Translated from Turkish by: Muhsin Yorulmaz
The 1949 telegrammes between Stalin and Mao from the Russian state archives
It is an often mentioned claim that on the eve of the Chinese Popular Revolution, Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union, asked Mao Zedong not to begin the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) final assault against the Nanjing Government. This claim, which rests on diverse memories and narratives of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai1 has become a cause for debate first between the historians of the USSR and the PRC, and then between Russia and China. It has been claimed that Stalin, out of a desire to maintain Soviet influence over both sides in a divided China, tried to prevent Mao and the CPC from crossing to the south of the Yangtze River which nearly divides China in half. Likewise, claims that Stalin did not believe in the CPC’s ultimate victory, overestimated the strength of the Guomindang, and did not trust in the Chinese revolution are all based in one way or another on the “telegramme corresponce”. Also, in some arguments it is claimed that Stalin did this intervention orally through the CPSU(B) Central Committee Politburo member Anastas Mikoyan.
Why did the Yangtze River occupy such a critical position in January of 1949? Because as the Chinese Civil War entered its final stage, the CPC and the Guomindang controlled the northern and southern banks, respectively. In this moment, China was divided in two, and the fate of the American-backed Nanjing regime was the subject of international debate. In this period the Berlin Blockade was at its moment of most severe crisis, and the US had focused all attention on the problems of Europe. Although the US was unable to focus attention on the problem of China, the US was already beginning to intervene with their armed forces in the Chinese Civil War. The crossing of the Yangtze River by the CPC, and accordingly the beginning of their march to Nanjing, could have opened the way for direct American military intervention.
Under these conditions, the offer by Guomindang leader Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi) on January 1st, 1949 to initiate peace negotiations with the CPC through the mediation of the USSR, US, England and France, was a very important political manoeuvre. The telegram correspondences between Stalin and Mao was a result of this “Peace Offer” by the Guomindang.
Since Russian historian Sergey Tykhvinsky published the telegrammes in question between Stalin and Mao which he extracted from the state archives in 19942, the veil of fog which hung over this incident has been lifted. Because these telegrammes had never before been published in Turkish, it cannot be said that Marxist-Leninist and Maoist circles in Turkey had ever been able to sufficiently clarify views on them. The context for the telegrammes was the Guomindang, who, on the threshold of defeat, were ordered by the US to put forth a “peace proposal”. Stalin and Mao discuss how this move ought to be responded to. Stalin recommends the development of a comprehensive political response coordinated between the USSR and the CPC, ultimately foiling the Guomindang’s move by uniting on this basis.
This article includes Stalin’s coded telegrams to Mao Zedung on January 10, 11, 14, and 15 of 1949, and Mao’s telegram responses on Janaury 12 and 14, and a selection from Stalin’s telegram dated 26 May 1949 taken from their Russian originals in the Russian Political-Social State Archive (RGASPI). The latter is published here (to our knowledge) for the first time in English. For the help he provided for us to reach the RGASPİ archives, we are indebted to Abstrakt writer N. Svetlov, for which we are most thankful. The telegrammes do not have any titles in their originals. These headings have been added to each of the telegrammes, in order to facilitate the reading of the article.
After the translated texts of the telegrammes, I will add the commentary by various authors on this subject. Finally, I will conclude the article with an assessment of the matter.
Stalin’s first telegramme to Mao3:
Nanjing wants our mediation
Comrade Mao Zedong,
On January 9th we received a note from the Nanjing Government with a proposal to the Soviet Government to take upon itself the mediation between the Nanjing Government and the Chinese Communist Party on the question of the cessation of hostilities and for the conclusion of peace. At the same time, a similar proposal has also been sent to the Governments of the USA, Britain and France. The Nanjing Government has not yet received any reply from these governments. The Soviet government has also not yet given a reply. By all means it is obvious that the proposals of the Government have been dictated by the Americans. The aim of these proposals is to make the Nanjing Government look like a proponent of ending the war and establishing peace and to brand the Communist Party of China as proponents of war if it (the CPC) straight away declines to have peace talks with the Nanjingists. We are considering replying in the following manner: The Soviet Government stood and continues to stand for the cessation of war and the establishment of peace in China. But before it gives its consent for mediation it would like to know whether the other side – the Communist Party of China has agreed to accept the mediation of the USSR. In view of this the USSR would want that the other side – the Chinese Communist Party – be informed of the peace action of the Chinese government and asked about its consent regarding the mediation of the USSR. We are thinking of responding in this way and request you to inform us whether you agree to this. If you disagree then prompt a more appropriate reply.
