China’s revolutionary flames in Africa 1

Reading Western critics of Mao’s China engagement with Africa, very often they conceptually address the issue as if it was China’s revolution in Africa being played out rather than Chinese support for African’s struggles. In an interview given by Mao Zedong to Brazilian the attitude was expressed that China respected the newly independent and emerging states

… their neutral position, because their neutrality was obtained by shaking off imperialist domination. The neutrality of the nationalist countries is a position of independence, sovereignty and freedom from control. We in the socialist camp welcome the neutral position of these countries, because it is favorable to the cause of peace and unfavorable to the imperialist plans of aggression and war. We regard as our friends the independent countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America and also those countries which have not yet achieved or are fighting for independence. We support them.  [i]  

Admittedly from the 1950s onwards Chinese communists could be quoted arguing that the road taken by China should be followed by all peoples of the colonial and semi-colonial countries so that they may achieve their independence and a people’s democracy.

However there was always stipulations to that assertion that guided foreign relations with the Third World nations. In a talk with some African visitors in 1963, Mao remarked, “In the fight for complete liberation the oppressed people rely first of all on their own struggle and then, and only then, on international assistance.”  This was balanced with “our internationalist duty….The people who have triumphed in their own revolution should help those still struggling for liberation.”  [ii] 

In a 1956 conversation with representatives of some Latin American communist parties, Mao Zedong had warned them about mechanically copying the experiences of the Chinese revolution:

 “The experience of the Chinese revolution, that is, building rural base areas, encircling the cities from the countryside and finally seizing the cities, may not be wholly applicable to many of your countries, though it can serve for your reference. I beg to advise you not to transplant Chinese experience mechanically. The experience of any foreign country can serve only for reference and must not be regarded as dogma. The universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and the concrete conditions of your own countries–the two must be integrated.”  [iii]

China’s policy was to support the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist struggle of those under colonial rule, whilst towards the newly-independent nations of Africa, it argued the winning, and maintaining and consolidating of political independence was always the primary task for all Asian and African countries.

The line of “New Democracy” that had served the Chinese Communist Party so well was regard as applicable by others in the Global South who engaged in the struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism.

Mao Zedong’s talk to representatives of the Union of the Populations of Cameroon and of the youths of Guinea, Kenya and Madagascar stated, “You may think of China as your friend…. I shall just air my own views for your reference. The present revolution in Africa is a struggle against imperialism and a national liberation movement. It is a question of national liberation rather than communism; on that we all agree. There are two other points: one is the question of a quick or slow victory. There are only these two possibilities, quick or slow victory. If you are prepared for both, you will not feel disappointed. The other is the question of what force to rely on. Is Africa to be liberated by relying on foreign countries or by relying on the African people themselves? To liberate Africa, it is essential to rely on the African people. African affairs should be run by the Africans themselves by relying on the forces of African people; in the meantime they should make friends throughout the world, including China. China certainly supports you. Whether these two points are right or not is for you to ponder over.  [iv]

There was a receptive audience to this thinking. As early as the 1960s, many African leaders considered China not only a political ally but also an economic partner with a development model sensitive to local cultures and conducive to the needs of societies that had limited foundation for industrialization. The interrelation of political and economic independence was easily explained,

The development of an independent national economy and winning of full economic independence concerns the vital national interests of the newly independent Asian and African countries. It is at the same time opposed to the basic interests of the imperialists, colonialists and neo-colonialists who want to retain their colonial rule. Hence, the struggle for the development of an independent national economy necessarily reflects itself in political struggle, in serious political struggle against the imperialists, first of all against U.S. imperialism. .. [v]

There was a continuity of messages derived from China’s top leaders that under Mao, China had consistently supported issues of common interest has been directed at establishing a united front with the Third World and the demand for a restructuring of the international order, one not dominated by the superpowers.

