Daily Archives: 27 November 2008

Mao’s Humiliation in Moscow, 1949

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 352-354:

IN DECEMBER 1949, Mao finally made his trip to Moscow. Harrison Salisbury, of the New York Times, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Moscow in those days, remembered the shroud of silence that Stalin had already placed in the preceding months over the news of Mao’s coming victory. There was virtually no mention of it in the controlled press; “a snippet on the back page of Pravda, or a few paragraphs inside Izvestia. The word ‘China’ hardly appeared.” Now, with Mao on his way to Moscow, there was more open evidence of the cold Soviet shoulder. Stalin’s seventieth birthday was self-evidently a great moment of celebration in the Communist world and an occasion not to be shared with any other event or person. On December 6, Mao set out by train for the Soviet capital. The war was barely over and he was fearful of attacks by Nationalist dissidents. He traveled in an armored car, with sentries posted every hundred meters along the tracks. In Shenyang, the largest city in the northeast, Mao disembarked and checked to see if there were posters of him. There were very few, it turned out, and a great many of Stalin—the work of Gao Gang, whom Mao saw as a pro-Soviet dissident. Mao was furious and ordered that the car carrying gifts for Stalin from Gao be uncoupled from the train and the gifts returned to him.

Mao’s arrival in Moscow on December 16 was an edgy one. He was treated not as the leader of a great revolution bringing into the Communist orbit one of the world’s great nations but rather, as the historian Adam Ulam has written, ”as if he were, say, the head of the Bulgarian party.” V. M. Molotov and Nikolai Bulganin, both senior politburo members, came to the station to meet him. Mao had laid out a handsome luncheon buffet. He asked the two Soviet leaders to have a drink with him. They refused—based on protocol, Molotov said. They also refused to sit and share the food. Then Mao asked them to accompany him to the residence where he was scheduled to stay. Again they refused. There was no major celebration or festive party for him. It was as if Mao was now to learn his place in Stalin’s constellation, the real Communist universe; if he was a fraternal brother, then he should know that there would always be one Communist brother who was so much bigger than all the others. One of Khrushchev’s aides told his boss that someone named “Matsadoon” was in town. “Who?” the perplexed Khrushchev asked. “You know that Chinaman,” the aide answered. That was how they saw him: that Chinaman. And that was how they treated him. The main reception for the Chinese delegation was held not in the Main Hall of the Kremlin but in the old Metropole Hotel, “the usual place for entertaining visiting minor capitalist dignitaries,” in Ulam’s words.

Things did not get better after the first reception. For days on end Mao was isolated, waiting for Stalin to arrange meetings. No one else could meet with him until Stalin had, and Stalin was taking his time. When Mao first arrived in Moscow, he announced that China looked forward to a partnership with Russia, but he emphasized as well that he wanted to be treated as an equal. Instead he was being taught a lesson each day. He had become, in Ulam’s words, ”as much captive as guest.” As such, he shouted at the walls, convinced that Stalin had bugged the house: “I am here to do more than eat and shit.” He hated Russian food. At one point Kovalev, his contact man, dropped by to visit him. Mao pointed outside at Moscow and said, “Bad, bad!” What did he mean by that? Kovalev asked. Mao said he was angry at the Kremlin. Kovalev insisted he had no right to criticize “the Boss,” and that he, Kovalev, would now have to make a report.

When Stalin finally met Mao, they proved to have a remarkable mutual instinct for misunderstanding. “Why didn’t you seize Shanghai?” Stalin asked, for the Chinese had taken their time before entering the city. “Why should we have?” Mao answered. “If we’d captured the city, we would have had to take on the responsibility for feeding the six million inhabitants.” Stalin, already fearing that Mao favored peasants over workers, was appalled. Here was proof of it, workers in a city left to suffer.

The trip to Moscow was in all ways a disaster, and Mao would have along memory for the way he had been treated. In economic and military aid, he got very little from his negotiations on that first trip—a paltry $300 million in Soviet arms over five years, or $60 million a year. To make matters worse, there were also some Chinese territorial concessions that had to be thrown in. The lack of Russian generosity staggered the Chinese. “Like taking meat from the mouth of a tiger,” Mao would say years later. For Mao, very much aware of the scale of his great triumph at home and what it meant in terms of history, the treatment by the Soviets had essentially been a humiliation, but one he had been forced to accept without complaint. “It is no wonder that Mao conceived, if he had not nurtured it before, an abiding hatred of the Soviet Union,” Adam Ulam wrote.

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