Similarly, we think that your reply, if you are asked, should be tentatively like this:
The Communist Party was always in favour of peace in China because the civil war in China was started not by the Communist Party, but by the Nanjing Government, which should be held responsible for the consequences of the war. The Chinese Communist Party is prepared for talks with the Guomindang however, without the participation of those war criminals who unleashed the civil war in China. The Chinese Communist Party stands for direct talks with the Guomindang without any foreign mediators. The Chinese Communist Party specifically considers the mediation of such foreign powers that are themselves participating in the civil war by using their air force and navy against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, as such a power cannot be acknowledged to be neutral and objective in the task of stopping the war in China. We think this is what, tentatively, your reply should be.
If you do not agree, let us know your opinion.
Concerning your visit to Moscow, we think, in view of the circumstances mentioned above you should, unfortunately, once again put off departure for some time as your visit to Moscow in such circumstances will be used by the enemies to discredit the Chinese Communist Party as a force reliant and dependent on Moscow. That of course is disadvantageous for the Chinese Communist Party and also for the USSR.
Awaiting your reply,
10 January 1949
(Translator’s note: in this and the other telegrammes, Stalin used the code name “Filippov” with the aim of maintaining secrecy)
Stalin’s second telegramme to Mao4:
Our goal is the failure of the Guomindang
As is obvious from what has been said above, our draft of your reply to the Guomindang’s proposal is aimed at the failure of the peace talks. It is clear that the Guomindang will not opt for peace talks without the mediation of foreign powers, specifically without the mediation of the U.S.A. Similarly, it is also clear that the Guomindang will not want to conduct peace talks without the participation of Chiang Kai-shek and other war criminals.
We reckon, therefore, that the Guomindang will reject the peace talks under the conditions that the CPC is putting forward. Consequently, it will turn out that the CPC is ready for peace talks, in view of which it cannot be blamed as being party to the continuation of the civil war. In this instance, the Guomindang will be seen as the culprit for ruining the peace talks. In this way the peace manoeuvre of the Guomindangists and the USA will fail and you may continue your glorious war of liberation.
Awaiting your reply,
11 January 1949
NOTE: Additionally, in this telegramme of 11 January, Stalin sent the full text of the “peace proposal” that the Nanjing government had transmitted to the Soviet government with the note “not to be published”.5
Mao Zedong’s response telegramme to J. V. Stalin6:
We are inclined to reject the Guomindang’s peaceful deceit
I received your telegram dated 10th January.
- We consider that in relation to the note of the Nanjing Government with a proposal to the USSR to accept mediation on ending the civil war in China, the Government of USSR should proceed to reply in the following way:
The Government of the USSR always wished and continues to do so now to see a peaceful, democratic and peaceful China. However, in what way peace, democracy and the unity of China is to achieved is exclusively the concern of the people of China. The Government of USSR, being founded on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, considers the participation in the mediation between the two sides in the civil war in China as unacceptable.
- We assume that the USA, England and France, specifically the USA, although they are extremely desirous of participating in the mediation on ending the civil war in China and by doing so to achieve the goal – restoration of the Guomindang’s power, but the governments of these states, particularly the Government of the USA have lost authority among the people of China, and along with it the victories of the PLA all over the country and the loss of the Guomindang’s power has already become a fact that is for all to see – whether they want to continue to support the Nanjing Government and thereby continue to offend the PLA also remains unclear.
Only the USSR commands very high authority among the people of China, and therefore, if regarding the note of the Nanjing Government the USSR will take up the position outlined in your telegram of the 10th January 1949, then it will result in the USA, England and France concluding that their participation is a must that would lead to a situation wherein the Guomindang would get an occasion to discredit us as warmongers.
And the large masses of people who are dissatisfied with the Guomindang and are nursing hopes of an early victory of the PLA will be disheartened.
Therefore, if the USSR, keeping the interests of international relations as a whole in mind, in its reply to the note would want to occupy the position that is being suggested by us, then we would greatly desire that you endorse our proposals. If you can take such a step you will render us a great help.
- Whether it is possible to allow individuals from the Nanjing Government including the war criminals to enter into talks with us on peace ─ we need to think over it yet. At present we are inclined to take the following position: the unconditional surrender of the Nanjing Government is required in order that the people of China achieve real peace quickly.
It was the Nanjing Government that started the war and it committed a big crime. Already the people of the country do not trust it. For the earliest possible end of the war and the establishment of peace, the Nanjing Government must transfer the power to the people. It does not have any grounds to continue to linger in power.
We consider that if at present we hold talks with Jian Jijun, Shao Litsi and other such persons and form a coalition government on behalf on them together with ourselves then it would be just what the Government of the USA wishes to see.
But this would lead the people of China, the democratic parties and people’s organisations, sections of the PLA and even the rank and file of the CPC to great commotion and would seriously harm our position by virtue of which the righteousness of the cause is with us.
Beginning from July 1947 we are cautiously and continuously paying attention to the delusiveness of talks which the Government of the USA and the Guomindang will have to unavoidably hold in the event of the latter’s military defeat and also to the degree of influence which this deception is having on the people of China.
We were profoundly concerned that this deception would create a big impact on the people and would lead to our being forced to make a political somersault, i.e. not to decline holding talks with the Guomindang. We shall be delaying the formation of the Coalition Government. The main reason behind this is to let the Americans and the Guomindangists reveal their trump cards, while we will reveal ours at the last moment.
Recently we have published a list of war criminals – 45 persons. This was done unofficially (statement of a competent authority). The PLA has not as yet issued any order about the arrest of these war criminals.
On the 1st of January Chiang Kai-shek put forward the peace proposal. We have replied unofficially (article by a journalist).
In short we have left a number of points for later changes in order to see how the Chinese people and the international community react to the Guomindang’s deceit of peace talks.
Presently we are inclined towards righteously refuting the Guomindang’s peaceful deceit, because at present, the balance of forces in China has undergone a radical change and the international community too is not in favour of the Nanjing Government, the PLA can this year itself cross the Changjiang and attack Nanjing.
Apparently we shall not be required to again carry out a circumventing political manoeuvre. In the present situation there is more harm than good in following such a circumventing manoeuvre.
- I thank you for the fact that you ask our opinion on such an important issue. If you do not agree with my above stated opinion, or if you make some changes, I request you to let me know.
12 January 1949
Stalin’s third telegramme to Mao8:
The banner of peace should remain in the hands of the CPC
Comrade Mao Zedong,
Received your long telegram regarding the Nanjing peace proposal.
- Of course, it would have been better if the peace proposal of the Nanjing Government did not exist, if the whole of this peace manoeuvre of the USA did not exist. It is clear that this manoeuvre is not desirable as it may cause a nuisance for our common cause. However, unfortunately, the manoeuvre is a fact and we cannot close our eyes, we are obliged to take it into consideration.
- Undoubtedly, the peace proposal of the Nanjingists and the USA is a manifestation of the politics of illusion. First of all, because in reality the Nanjingists do not want any peace with the Communist Party, for peace with the Communist Party would mean the Guomindang’s rejection of its own policy of annihilation of the Communist Party and its army and this rejection would lead to the political death of the Guomindangist leaders and to complete disorder among the Guomindang’s troops. Secondly, because they know that the Communist Party will not accept peace with the Guomindang as it cannot abandon its fundamental policy of annihilation of the Guomindang and its army.
What do the Nanjingists want after all? They want not peace with the Communist Party but an armistice with it, a temporary cessation of hostilities in order to make use of the truce to gain a respite and then bring into order the Guomindang army, bring arms from the USA, accumulate forces and then wreck the armistice and attack the People’s Liberation Army after blaming the Communist Party for the breakdown of the peace talks. The minimum that they want is to check the Communist Party from finishing off the Guomindang army.
This is the essence of the current policy of deceit being conducted by the Nanjingists and the USA.
- How should such manoeuvres of the Nanjingists and the USA be countered? Two options are possible. The first is to decline the peace proposals of the Nanjingists and thereby declare openly the necessity of continuation of the civil war. But what shall it mean? This means, first of all, that you have put your main trump card on the table and will pass into the hands of the Guomindang such an important weapon as the banner of peace. This means in the second place that you are helping your enemies in China, and outside China you are slighting the Communist Party as the perpetrator of the civil war and praising the Guomindang as the supporter of peace. This means, thirdly, that you are giving an opportunity to the USA to muster public opinion in Europe and America in such direction that peace is impossible with the Communist Party as it does not want peace, that the sole means to achieve peace in China is to organize an armed intervention in China of the powers similar to the intervention which was conducted in Russia during the course of the four years from 1918 to 1921.
We think that a straight and clear reply is good when you are dealing with honest people. But if you are dealing with political rogues like the Nanjingists, a straight and open answer can become dangerous.
But a second answer is possible. That is: (a) recognize the establishment of peace in China as a desirable objective; (b) talks to be between the two sides without any foreign intermediary as China is an independent country and does not need any foreign intermediaries; (c) talks to be held between the Communist Party and the Guomindang as a party and not as the Government which is guilty of conducting a civil war and which, in view of this, has lost the trust of the people; (d) as soon as the sides reach an agreement on the issue of peace and leadership in China the military actions are to come to an end.
Can the Guomindang accept these conditions? We think that it will not. But if the Guomindang does not accept these conditions, people will understand that the Guomindang is the culprit for the continuation of the civil war and not the Communist Party. The banner of peace in this case will continue to remain in the hands of the Communist Party. This circumstance is particularly important at present when in China there has emerged a majority that is tired of the civil war and is ready to support those defending peace.