Mao had commented to a group of overseas visitors in 1960 that :

The imperialists have committed all manner of evils and all the oppressed peoples of the whole world will never forgive them. To defeat the reactionary rule of imperialism, Comrades Mao Zedong said, it is necessary to form a broad front and unite with all forces, except the enemy, and continue to wage arduous struggles…

Chairman Mao Zedong’s Important Talks with Guests from Asia, Africa and Latin America,” Foreign Languages Press, Beijing, 1960

The extent of China’s influence on the African continent was exaggerated at the time by those who monitor and raised the alarm in western propaganda. Whilst it was a presence which ultimately was revolutionary because support and aid was providing tangible assistance, China was not guilty when charged with aiming to impose its leadership upon Africa, in reality there was little organisational consolidation in terms of parties or movements that ideologically aligned towards Beijing.

Clearly the Chinese notion that ‘revolution could not be exported’ did not preclude support for fellow revolutionaries throughout the world. Behind the rhetoric there was material support with training visits by would be third world revolutionaries explored in various studies  [vi]

Mao’s remarks to a visiting delegation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in March 1965, would seem to underplay the training on offer:

There are some foreigners studying military science in China. I advise them to go back, and not to study too long. A few months will do. There is only lecturing in the classroom, which is of no use. After going back, it would be most useful to take part in fighting. Some logic requires little if any explanation. One should spend most of one’s time in his own country. Perhaps, there is no need to go abroad, and one will learn it all right. [vii]

 In reality while China supplied revolutionary groups with rhetorical and, in some cases, material support, the ideological advice that came from China stressed the importance of revolutionaries in each country working to their own conditions. Militant diplomacy in the Cultural Revolution period would expressed full sympathy and support for heroic struggles,  express thanks for profound friendship and advertise the just struggles of the peoples of various countries in the world support each other, the fundamental expectation, and advice given was that: It is imperative to adhere to the policy of self-reliance, rely on the strength of the masses in one’s own country, and prepare to carry on the fight independently and solve the problems of the revolution in one’s own country.

Sidney Rittenberg (a.k.a Li Dunbai), a CCP member and propaganda official at the time, recalled a meeting between Mao and about 20 African revolutionaries in Beijing in June 1963:

The African guests were assembled in the hall … none from an independent state. They were all from various nationalist organizations or guerrilla movements. I knew a few of them were receiving military training in China. I recognized a cherubic young student who had once told me he was learning from the People’s Liberation Army how to use small arms, hand grenades, land mines, and booby traps.

Mao Zedong told the African visitors:

On behalf of the CCP, I’d like to welcome all our friends and comrades-in-arms from Africa … I know you are having a very difficult struggle in Africa, and you’ve already made big successes. Many battles remain to be fought, but Africa is coming alive. Here in China, we knew little about Africa. Then as you fought for independence and were successful, your countries came and made their presence known to us.  [viii]

Its aims clearly stated, and to an extent depicted on the pages of Peking Review, centred on three Chinese objectives in Africa were anti-imperialism, (later) anti-revisionism, and Asian-African unity. Mao’s opening speech back in September 1956 at the 8th Party Congress had framed China’s foreign policy approach:

“We must give active support to the national independence and liberation movements in countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America as well as to the peace movement and righteous struggles in all countries throughout the world.”  [ix]

The wider context of the anti-revisionist struggle reinforced this approach as expressed in the Chinese reply to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union In “Apologists of Neo-Colonialism”, on October 25, 1963. In the editorial, they stated their support of the newly independent nations of Asian, Africa, and Latin America, emphasizing that ―The primary and most urgent task facing these countries is still the further development of the struggle against imperialism, old and new colonialism, and their lackeys. [x]

Premier Zhou En-Lai in Africa [xi]

New York Times headline

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, June 5 — Chou En-lai declared today that not only Africa but also Asia and Latin America were ripe for revolution. 

