"China's Cultural Revolution and Mao's External Threat Inflation: Crushing Soviet-Style Capitalist Restoration, 1966–1969" - by CWP alum Yinan He

May 19, 2024

Stoking fears and hatred of foreign nations to serve internal needs is a recurring pattern in Communist China. This article examines Chinese discursive treatment of the Soviet Union between 1966-1969, the peak years of the Cultural Revolution, through texts, visuals, and performative actions. It reveals how radical Maoists deliberately choreographed anti-Soviet propaganda to align with their evolving political agenda. First, by preaching the urgency to forestall a Soviet-style capitalist restoration, the discourse provided ideological justification for the horrific cataclysm that would have otherwise been unpalatable to the populace. Second, facing strong intraparty objection to the radical revolution, Maoist polemicists discredited domestic foes and broke their power bases by accusing them of disloyalty and complicity with Soviet “revisionists” to undermine China’s socialism. Third, when the revolution descended into absolute mayhem and the nation neared implosion, the threat of Soviet invasion was amplified to refocus domestic struggle on those branded as Soviet agents, thereby strengthening internal unity and restoring order under the guise of national defense. However, Mao’s manipulation of war scares unexpectedly triggered a dangerous security dilemma and turned the USSR into China’s worst strategic enemy, a striking example of a self-fulfilling prophecy in world politics.

Professor Yinan He (何忆南) completed her undergraduate and master’s education in China before moving to the U.S., where she earned her Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of The Search for Reconciliation: Sino-Japanese and German-Polish Relations since WWII (Cambridge University Press). Professor He is a Public Intellectual Program Fellow of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. She served as a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard-Princeton China and the World Program and Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, and a predoctoral fellow at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies of Harvard University. Her research has also been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the United States Institute of Peace, the MacArthur Foundation, and Japanese Government Mombusho Scholarship, among others. Before joining Lehigh University in 2014, she had taught international relations at Seton Hall University. 

Photo Credit: By Unknown, never specified. - IISH Stefan R. Landsberger Collection on Stefan Landsberger's Chinese Propaganda Poster Pages (website now closed) (see also this poster on the IISH site), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30522776

Yinan He