But let us assume the incredible and assume that the Guomindang accepts these conditions. What must be the plan of action of the Communist Party?
It will be necessary in the first place not to discontinue military actions, create Central Coalition Government Bodies with the objective that in the Consultative Council three-fifths of the seats and two-thirds of the portfolios in the Government go to the Communist Party whereas the rest of the seats and portfolios be distributed amongst other democratic parties and the Guomindang.
It is necessary, in the second place, that the posts of the Premier, Commander-in-Chief and, if possible, of the President should go to the communists.
It is necessary, thirdly, that the Consultative Council declare the Coalition government so created as the sole government of China and that any government pretending to the role of the government of China to be declared as rebel, as an impostor group which is liable to be abolished.
Finally, it is necessary that the Coalition Government issue orders both to your forces and to the forces of the Guomindang to take an oath of loyalty to the Coalition Government and also that military actions against such troops as have taken the oath of allegiance end immediately and that military actions be continued against those troops as have refused to take the oath.
It is doubtful whether the Guomindang will accept these measures. But if they will not, it will be still worse for them as ultimately they will be isolated and these measures shall be carried out even without the Guomindangists.
- This is our understanding of this issue and such are our suggestions to you. It is possible that in the preceding telegram we did not state our advice clearly and in full detail.
We request you to examine our suggestions just as suggestions which do not compel you to do anything and also which you may accept or decline. You may rest assured that a refusal to accept our suggestions will in no way affect our relations and we will continue to be the same friends that we always have been.
- Concerning our reply to the Nanjingists’ proposal on mediation our response will be composed in accordance with your wishes.
- But we do insist that you postpone your visit to Moscow for the time being as your presence in China is very necessary at present. If you want we can send immediately a responsible member of the Politbureau to you at Harbin or some other place for talks on issues of interest to you.
14 January 1949.
Mao’s second response telegram to Stalin9:
We have declared our proposal for peace
- I was happy to receive your supplementary telegram dated 11th January. Regarding the basic direction (failure of the broad talks with the Guomindang, continuation of the revolutionary war up to the end) we are perfectly united.
Today we have published the 8 conditions on the basis of which we agree to conduct the peace talks with the Guomindang. These conditions are put forward to counter the five reactionary conditions which had been put by Chiang Kai-shek on 1st January in his peace proposal.
Some days back prior to that the Americans sought to know our opinion ─ whether we wish to conduct peace talks with the Guomindang without the participation of the 43 war criminals. Therefore only one minimum condition namely participation in the peace talks without the war criminals is already not sufficient for wrecking the Guomindang’s plot of peace talks.
- After the publication of the peace proposals by the Guomindang in the areas under the Guomindang there is big turmoil, the population is demanding peace in massive numbers and is complaining that the Guomindang’s conditions are extremely rigid.
The propaganda organs of the Guomindang are giving explanations as to why it is necessary for the Guomindang to defend its legal status and maintain the army. We think that the disarray in the Guomindang is going to spread even further.
14 January 1949
Stalin’s third telegramme to Mao11:
The issue can be considered exhausted
Comrade Mao Zedong,
We have just received your latest and short telegram, from which it is evident that unity of opinion on the issue of the peace proposals of the Nanjingists has been established between us and that the Communist Party of China has already started the ‘peace’ campaign. Thereby, the issue can be considered exhausted.
15 January 1949
The CPC’s eight conditions
The eight conditions which the Communist Party of China put forth for the beginning of peace meetings with the Guomindang, according to an info note by Terebin for the Politburo of the CPSU(B)12, were transmitted as follows:
“-The severe punishment of war criminals
-The declaration of the so-called constitution as invalid
-The abrogation of so-called constitutional authority
-The reorganisation in all regions of the reactionary military forces on the basis of democratic principle
-The seizure of bureaucratic capital
-The cancellation of the treasonous treaties
-The convention of a Political Consultation Conference without the participation of reactionaries, the formation of a democratic government, the transference of the Nanjing Guomindang government and all associated governmental powers to this government.
The continuation of events
The Guomindang found itself in disagreement with the CPC’s peace conditions and rejected them. Along with the Soviet Union, the US also rejected the Nanjing government’s proposal for mediation13. The Nanjing government found itself in an isolated state. Although bilateral talks between the CPC and the Guomindang were initiated in early April, these talks were interrupted in mid-April, after the Guomindang refused to reach a compromise.
On April 21, Mao Zedong gave the order for the People’s Liberation Army to cross to the southern bank of the Yangtze river. On April 24, PLA units under the command of Marshall Liu Bocheng entered Nanjing, the capital of the Guomindang government. Pulling back from there, the Guomindang government fled first to the Canton province and then to the island of Taiwan. The People’s Liberation Army of China to a large extent destroyed the Guomindang units across China. On October 1, 1949, in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, Mao Zedong declared the People’s Republic of China.
Debates on the subject
Professor of History at Peking University, Kim Donggil takes up this question in his article entitled “Stalin and the Chinese Civil War”. Kim took up the question of whether or not Stalin generally endeavoured to prevent the CPC from crossing to the south bank of the Yangtze River in 1949. The telegrammes we provided above were one of the elements of his article. According to Kim, the telegrammes between Stalin and Mao published in Tykhvinsky’s article “added breadth” to the question, “but the question has not ultimately been answered”.
Kim evokes a testimony in People’s Daily (the central newspaper of the CPC). According to Kim, on January 2, 1979 an article signed by Wang Fangming entitled “We should respect the truth and think independently: remembering a sincere discussion with Chairman Mao in 1957” contained these words by Mao:
“In 1949, when we were about to cross the Yangtze River, there was still one person who wanted to stop us from doing so. It was said that we could certainly not cross the river. If we were to cross, the US would send its army, China would return to a state akin to its “Northern and Southern Dynasties” period. Chairman Mao continued thus: ‘I didn’t listen to them. When we crossed the river, the US units failed to intervene in any way. Later, I met with that person [i.e. Stalin] who tried to dissuade us from crossing the river. His first words were ‘you can’t blame someone for victory’’. The Chairman continued, ‘He couldn’t be mad at us for not listening to his recommendation, on the contrary, as victors he confessed we were right.’”
In terms of reliability, Mao Zedong has no clear narrative in his lifetime with regard to the Yangtze River problem, criticizing Stalin. This testimony has been published after Mao’s death, during the era of Deng Xiaoping’s dominance, when the latter repudiated Mao from many perspectives, and does not appear reliable.
Kim also includes another statement attributed to Mao. On March 25, 1949, right after Mikoyan had returned to Moscow, Mao, addressing his comrades in the CPC headquarters in Xibaipo, said: “Some of our international friends exhibit a suspicious approach to China’s War of Liberation, they recommend that we stop and together with Chiang Kai-shek want us to establish a new ‘Northern and Southern Dynasty’ with a borderline of the Yangtze River.”
Here a CPC document dated 1982 is included. Again, the leaders of the CPC who remained to constitute the Central Committee after Mao’s death and the trial of “the Gang of Four” attribute a statement to Mao. In this example, the Deng-era CPC directly accuse Stalin of trying to divide China.
There is also a statement attribute to Zhou Enlai, premier of the PRC, on this subject. The source of this statement is Liu Xiao, ambassador to the USSR in that period. Liu attributes to Zhou Enlai the following words, claiming that he told these while receving him in 1955:
“On the eve of our crossing the river, Mikoyan came on Stalin’s behalf from Moscow to Xibaipo. His primary aim was to understand the state of the Chinese revolution and listen to our thoughts. During that period we were in quite a suitable position from both a military and political perspective. We were preparing to continue south, cross the river, and liberate the entire country. The Soviet Union had other ideas and recommended we end the civil war. In fact, what they had planned was to establish ‘Northern and Southern Dynasties’, and consequently create two Chinas.” (As quoted by Kim Donggil)
This testimony by Li, just like the other examples above, was published after the death of Zhou Enlai, during the Deng Xiaoping leadership era, specifically in 198614. The fact that the author himself was an individual imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution, remaining imprisoned for 7 years, and yet during the Deng era again rose to the high echelons of the party, casts dark clouds of suspicion over this testimony.
Ultimately, although not in precisely the same scope, we see a similar expression in a popular Maoist historiographic book entitled the Morning Deluge by Han Suyin. Here, we encounter the following expression: “in the middle of 1948, or perhaps slightly before, we know that Stalin recommended via Liu Shaoqi that the Chinese Communist Party should under no circumstances hasten its military manoeuvres, should leave South China to Chiang Kai-shek, should not cross the Yangtze River and should return to the guerrilla campaign”15. Han Suyin offers this as definite information. However, where we know this from, how we know it, that is unknown. A particular general feature of this book is its lack of any sources or references provided for the claims it puts forth. However, the telegrammes we have included by Stalin in this article, the expressions contained within, clearly repudiate the myth that he recommended the Yangtze River not be crossed, or that the CPC should return to a guerrilla warfare. On the contrary, Stalin was making his proposals on the basis of regular army operations, was presupposing attack positions, and his proposals deal with the potential political and military problems of such an attack. Whereas a “return to the guerrilla campaign”, as claimed in this myth, would actually mean retreating to a defensive position. A return to guerilla warfare would seem quite irrational for a regular army which had already seized nearly half of the country.
