China’s Role in Encouraging the Hungarian Revolt in 1956

In order to obtain more autonomy from Moscow [after the death of Stalin], some Eastern European countries turned to Beijing for inspiration under the pretext that China was in the stage of socialist transition (from the “New Democracy” to socialism) similar to that of Eastern Europe, whereas the Soviet Union had entered a much higher stage of socialist construction….

In Hungary, the Chinese influence was reflected in the ideology of emerging Hungarian nationalist communists, particularly in Imre Nagy’s admiration of China’s Five Principles of coexistence [especially nonintervention]. Nagy, who was purged during Stalin’s later years, rehabilitated during the New Course, and appointed as Hungarian premier from late 1953 to 1955, proposed his reformist line that included easing the tempo of industrialization, allowing peasants to leave collective farms, and relaxing police terror. For this he was ousted in March 1955 by Hungarian Stalinists led by Matyas Rakosi….

After the CPSU’s Twentieth Congress, with the discrediting of Stalinist policies coming into air, China became more attractive in Eastern Europe, and China’s activities promoting its influence became more aggressive. Marked by the publication of “Let One Hundred Flowers Bloom, Let One Hundred Schools of Thought Contend,” a policy report made by Lu Dingyi, the head of the propaganda department of the CCP, in May 1956 and published by People’s Daily on 13 June, China initiated an intellectual liberalization aimed at releasing accumulated internal pressures in the short run, with a long-run purpose of allowing some flexibility and criticism within the regime in order to win popular support and detect mistakes. The Double-Hundred policy soon became a new focus of the Chinese attractiveness in Eastern Europe. In September the CCP’s Eighth Congress opened, and all Eastern European communist parties sent delegations to Beijing. The event was used by Beijing at that critical moment to introduce its own road toward socialism and to build up relations with the post-Stalinist generation among Eastern European leaders. For example, Janos Kadar, the head of the Hungarian delegation, who was purged during Stalin’s years but rehabilitated in 1954, was very popular in the Hungarian party for his anti-Stalinist stand. Chinese leaders were very interested in this emerging new leader, and Mao Zedong, Liu Shaoqi, and Zhou Enlai all had long conversations with him. On 1 October Kadar once again represented the Hungarian party at the celebration of China’s National Day in Beijing.

One point that has not received adequate attention on the Double-Hundred policy is that the metaphoric expression (directly from Mao himself and characteristic of his style) created a false impression of tolerating various–if not all–ideological opinions, especially among those who were unfamiliar with the CCP’s ideologically oppressive past, such as the Yenan Rectification in the 1940s and the Thought Reform Campaign in the early 1950s. This was particularly the case when the Double-Hundred policy aroused widespread pro-Chinese sympathy in Eastern Europe, where people were excited by the slogan itself but did not have adequate knowledge about the CCP’s history and had no chance to scrutinize the specific contents of the Chinese materials introducing the new policy. In Hungary the Chinese ambassador took the opportunity to enhance pro-Chinese sentiment by providing more information to Hungarian intellectuals and students, and he even made a special effort to publicize the CCP’s Eighth Congress, which opened in September and confirmed the Double-Hundred policy, by supplying abundant information to Hungarian press and radio. As a result, the CCP’s Eighth Congress was given a great deal of publicity by Hungarian media, which further nourished the pro-Chinese sentiment. Many dissenting Hungarian intellectuals came to believe that the Double-Hundred policy truly reflected the intention of the Chinese communists. In the meantime, with Nagy’s rehabilitation and reappointment as premier, China’s Five Principles of coexistence were used against Soviet “big-power chauvinism”–a term also coined by the Chinese. The Hungarian illusion of China lasted until the last minute, when Irodalmi Ujsag (Literary gazette; the organ of the revolutionary writers) declared on 2 November (two days after China urged Khrushchev to crush the Hungarian revolt) that “The West and the East are on our side. America has proclaimed her faith in our cause as clearly as have powerful nations like China and India.” (emphasis added)

SOURCE: Yinghong Cheng, “Beyond Moscow-Centric Interpretation: An Examination of the China Connection in Eastern Europe and North Vietnam during the Era of De-Stalinization,” Journal of World History 15:487-518 (Project Muse subscription required).

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