On December 14, 1963, Zhou En-lai stated in Cairo that “This is my first visit to the African continent and I would like to avail myself of this opportunity to pay my tribute to all the new emerging independent African states and their peoples, and to all the struggling peoples in Africa. The Asian and African peoples have always supported each other in their struggles, and I am convinced that the Asian and African peoples united together will certainly continue to win new victories in their common cause of striving for and safeguarding national independence and defending world peace.”[xii]

These objectives were repeated through Premier Zhou Enlai’s unpresented tour of Africa When along with the foreign minister Chen Yi and forty other officials, Zhou En-Lai made the largely symbolic, three-month long trip from December of 1963 to February of 1964, visiting nine countries, including Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Ghana, Mali, Guinea, Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

The trip had doctrinal importance with speeches given at every capital visited, often under the title ―Afro-Asian Solidarity Against Imperialism. China viewed Afro-Asian solidarity as consisting of popular forces (i. e. national independence, liberation and revolutionary movements as well as peoples’ organisations) on the one hand, and on the other, of governments of independent countries. In other words, united front from both above and below. Diplomatically it failed in attempts arguing for the convening of a second Bandung-type conference, building upon Afro-Asian people’s solidarity in contrast to Non-Aligned Movement orientation. Still,  two core themes were repeated, with varying degrees of emphasis throughout: China’s fraternity with African anti-colonial and developmental struggles, and China’s support for Africa in overcoming these challenges, both morally and practically.

Zhou’s responses to a public press conference stressed China and Africa’s general “shared experience of suffering from imperialist and colonial aggression” with the core message of “consolidating national independence, safeguarding state sovereignty, developing national economy, promoting Asian–African solidarity, and defending world peace,” as well as emphasizing bright prospects ahead, and reiterating China’s eight principles for granting economic and technical assistance. [xiii]

China’s support was not only in rhetoric, however, but also in more tangible assistance. These goods, which included steel as well as monetary support, were the first instances of economic aid that would become the trademark of Chinese foreign policy in Africa in the coming years.

China’s action in Africa, a clear delineation of China from the West in its dealings with Africa, absolute respect for state sovereignty, a friendliness grounded in notions of equality rather than superiority, support for anti-colonial struggles, no-strings developmental assistance, and notions of supporting self-reliance.

During Zhou En-lai’s visit to the West African state of Guinea, he stressed the need for self-reliance in the independence movement. The Chinese leader stated during a speech in Guinea that “The people of the Asian and African countries deeply realize that in order to achieve independence, the people should mainly rely on their own struggle and that in order to develop the national economy and build up their own countries after independence, the people should also primarily rely on their own efforts. Self-reliance and energetic endeavors to bring about prosperity this is a line which consists in placing confidence in and depending on the masses of the people to develop the national economy and realize complete independence.”  [xiv]

The founding of the Afro-Asian People‘s Solidarity Organization (A.A.P.S.O.)in Cairo on December 26, 1957 provided an important channel through which moral and material support for armed struggles for liberation could be extended. This gathering of 500 delegates from 43 different entities from various Asian and African nations was the largest gathering of its kind. Delegates to the conference in Cairo were not representatives of their country, but rather of specific organizations, main goals of these participants were to promote anticolonial issues.

 Although the Chinese delegation was concentrating its activities on consolidating Afro-Asian solidarity and unity, parallel to this activity within the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organisation (AAPSO) the military camp in Ghana saw Chinese military instructors trained cadre for revolutionary movements in French neo-colonies such as Dahomey (Benin), Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Mali. In 1963, the Chinese sent military supplies from Tanzania and Congo-Brazzaville to guerrillas in the eastern Congo led by a former education minister in Lumumba’s cabinet. China gave military aid and training to revolutionary movements throughout the continent. In camps in Tanzania and Algeria, the Chinese armed and trained guerrillas from FRELIMO in Mozambique, the PAIGC in Guinea-Bissau, ZANU in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania and the ANC in South Africa.