At any rate, Mao laid the groundwork for speculation of this kind with certain criticisms he made public following Stalin’s death. For example, in his April 25, 1956 speech “On the Ten Major Relationships”, Mao said: “At the time of the War of Liberation, Stalin first enjoined us not to press on with the revolution, maintaining that if civil war flared up, the Chinese nation would run the risk of destroying itself. Then when fighting did erupt, he took us half seriously, half sceptically. When we won the war, Stalin suspected that ours was a victory of the Tito type, and in 1949 and 1950 the pressure on us was very strong indeed. Even so, we maintain the estimate of 30 per cent for his mistakes and 70 per cent for his achievements.”
With statements of Mao’s regarding Stalin such as the above, which can neither really be confirmed nor falsified, and which are quite general and abstract, Mao has not really contributed to a critical Marxist-Leninist evaluation of the Stalin era. What he had done was to lay a suitable groundwork for the revisionist Deng Xiaoping group which succeeded him on which to put forth their anti-Soviet speculations. The Mao quote above comes from a speech given to the Politburo at a time when the winds of de-Stalinisation were blowing in the USSR, and, no matter how much later he protested and opposed this, in the beginning, Mao supported the winds of de-Stalinisation to some extent16.
Kim Donggil, despite himself accepting that he no concrete evidence in support of this could be found, nevertheless lends credence to the idea that Stalin intervened in the hopes of preventing the CPC of crossing the Yangtze. This claim rests on the spoken interventions of Mikoyan17 who was sent to China between January 30 and February 8 as Stalin’s special Politburo representative, or on the recollections of Soviet ambassadors. But on this matter ‘reports are divergent’. In one place in his article, Kim has Mikoyan preaching against the crossing of the Yangtze River to the CPC leadership, yet elsewhere the same Mikoyan is said to have advocated “Mao Zedong to cross the Yangtze River as quickly as possible and immediately seize control of Nanjing and Shanghai”. I wonder, which of these is correct?
Russian historian A.V. Samokhin takes up this question in his article entitled “I.V. Stalin’s 1949 policy changes following the Chinese Civil War”.
According to Samokhin, the recommendation to “not cross the Yangtze River” which does not appear in Stalin’s telegrammes is also difficult to find in the recommendations which Mikoyan delivered. There are statements to the contrary, but Mikoyan might have made suggestions to delay the attack, on a tactical level. Samokhin relates that Shi Zhe, who translated between Mao Zedong and Mikoyan, claims in his recollections that Mikoyan made no such speech. He also states that two Chinese historians, Yu Zhan and Zhan Guangyu, who delved into the archives on this subject and met with eyewitnesses came to the same conclusion18. Samokhin, relates these words of I.V. Kovalev, a CPSU Central Committee representative of that era who directly took part in the relevant meetings in China: “So far as I recall, Mikoyan made no recommendation to stop at the banks of the Yangtze River in the campaign against Chiang Kai-shek.”
As Stalin was escalating the Berlin crisis between January and May 1949 just as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and the Guomindang were engaged in their most decisive clashes, Samokhin puts forth that this helped keep the US’s attention far from Asia and aided the Chinese Revolution. Indeed, this also seems plausible to us, because for the US to sit back and watch as a great land mass such as China slipped through their fingers would only seem to be possible under the conditions of being occupied with an even greater matter, that of Berlin. But the other side of the matter is at least as important: the developing self-confidence of the Chinese communists’ revolutionary war, and the unexpected speed of collapse of their enemies, the Guomindang, were key factors in the foiling of an American intervention.
According to Samokhin, Stalin determined that the main focus of consideration of the Chinese problem in the beginning of 1949 was the prevention of a direct US intervention into the Chinese civil war. Kovalev also relates that in one of Stalin’s April 1949 telegrammes the latter warns Mao that US troops might ambush the back lines of the PLA as it advances south. According to Kovalev, what is discussed in this telegramme is “not the halting of the southward march of the PLA, but rather its better organisation”. But Samokhin, in digging through the Russian state archives in order to find this recollection, finds that this is attributable to a Stalin telegramme not from April but May 26, 1949. Samokhin emphasizes that this example shows “how misleading memories can be even for people who have the documents in question at hand”. The 26th of May, of course, was a date a month after the forces of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army had crossed the Yangtze River and destroyed most of the Guomindang forces.
