A Misunderstood Friendship

Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, and Sino–North Korean Relations, 1949–1976

Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia

Columbia University Press

A Misunderstood Friendship

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Pub Date: September 2018

ISBN: 9780231188265

376 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $65.00£50.00

Pub Date: September 2018

ISBN: 9780231547741

376 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $64.99£50.00

A Misunderstood Friendship

Mao Zedong, Kim Il-sung, and Sino–North Korean Relations, 1949–1976

Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia

Columbia University Press

Today, the People’s Republic of China is North Korea’s only ally on the world stage, a tightly knit relationship that goes back decades. Both countries portray their partnership as one of “brotherly affection” based on shared political ideals—an alliance “as tight as lips to teeth”—even though relations have deteriorated in recent years due to China’s ascendance and North Korea’s intransigence.

In A Misunderstood Friendship, leading diplomatic historians Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia draw on previously untapped primary source materials revealing tensions and rivalries to offer a unique account of the China–North Korea relationship. They unravel the twists and turns in high-level diplomacy between China and North Korea from the late 1940s to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Through unprecedented access to Chinese government documents, Soviet and Eastern European archives, and in-depth interviews with former Chinese diplomats and North Korean defectors, Shen and Xia reveal that the tensions that currently plague the alliance between the two countries have been present from the very beginning of the relationship. They significantly revise existing narratives of the Korean War, China’s postwar aid to North Korea, Kim Il-sung’s ideological and strategic thinking, North Korea’s relations with the Soviet Union, and the importance of the Sino-U.S. rapprochement, among other issues. A Misunderstood Friendship adds new depth to our understanding of one of the most secretive and significant relationships of the Cold War, with increasing relevance to international affairs today.
Anyone who reads this groundbreaking study will gain a new perspective on current Sino-North Korean relations. Using a host of new Chinese materials, A Misunderstood Friendship reveals fascinating new details about both Chinese and North Korean policy. It will be a must-read for all who are interested in the Cold War in East Asia. Gregg Brazinsky, George Washington University, author of Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry During the Cold War
This pathbreaking book systematically uncovers the previously hidden history of relations between the Chinese and North Korean Communists. In their painstaking research, their sharp analysis, and their clear exposition, Shen and Xia show why they are considered among the world’s foremost Cold War historians. Given the importance of Cold War history for the dramatic events in Northeast Asia today, this book could not be more timely. Thomas J. Christensen, Columbia University, author of The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power
This is the first scholarly book about the history of China’s relationship with North Korea, and no two scholars are better suited than Shen and Xia to take on this task. They have produced a superb book, drawing on a remarkable array of sources. Their book puts to rest some long-standing myths about Sino-North Korean relations and is therefore of immense value for scholars. Although the authors focus on the Cold War period, their survey is very much relevant to current policy debates about security on the Korean peninsula and will be extremely useful for a general audience as well. Mark Kramer, program director of Cold War studies, Harvard University, coeditor of Imposing, Maintaining, and Tearing Open the Iron Curtain: The Cold War and East-Central Europe, 1945–1989
Acknowledgments
Abbreviations
Introduction: Refuting a Historical Myth
1. Victory and Expansion of the Revolution in China and North Korea, 1945‒1950
2. Sharp Contradictions Among the Leadership, 1950‒1953
3. Chinese Economic Aid and Kim’s Juche Idea, 1953‒1956
4. Mao’s Policy of Mollification, 1957‒1960
5. North Korea’s Balancing Act, 1961‒1965
6. The Lowest Ebb, 1966‒1969
7. China’s Last Ally, 1970‒1976
Epilogue: China and North Korea in the Era of Deng Xiaoping
Notes
Bibliography
Index

About the Author

Zhihua Shen is the director of the Center for Cold War International History Studies at East China Normal University, Shanghai. The author of a number of major Chinese-language works on Cold War history, he is also the coauthor, with Yafeng Xia, of Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945‒1959: A New History (2015) and coauthor, with Danhui Li, of After Leaning to One Side: China and Its Allies in the Cold War (2011).

Yafeng Xia is professor of history at Long Island University, Brooklyn. His books include Negotiating with the Enemy: U.S.-China Talks During the Cold War, 1949‒1972 (2006).