laying explosives

The complex story of the first half of the Sixties, the policies adopted and adapted by Communist China during this period, argues Debeche, invariably neglected its interest in State-to-State relations preferring to give support to anti-government revolutionary forces, however it  gave way to an renewed emphasis on economic and political independence. [xv]

Whereas the alternative narrative of a “Meddling Dragon” in Chau’s historical examination of China’s activities in Africa, portrays China engagements as specifically to demonstrate influence in the world. Misplaced reliance on defector sources shored up this position as in 1964 testimony of Tung Chi-ping, a Chinese cultural attaché for the embassy in Burundi, with misplaced credence given when he stated that China was determined to take over the Congo as the first step in a conquest of Africa! [xvi]

The Chinese News Agency Hsinhua , in a year-end review of developments in Africa, optimistically claimed that 1966 had seen Mao Tse-Tung’s Thought increasingly accepted a “the beacon light for the African revolution”, and that 1967 would see African revolutionary movements gaining greater momentum and seizing “more impressive victories”.  [xvii] This was the year Nkrumah had been disposed and diplomatic relations with Central African Republic and Dahomey broken.

Those closely allied to western interest publically spoke of Chinese subversion echoing metropolitan fears of influence and interference other than their own. Nkrumah had signed a treaty between the PRC and Ghana which allowed for a number of Chinese experts to be sent to Ghana to train members of liberation organisations at a military training camp at Obenamasi (Hutchison 1975). A number of Ghanaians were also dispatched to China to undergo guerrilla training. The military training camp headed by Chinese instructors was also closed and the instructors expelled. On October 20, after Sino-Ghanaian relations had deteriorated further, diplomatic relations were suspended.

Many African governments became distrustful of the CCP, and several even broke diplomatic relations and expelled Chinese diplomats for subversion. This reflects the [continuing contemporary] view that China’s engagement with Africa in the perspective and reporting of the West, China’s behaviour in Africa is that of an aspiring great power in the world.  The capitalist media outlets continue to frame news coverage of the Chinese in Africa in a colonial context.” Typically  a headline from the New York Times (May 2017 ) asked  Is China the World’s New Colonial Power?” and’s questions “Recolonizing Africa: A Modern Chinese Story?”. Yet China under Mao had none of the characteristics of the colonial experience when the European powers used horrendous violence to impose their language, culture, religion, administrative systems and then stole the resources in their conquered lands.

Far from the repression and control of Colonial times, as Lovell shows in Maoism: A Global History [xviii] especially in her presentation on the failed attempts to foment Maoist movements in Africa, the Chinese state made considerable efforts to support favourable regimes with financial support, and train fighters, not all who pledged allegiance to Maoism, supplying cash, guns, and propaganda.

China’s first foray into supporting revolution in Africa involved Algerian independence from France. Throughout the late 1950’s Algerian military delegations visited Chinese bases for training, and Chinese armaments and equipment soon popped up on battlefields around Algeria. The CIA estimated that starting in 1959 China spent around $15 million in military aid for Algerian rebels.

China attempted to increase their influence in Africa through the use of radio broadcasts. Radio Peking’s English language transmissions provided ideological news and commentary alongside music. However, given that radios were still a luxury item for many at the time, many of the masses China desired to reach were likely out of earshot during their 21 hours of weekly broadcasts.  By 1959/60 Radio Peking launched a new daily 2-hour program in English that expanded to 35 hours by 1964. The short-wave service of Radio Albania was also used by the Chinese to broadcast to Africa. The languages were Arabic, Cantonese (aimed at Zanzibar) French, English, Italian, Portuguese and Swahili.

The initial attention on Algeria in north Africa gave way to west Africa at the start of the sixties and incorporated a pivot to groups in countries under Portuguese control (i.e. Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Sâo Tomé) and onto East Africa particularly Tanzania. It some places there was fertile ground for the Chinese:  [xix]

Premier Chou En-Lai Plays table tennis With President Kwame Nkrumah. Chou En-Lai Visited Ghana and other African nations in 1964.