In this telegram which we reached through the archives19, Stalin issues a warning of the danger that American forces might attack the Chinese PLA from behind:
“The PLA’s successes are brilliant and we are overjoyed with them. However, to count military operations as completed, would not be correct. The English, French, and Americans cannot ignore that the PLA has advanced near the Indochinese, Burmese, and Indian borders, nor the possible creation of a revolutionary situation in Indonesia and the Philippines. This opens the path to the imperialists’ feared possible loss of these countries. Accordingly, in order to keep the South of China under their own influence, the imperialists may use any tool in their arsenal, from embargo to armed clashes with the PLA. There is a threat that Anglo-American forces will be landed to Qingdao20 to attack the PLA main forces from behind, during their advance southwards. In order to attack the PLA from behind, Anglo-American forces may use another port, such as Tanggu in Tianji. Accordingly our recommendations to you are:
- a) Do not hurry on the PLA’s southward advance to the Indochinese, Burmese, and Indian borders, and make serious preparations;
- b) From the main forces of the PLA advancing southwards, two armies of good quality be spared, and should be transferred to the Tianjin and Qingdao regions, where they should be replenished and prepare to block deployment plans by the enemy;
- c) Do not decrease the presence of PLA units.”
Here we again see Stalin mentioning the danger of an open American military occupation, and his warning to the Chinese communists against this. However, this time Stalin is not making a general political prediction, but referring to concrete intelligence including even the names of ports. Probably he is sharing information gathered by Soviet intelligence with the Chinese communist leadership. Here Stalin is recommending some reserves, and the main topic is the PLA military forces’ prevention of a military occupation, and their being positioned accordingly. When Stalin sent this telegramme, the question of crossing the Yangtze River had already long passed, and Nanjing had already long since passed under communist control. However, on this occasion the question was the PLA’s advance to the southern border of China. Hopefully on this occasion no one draws the conclusion from this telegramme that Stalin advised the Chinese communists not to advance to the southern borders! As it turns out, Stalin was watching the Chinese revolution very closely, and at every stage shared possible problems with his interlocutors, urging them to take precautions.
Samokhin puts forth that starting from the beginning of the year 1949, with regards to their approach to the Chinese question, Stalin and the Soviet leadership moved from a cautious and restrained approach to full support for the CPC.
Soviet historian S.L. Tykhvinsky, who first brought the January 1949 telegrammes between Stalin and Mao to the light of day, later wrote in one of his books that, the telegramme correspondence between Stalin and Mao Zedong show that contrary to what is claimed about the Soviet leadership, they clearly did not regard the CPC with disinterest or distrust; as Tykhvinsky narrates through Samokhin, these telegrammes clearly repudiate the claims that the USSR supported the partition or division of China, or had ever opposed the PLA advancing to the southern bank of the Yangtze River.
Conclusion: a comradely correspondence
Despite all the speculation which has been made with regard to the telegrammes, it can clearly be seen that the telegrammes employed a highly comradely language, were carried out to go deeper into a problem brought up by the contemporary demands of the political struggle, and that Stalin did not put forth any recommendations in a binding framework, rather leaving the final decision to the Chinese communist leadership.
It can be seen that in Stalin’s telegramme dated January 10, of the recommendation for the USSR’s public statement to be made, that it was revised in accordance with Mao Zedong’s suggestion. Stalin’s initial recommendation was that the USSR should express it was “ready to mediate”, whereas the CPC wanted the opposite. In this case, Stalin accepted CPC’s demands and revised the statement accordingly.
Likewise, Mao Zedong, in accordance with Stalin’s suggestion, declared 8 conditions for the forging of conditions of a democratic peace, rather than rejecting the Nanjing government’s “peace proposal” outright, and in this way assured the political isolation of the Guomindang government.
From the other side, the Soviet Government, by escalating the Berlin crisis on the one hand, and facilitating the exposure of the fraudulent Nanjing “peace meetings” on the other, prevented the US’s military intervention in China. But Stalin’s concerns were not ill-founded: so it came to be that an open military intervention by the Americans took place, one year later, in Korea.
Investigating the contents of the telegrammes, it does not appear possible to draw a conclusion indicating that in January of 1949 Stalin advocated for the cessation or weakening of the Chinese Communist Party’s struggle against the Guomindang. Mao himself confirms this in his January 14 telegramme where he writes “Regarding the basic direction, we are perfectly united”.
1-See the section of this piece entitled “Debates on the subject”.
2- Tykhvinsky, Sergey. ‘Perepiska I.V. Stalina s Mao Zedunom v Yanvare 1949 goda’. Novaya i noveyshaya istoriia 4 (1994): 132–40.
