China-Soviet alliance ends amid hints of mellower mood
It was April 10, the day on which the 30-year-old Sino-Soviet alliance was due to expire. At the vast Soviet Embassy in Peking's northern district, the telephone rang.
"This is the protocol department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," said the voice at the other end of the line, "as of today the address of the Soviet Embassy will be No. 4 Dongzhimen Beizhongjie."
Thus, without fanfare, the Soviet Embassy was informed that the street on which it stood, christened Anti-Revisionism Street at the height of the fanatic Cultural Revolution, had reverted to its former name.
"The Chinese can hardly blame the Soviet Union for revisionism when they are practicing it themselves, can they," said one Western diplomat.
Be that as it may, the renaming of Anti-Revisionism Street was about the only news-worthy event journalists could find to connect with the quiet demise of an alliance that, at the time it was concluded in 1950, seemed destined to shake the world.
Today, sharp verbal confrontation backed up by a panoply of military force is the keynote of Sino-Soviet relations across the whole chessboard of international strategic policy.
China denounces Soviet actions in Afghanistan, watches prospective Soviet moves against Pakistan and Iran with alarm, warns Europe and the United States of the continuing danger of a Soviet thrust at the oil and warm water ports of the Persian Gulf. But attacks on Soviet internal policies are much rarer.
The Chinese still consider that Stalin was 70 percent right and only 30 percent wrong.
A recent report on a national conference on Soviet literature drew the attention of foreign observers when a majority of delegates were said to have reached the conclusion that the Soviet Union, although hegemonistic and expansionist in its external policies, remained socialist in its domestic policies.
In other words, no longer revisionist. There are also hints that at an appropriate time China may resume the normalization talks with the Soviet Union that were disrupted by the invasion of Afghanistan.
Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping, in an April 11 interview with Associated Press correspondent John Roderick, attacked the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but left open the question of when China's normalization talks with Moscow would resume.
Neither Peking nor Moscow is thought to be satisfied with the ad hoc, day-to-day nature of their state relations after the expiry of the alliance. Many diplomats here believe that as time goes on, both sides will seek a more long-range, predictable frameword for these relations.
The two sides may not reach a more cordial relationship, but they could agree to a more businesslike one. At the same time, there is a less tangible area in which Soviet influence remains strong nearly two decades after Khrushchev's abrupt withdrawal of Soviet advisers from china. This is the cultural sphere in schools and universities.
Although English may again be superseding Russian as the major foreign language, more literary works are translated into Chinese from Russian than from any other foreign land.
Most Chinese of the under-40 generations have been brought up not only on Tolstoy and Chekhov but also on such representative Soviet works as Ostrovsky's "How the Steel was Forged." They learned Western art through touring Soviet exhibitions, not only of socialist realism but also of older masters such as Repin and Levitan.
They learned to build and operate factories, mines, and hotels according to the Soviet model. They took their institutions of state, from police and customs to the various economic ministries, from Moscow.
The interlocking bureaucracies of party and state follow the Soviet experience. A Chinese visiting Moscow might disagree violently with the external policies currently being followed there. But he would feel at home in the way society was organized. He would not feel totally disoriented, as he might if he came, say, to the United States.
It is not just that China and the Soviet Union are both communist countries. It is that culturally, what used to come to China directly from the West, came for an entire generation through the prism (some would say, the distorting lens) of Russian and Soviet perceptions and adaptations of the West.
Many of those about to come to leadership positions in China in the coming decade have been formed by this experience.
Whereas Chinese of pre-1949 generations were educated in Western or Western-oriented schools, the post-liberation generations have learned about the West through Soviet advisers in China or their own studies in the Soviet Union.
Soviet studies in China, like academic studies in many other fields, are recovering from the frenzied anarchy of the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960 s.
The virulent anti-Soviet propaganda dished out during those years has backfired, in the sense that many youths today -- and probably many cadres -- are at least curious about what Soviet society may really be like, what lessons if any the Soviet experience may have for China.
Soviet cultural influence is not a countable quantity in the way that military hardware or foreign trade is.
But as the Chinese of the post-1949 generations get around to thinking through the totality of their relationship with the Soviet Union, their memories of more than a decade of intimate Sino-Soviet cooperation in almost all imaginable fields are bound to cast a shadow across a country now intent on economic growth within the communist framework.