Forming friendships in West Africa, and in the early 1960’s China signed numerous friendship treaties with the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence in the post-war era. The new nation of Ghana, under the radical leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, often considered the father of African liberation, invited Chinese military advisors to train freedom fighters from all corners of the continent between 1957 and his overthrow in 1966.

During the Congo Crisis that saw progressive leaders like Patrice Lumumba and Pierre Mulelle challenge western imperialist dominance, the direct western intervention and subversion was blatant and public. And presented as a response to alleged Chinese communist conspiracy. In western propaganda the Congo was presented as one of the most important examples of an African country in which revolutionary opposition forces were actively supported by China. Unlike in Ghana where it was a supposed subversive government that was being supported. However, as Mao’s statement in support of the Congolese people against American aggression pointed out:

“The U.S. imperialist armed aggression against the Congo (Leopoldville) is a very grave matter. The United States has all along attempted to control the Congo. It used the United Nations s forces to carry out every sort of evil deed there.  It murdered the Congolese national hero Lumumba, it subverted the lawful Congolese government It imposed the puppet Tshombe on the Congolese people, and dispatched mercenary troops to sup press the Congolese national liberation movement And now, it is carrying out direct armed intervention in the Congo in collusion with Belgium and Britain. In so doing, the purpose of U.S. imperialism is not only to control the Congo, but also to enmesh the whole of Africa, particularly the newly independent African countries, in the toils of U.S. neocolonialism once again. U.S. aggression has encountered heroic resistance from the Congolese people and aroused the indignation of the people of Africa and of the whole world. [xx]

His words were matched by training, credit and deliveries of equipment to support the struggle.

On Africa’s Eastern coast, China began supporting the communist movement on Zanzibar in 1960. The East African nations of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which would merge in April 1964 to become Tanzania.

China maintained good graces with the newly formed Tanzania, and eventually offered aid in the form of overt military training and assistance in building infrastructure projects, Zhou Enlai eventually made it to Dar es Salaam in 1965 and Nyerere’s came to China in 1965 and 1968, in which he “stressed that he had “come to learn.’

During another visit to Beijing in 1974 Nyerere stated that, “Two things convince me that socialism can be built in Africa and that it is not a Utopian vision. For capitalism is ultimately incompatible with the real independence of African states. The second thing which encourages me is China…China is providing an encouragement and an inspiration for younger and smaller nations which seek to build socialist societies.”  [xxi]

More than one western report would comment that publications from China, China Pictorial, Peking Review, Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung, Mao’s selected works, Swahili translations of Chinese poems for children, etc. have all been readily obtainable. In Kampala, a street stand opposite the main Post Office sells a wide range of Chinese literature, as well as portraits of Mao and Stalin; in Dar es Salaam the Friendship Book Shop carries a full stock of Chinese publications and a complete line of Mao buttons.

By 1975, China under Mao was spending 5 percent of its budget on foreign aid. [Forty-six years later, today’s UK government target was only one percent, and that has been reduced.] Lovell reports that China’s international aid totalled more than $24 billion between 1950 and 1978, a period during which China had a per capita gross domestic product well under $200—less than 2 percent of that of the United States at the time. China, itself an underdeveloped country, spent an estimated $24 billion on international aid, 13–15 percent of which went to Africa.

Problems of Fusion of Marxism-Leninism with the National Liberation Movement in Africa

While Third World countries were “the driving force of the world revolution”, the tasks of revolutionary processes in those countries could well be at the stage of an anti-colonial revolutions. As the character of who led these movements came from the national bourgeoisie or the small bourgeoisie, there were references to “patriotic armed forces”.