3-RGASPI – F. 558. Op. 11 D. 330 L. 095-096
4-RGASPI – F. 558. Op. 11 D. 330 L. 097
5-RGASPI F. 558 Op.11 D. 330 L. 098-099
6–RGASPI – F. 558. Op. 11 D. 330 L. 100-103. (It is understood from a list provided above the telegramme that 2 copies of this coded telegramme was provided to Stalin, and one each to Molotov, Beria, Malenkov, Mikoyan, Kaganovich, Voznesenskiy, Bulganin, Kosygin, and Vyshinskiy.)
7– Jian Jijun and Shao Lizi were given authority in 1946 just as the Nanjing Government was about to meet with CPC representatives. But these meetings which were carried out under General Marshall’s mediation were brought to an end by Chiang Kai-shek’s intervention.
8-RGASPI F. 558 Op. 11 D. 330 L. 110-112
9-RGASPI F. 558 Op. 11 D. 330 L. 104-105. (It is understood from a list provided above the telegramme that 2 copies of this coded telegramme was provided to Stalin, and one each to Molotov, Beria, Malenkov, Mikoyan, Kaganovich, Voznesenskiy, Bulganin, Kosygin, and Vyshinskiy.)
10– In this paragraph, space is dedicated to discussing forthcoming operations between Moscow and the CPC’s radio station, therefore we excluded it.
11- RGASPI F. 558 Op. 11 D. 330 L. 118
12– RGASPI F. 558 Op. 11 D. 330 L. 105-106
13- J. Stuart, ambassador of the US to the ROC, stated in his response to the Nanjing government on January 13, 1949 that “the situation today is such that our mediation will not result in the desired outcome”. (Source: A.V. Samokhin)
14 – The first edition was printed in 1986, but Kim makes reference to the 1987 edition.
15 – Han Suyin, Sabah Tufanı, Mao Zedung ve Çin Devrimi 1893 -1954, Vol. 1, [Coşkun Irmak’s Turkish translation of ‘the Morning Deluge’, Vol. 1], Berfin Yayınları, 2nd Edition, May 1997, p. 528-9
16 – In the People’s Daily article from April 5 1956 entitled “Stalin’s Place in History”, Mao Zedong wrote: “The struggle against the cult of the individual, which was launched by the Twentieth Congress [of the CPSU], is a great and courageous fight by the communists and the people of the Soviet Union to clear away the ideological obstacles blocking their advance…”
17 – “To Terebin. Convey to Mao Zedong that our representative from today, January 28, has reached Dairen [today’s Dalian]. His surname is Mikoyan, his party name is Andreev. Keep his surname a secret. Filippov. 28.01.1949” (Coded telegramme by Stalin informing Mao through Soviet representative Terebin of Mikoyan’s arrival. RGASPİ F. 558 Op. 11 D. 330 L. 126)
18 – The Russian sources which Samokhin references are:
-Shi Zhe, Vmecte s predsedatelem Mao ot Yanani do Beypina // Jenyu. Beijing, 1989.
-Shi Zhe, Pervıy vizit predsedatelya Mao v Sovetskiy Soyuz // Sin Jungo vaytszyao fenyun. Rasskazı o diplomatii novovo Kitaya. Beijing, 1990.
-Yu Zhan, Zhan Guaygyu. Razkazanie o tom, otgovarival li nas İ.V.Stalin ot perepravı çerez Çantszyan // Sin Jungo vaytszyao fenyun, Beijing, 1992.
19 – RGASPI F. 558 Op. 11 D. 331 L. 074-077. We did not translate the entirety of this telegramme which is essentially about the organizational problems of the new Chinese state, in order to not distract from the main subject.
20 – A coastal city in the Shandong province of northern China (at the same latitude as South Korea).
Tykhvinsky, Sergey (1994) ‘Perepiska I.V. Stalina s Mao Zedunom v Yanvare 1949 goda’. Novaya i noveishaya istoriia 4: 132–40.
Samokhin, А.V. (2011) İzmenenie Politiki İ.V. Stalina v Kitae na Ishode Grazhdanskoy Voyny. 1949 G. (Gumanitarnie i sotssialnye nauki. № 4 19)
Kim, Donggil (2010) Stalin and the Chinese Civil War, Peking University, Beijing, Cold War History Vol. 10, No. 2, May 2010, 185–202
Han Suyin, Sabah Tufanı, Mao Zedung ve Çin Devrimi 1893 -1954, Vol. 1, [Coşkun Irmak’s Turkish translation of ‘the Morning Deluge’, Vol. 1], Berfin Yayınları, 2nd Edition, May 1997, p. 528-9
RGASPI, Stalin Iyosif Vissariyonovich, Fond No. 558, Opis no. 11, Ed. Hr. no. 330. ‘Kitay. Perepiska s Mao Ze-Dunom, Jou En-Laem i dr.’ Naçato 24 sentyabr 1947 g. Okoncheno 16 febralya 1949 g. Na 130 listah