and China relied upon Soviet experts to provide vital technical expertise in industries such as railways, hydroelectric power, petroleum and urban planning. As such, China’s economy certainly grew in part thanks to Soviet support.

Notwithstanding, in 1956, Khrushchev gave a watershed speech in which he critiqued Stalin’s cult of personality. This left Mao in a difficult position as he had used similar propaganda to create an almost god-like figure worshipped by the Chinese population. Certain CCP members also contemplated whether Khrushchev was also launching a veiled attack on Mao. As such, in 1956 relations between China and the Soviet Union began to sour.

Moreover, many of Khrushchev’s policies hinted at a completely different ideological trajectory to Mao, who in the PRC’s first constitution of 1954 had announced the transition towards a completely socialist state. Conversely, Khrushchev had announced a policy of ‘peaceful coexistence’ in 1956 with capitalist states including the US, something that incensed Mao. In 1958 Khrushchev also denounced the Chinese communes, arguing that the nation should learn from the mistakes of the Soviet Union. Consequently, an era of cooperation between the Soviet Union and China came to an end. Whilst there were ideological differences between Mao and Stalin in terms of the nature of revolution, Mao’s focus was on the peasantry versus Stalin’s focus on the urban proletariat.  However, both Mao and Stalin were staunch ideologues whilst Khrushchev was a much more pragmatic leader.

In conclusion, the support given by the Soviet Union was crucial for the implementation of China’s First Five-Year Plan. So great was Mao’s need for rapid industrialisation, that he was prepared to send over a million troops to Korea to comply with Stalin’s instructions. The collectivisation of agriculture was also modelled on the Soviet Union but cracks in the Sino-Soviet friendship developed after Stalin’s death due to the turbulent relationship between Mao and Khrushchev over their clash between ideology versus pragmatism.