Western reports had China bankrolling many revolutionary movements throughout Africa, in reality the relations between China and the third world were becoming increasingly focused on economics. The complexities of the neo-colonial aftermath of national liberation were recognised; the dependence of these governments on imperialisms – which most of the time depended economically on the old imperialist metropolises or superpowers, even switching sides from one to the other, and those distinctly authoritarian regimes (often of a pro-American character) that were also “third world” countries .  A country could have diplomatic relations with China based on the five principles of peaceful coexistence, without a military or shared comradely relationship based on support for and promotion of armed struggle against colonialism and imperialism; for example, Morocco, Kenya and Burundi could be hardly characterize as militant. China built diplomatic relations with several conservative African governments. In October 1971 and January 1973, for instance, Mao hosted Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie [xxii] and Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko, respectively. While it stopped supporting revolutionary groups seeking to overthrow independent (formerly regarded as neo-colonialists) African governments, it turned south to increased support for those under oppressive white minority governments (i.e. Rhodesia, Namibia, and South Africa).

L’Imperatore dell’Etiopia S.M. Haflé Sélassié e Mao Tse Tung – 1971 © Archivio Publifoto / Olycom

Elsewhere firmly entrenched racist regime in which white minority government was determined to maintain its power faced national liberation movements adopting armed struggle against the forces of imperialism and its local allies (rather than negotiation with the colonial power) as their general strategy. These development met with the support of China.

“Revolutionary Flames in Africa”

The whole direction of propaganda during the period of the Cultural Revolution was encouraging the spirit of revolution internationally, preferably under the guidance of Mao Tsetung Thought. Maoism was embraced around the world – Mao’s message resonated intellectually and emotionally it offered empowerment to people fighting against empire, capitalist exploitation, or state-backed injustice.  China’s continued focus on third-world relations was actually an essential aspect of what is presented as an isolationist and inward looking period of the Cultural Revolution.

In October 1966, the CCP Central Committee ordered that the dissemination of The Quotations of Chairman Mao become the foremost task of all embassies.

This Chinese poster carries the slogan “Chairman Mao is the great saviour of the revolutionary peoples of the world” and an illustration of African freedom fighters reading a pamphlet by Mao.

Western reports overstated Maoist influence among African revolutionary groups and the Chinese media revolutionary rhetoric cost nothing proclaiming such militancy as evidence that More and more of the oppressed African nations are recognising that Mao Zedong Thought is their strongest weapon for gaining true independence, and armed struggle is their road to gaining liberation in Congo, Mozambique, Angola and “Portuguese” Guinea.  [xxiii]

The dominant theme at the height of the Cultural Revolution was this image the “Red Sun” of Mao rises over a diverse array of foreign peoples, armed and determined to combat imperialism. The text encourages the Chinese people to “Vigorously support the anti-imperialist struggle for the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America”.

Chinese articles highlighting “revolutionary flames in Africa” would focused on “the revolutionary people of the Congo (K), Mozambique, Angola, Guinea (Bissau), Zimbabwe and other places are carrying on life-and-death armed struggles against imperialism and its lackeys.”  [xxiv]

However the number of self-declared Marxist African movements were few, and priority for Chinese support and aid was to those movements engaged in struggle against the remaining white supremacist colonialist regimes in southern Africa rather than insurgency groups.

Military training in the anti-imperialist struggle went to the national liberation movements which were ready to use armed struggle. This was particularly so as most communist parties which China earlier identified with, showed their loyalty to Soviet international line of accommodation with, not resistance to, the imperialist forces.  There were maoist-inclined influential and prominent revolutionary intellectuals and individual militants within the patriotic armed forces and national liberation organisations but seldom at their core were led by the presence of systematic organised maoist communist party aligned to Beijing.

African liberation movements utilized Chinese aid, and elements of Maoist ideology were utilized in efforts to promote the goals of liberation evident in the Zimbabwean experience whereby the tactics and ideology of Maoism were adopted not out of coercive force on the part of the Chinese, but because they fit the needs of the ZANU guerrilla forces. The goals of the guerrilla fighters were more attuned to their own liberation, or at the most the concepts of Pan-Africanism, anti-imperialism, and African Socialism.  Obviously these concepts have much in common with International Maoism, and the peoples of these two very disparate cultures found so much to learn from one another.

