China has second thoughts on Mao's `great' triumph

Party historians are rewriting the official version of the Korean War, writes Teresa Poole in Peking

For decades, Chinese schoolchildren have been drilled in the history of China's "glorious victory" in the 1950-53 Korean War against the "imperialist" forces of America, a war that is always blamed in official Chinese accounts on a US-backed South Korean invasion.

Now, however, a very different Chinese history of the period has been published by a party journal, contradicting much of the orthodox view and showing how Chairman Mao was repeatedly manipulated and outwitted by Stalin.

The author writes how Stalin gave Mao a supposed power of veto over the war, that senior Chinese generals and Politburo members had serious misgivings about the whole venture, and that Mao disregarded the advice of his senior military commander in North Korea.

The 33-page three-part series has appeared in a new magazine called Hundred Year Tide, which is written by academics at the Central Party History Research Centre. It should be viewed against the backdrop of the internal foreign policy and military debate in China over the Taiwan issue and Sino-US relations.

Publication of the articles suggests that historians and foreign policy activists on the reformist wing of the party are confident enough to offer a revisionist version of this episode in Chinese history. It remains to be seen what other historical subjects will also be tackled.

This particular rewriting of history would seem to have had its genesis last year, after China's hawkish missile tests off Taiwan dismayed those who would argue for a more conciliatory posture towards Taiwan and the United States.

But it has also emerged at a time when China is seeking to play an effective role in defusing tensions on the Korean peninsula. By coincidence, this setting straight of the official record has caught the outside world's attention just as Peking prepares to take part in the four-party peace talks this week in New York aimed at securing a formal peace settlement to the Korean War.

The author uses the name Qing Shi, which sounds the same as "Clear History" in Chinese. He writes that in April 1949, Mao had requested 200 aircraft and pilot-training from the Soviet Union in support of his plan to take Taiwan from the Nationalist Kuomintang. The Soviet response was "ambiguous". Soon afterwards, North Korea asked Stalin for military support for its plans to invade South Korea, and the Soviet Union chose to back Pyongyang.

The articles reveal that in May 1950, Kim Il Sung, the North Korea ruler, arrived secretly in Peking, after being told by Stalin to secure Mao's go-ahead for his plan to unify Korea. Kim told Mao that he already had Stalin's backing, but that the final approval must be China's. Mao was "very annoyed that he had been kept in the dark" about this pact, but agreed to the invasion plan. China promised to send troops if American soldiers entered the war. In June 1950, Mao saw his Taiwan ambitions collapse when the US Seventh Fleet sailed into the Taiwan Strait.

"After the death of Stalin, Mao repeatedly complained about Stalin's wrong decision on the Korean War. He called it a big mistake, 100 per cent wrong. Maybe Mao was thinking, without this mistake, the Taiwan problem would not have been stuck in such a dilemma and the Chinese Communist Party would have liberated Taiwan at half the cost it spent on the Korean War," writes Mr Qing.

Rejecting the official Chinese view that the war was started by a South Korean invasion, the articles state that it was North Korean forces which crossed the border in June 1950 in a successful aggressive assault. Stalin encouraged China to gather its "volunteer" forces along its border with North Korea. When the United Nations troops turned the tide and forced back the North Korea soldiers, "Mao still thought, with Soviet air protection and Soviet military equipment, it was not difficult to defeat the Americans, and if the Chinese troops won in North Korea, the US would not dare to attack China."

Mao's most senior officials and generals thought otherwise. They opposed sending troops and military leaders expressed "lack of confidence in confronting the US," reveals Mr Qing. The role of the Soviet Union as described by these articles is not one usually aired in China. "The Korean War was basically good for Soviet interests in Far East Asia, and that was why Stalin encouraged China to help North Korea ..."

Moscow, still refusing to put its own troops in North Korea, promised to back China if Washington subsequently declared war against Peking. Zhou Enlai was sent to negotiate in Moscow, where Stalin warned: "If your decision is not to send in troops, then socialism in North Korea will soon collapse." That would mean an exiled North Korean government in north- east China, which would put Chinese soil under threat from the US.

Mao gave the go-ahead and in October 1950 Chinese troops swept into North Korea, driving back the UN forces. Mao quickly became over-confident, setting hopelessly ambitious conditions for a ceasefire including Taiwan's expulsion from the UN.

General Peng Dehuai advised Mao to let the Chinese troops halt at the 38th parallel, and recover their strength to fight the following spring. He refused, and the battle recommenced. By 1951, China was suffering serious reverses and heavy casualties. Still Stalin told Mao: "... the Korean War should not be quickened, because Chinese troops can learn about modern war in a lengthy one".

By the July 1953 truce, Peking had won none of its demands and any chance to retake Taiwan had evaporated. The historical reminder on offer from the authors would seem to be that hopes for reunification with Taiwan are ill-served by bad Sino-US relations - then and now.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Professional Sales Trainee - B2B

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: First things first - for the av...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Representative

£15500 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This international company deve...

Recruitment Genius: Field Service Engineer - Basingstoke / Reading Area

£16000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established name in IT Ser...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue