Staunton, Dec. 19 – When Russians talk about 1991, they focus on the ways nationalism tore the USSR apart; but when Chinese do, they focus on the ways in which the CPSU weakened ideologically and practically and conclude that Beijing must never allow a repetition of that, Ivan Zuyenko says.
The distinguished Russian sinologist at MGIMO and the Far Eastern Division of the Russian Academy of Sciences notes that the Chinese have often looked to Moscow for what works and in the case of 1991 focused almost exclusively on what happened to the CPSU (profile.ru/abroad/pochemu-v-kitae-stolko-vnimaniya-udelyaetsya-krahu-sssr-i-ego-kompartii-1213439/
“The collapse of the USSR has given the Chinese food for thought,” Zuyenko says, but not so much about the fate of the Union itself … It is no exaggeration to say their analysis of what happened in the USSR sense has shaped the development of China, warning it against any hasty political reforms or a lessening of the party’s leadership of the state and the army.”
According to Zuyenko, “for Chinese observers the main thing that happened in 1991 was not the collapse of an enormous state but the loss of power by the communist party.” That appreciation came after an initial stage of shock and a search for enemies and has led the Chinese to take a broader approach than even many Russians have.
The primary explanations for the collapse of the USSR, the Chinese argue, “are those associated with the weakening of the party,” including “corruption that engulfed all spheres of life, the isolation of the party elite from the common people, and consumerism” and also the bureaucratic approach of party ideologists and agitators.
The Chinese again in contrast to many Russians argue that the Soviet economy should have been reformed as Gorbachev tried to do but that Moscow had left that task too late and as a result was forced to try to do it during a period of growing tensions with the West and “powerful informational pressure from within.”
Given that the West now views China as its main competitor, many in Beijing believe that the study of what happened to the USSR is of particular importance. That has been especially the case under the current party leadership, according to Zuyenko, whose senior people have all been actively involved.
At present, Zuyenko argues, “one can say that in Chinese discourse the idea about the collapse of the CPSU and the disintegration of the USS – and namely in that order! – is viewed as having an important lesson for the Chinese Peoples Republic.” Reforms must be carried out in a timely fashion, but they must never involve a weakening of party control or its ideology.
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