Awaken peoples, you will certainly attain the ultimate victory!

From an African perspective, the liberation organisations were extremely wary of becoming dependent on one source of supplies. Such an action would have threatened the independence and credibility of their own organisations, as well as giving the supplying state an undue amount of influence in decision-making. Thus a variety of nations were sought as suppliers of military armaments, and whilst the Soviet Union and China aided the liberation organisations to some degree, other sources were of equal importance. Essentially, the African organisations took aid from wherever they could obtain it, and whilst influences did creep in to some extent the source of material aid tended not to overtly determine the political orientation of the various organisations.

 In other places, such as Madagascar, Benin, Congo-Brazzaville, and Zimbabwe, leaders of independent regimes merely claimed to be Marxist-Leninist, without usually developing policies consistent with a firm commitment to a particular ideological or institutional persuasion.  Zairean revolutionaries argued thus today the unending nationalistic petit-bourgeois question, ‘what is the relevance of Marxism in Africa?’ should be silenced as African bourgeois nationalism has proving itself incapable of providing for the basic elementary needs of the masses of African people. [See UMPZaire Africa and Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought. International Newsletter – Defend Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought No.8 June 30th 1995]

Unofficial Red Guard sources, disclosed in July 1967, alleged remarks by Mao on China’s role in the world in the form of big character posters pasted on the walls of Beijing streets.

“A lot of places are anti-China at the moment, which makes it look as though we are isolated. In fact, they are anti-China because they are afraid of the influence of China, of the thought of Mao Tse-tung, and of the great Cultural Revolution. They oppose China to keep the people in their own countries down and to divert popular dissatisfaction with their rule. This opposition to China is jointly planned by U.S. imperialism and Soviet revisionism. This shows not that we are isolated, but that our influence throughout the world has greatly increased. The more they oppose China, the more they spur on popular revolution; the people of these countries realize that the Chinese road is the road to liberation. China should not only be the political center of the world revolution. It must also become the military and technical center of the world revolution”  [xxv]

The words attributed to Mao were an exception to the standard emphasis in policy announcements that stressed, even at the zenith of the Cultural Revolution, less rhetorical references to “exporting revolution” and more oratory about the need for revolutionaries to take the responsibility for the necessary struggle in each nation.

In contrast to earlier instructions that the dissemination of Mao Tsetung was the foremost task of China’s embassies, a 1970 instruction from Mao rowed back on this emphasis in China’s national interests and conduct of its foreign policy. His comments on a document submitted by the Liaison Department of the Central Committee of the Community Party of China were that,

We don’t demand that all foreigners recognize the ideology of the Chinese people, asking them only to acknowledge the integration of the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism with the concrete practice of the revolution of each country. This is a basic principle that I have told you many times. As for other harmful thinking besides Marxism-Leninism, they would come to understand themselves, so there would be no necessity for us to regard conversation with foreigners as a serious problem. You will understand just by reviewing the history of our Party—how it gradually embarked on the correct path after undergoing the lesson of so many erroneous lines; moreover, there is still a problem today, that is, we still have great-nation chauvinism both inwardly and outwardly, which ought to be overcome.  [xxvi]

Guerrilla fighters from nations across the continent were sent to China for ideological and military training, and returned prepared. Chinese military instructors made Ghana a base for training guerrillas as early as Though brought to China, the guerrillas were not apparently indoctrinated with Maoist political propaganda, the training concentrating on tactical and military matters such as leadership, communications, medical services and engineering were also taught. In analysing such aid it is necessary to point out that China very rarely revealed the concrete quantity of military aid it gave, and the West often deliberately over-estimated it. [xxvii]

 Chinese experts in guerrilla warfare trained rebels from Guinea-Bissau fighting the Portuguese, and instructed and equipped nationalists from Portuguese colonies in Tanzania, Ghana, and Congo-Brazzaville. Trainers arrived in Ghana in 1964 and remained until a coup in early 1966 ended the programme. Throughout the GPCR period, China continued its material support for, and training of, PAIGC liberation fighters through both Guinea and OAU’s African Liberation Committee.

The men who were trained in China returned to act as instructors themselves. Thus Chinese influence was broadened by their involvement in training camps for the liberation movements. The year saw not only an escalation in open guerrilla warfare in Southern Africa, but also China sending eight Chinese military experts to Tanzania to teach military skills and Maoist guerrilla tactics.

In Tanzania, the CCP supplied arms and trained Eduardo Mondlane’s Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) and later hosted FRELIMO fighters in China. FRELIMO continued to receive the largest portion of China’s aid to national liberation movements in all Portuguese colonies The CPC also trained Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) forces in Tanzania and assisted the Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) in Zambia.

 A common misjudgement at the time was anyone who received training in China were, forever after, regarded as a disciple of Maoism. Western media reports would exaggerate the ‘Command and Control’ aspect of Chinese aid drawing upon  Chinese propaganda that would serve to reinforce this viewpoint with its numerous reports on the military success in the national-liberation wars to overthrow Portuguese colonial rule, often emphasising an adopted people’s war approach pioneered during China’s revolutionary struggle i.e.

This ideological conversion was emphasised during the height of the Cultural Revolution with evangelical coverage in the Chinese media for both domestic and oversea readers: e.g. In “New Developments in the African National-Liberation Movement”  [xxxii]

“With the successful unfolding of China’s great proletarian cultural revolution, the radiant thought of Mao Tse-tung has been spreading more extensively and rapidly in Africa. More and more revolutionary-minded Africans are avidly studying Chairman Mao’s works, and are exerting themselves to apply the invincible thought of Mao Tse-tung in actual revolutionary struggles.

The Angolan guerrillas look upon Chairman Mao’s military writings as “sunlight in the jungle.” The guerrilla leaders in the Kwilu and Fizi-Baraka regions of the Congo (Kinshasa) always carry Chairman Mao’s military writings with them.

In Mozambique, when some fighters set out for the battle front, Chairman Mao’s works are a must in their haversacks and Chairman Mao badges on their tunics. Their watchword is: “Be resolute, fear no sacrifice and surmount every difficulty to win victory.” What is particularly inspiring is the fact that not only the anti-imperialist armed struggle, guided by Mao Tse-tung’s thought, continues unabated in Africa, but with the extensive dissemination of Mao Tse-tung’s thought on the continent African revolutionaries are making greater efforts to study and grasp Mao Tsetung’s thought, learning warfare through warfare and steadily improving the art of struggle.

Congolese (K) patriotic fighters have repudiated the purely military viewpoint and impetuous sentiments for immediately attacking big cities. The idea of building up base areas in the countryside and conducting a protracted war has begun to take root in their minds. They pay attention to strengthening the work among the masses and to political and ideological education of the fighters, thus establishing closer links between the army and the masses, heightening the fighters’ political consciousness and raising their fighting capacity. The leaders of the Congolese (K) Patriotic Armed Forces have emphasized more than once: “Only by arousing and organizing the people can we bring about a change in the balance of forces between the enemy and ourselves, we must regard the arousing of the people and the organizing of their strength as a fundamental guarantee for our victory

A Mozambique freedom fighter said: “It is Chairman Mao who has changed our mental outlook, strengthened our fighting will and taught us how to fight.”

CPC’s deteriorating relationship with the CPSU

The Sino-Soviet dispute had become a  factor in China’s policy and had its effect on third party relations . An under-explored aspect was that China in essence adopted an anti-hegemonic policy towards the Southern African liberation organisations began to be more circumscribed in aiding movements that sided with Moscow that effectively reacted to the actions of Moscow and not the local situation.

An extended examination of China’s role in the organization and activity of the AAPSO. Mr. describes the way in which the AAPSO became, for both the Chinese and the Russians, an arena in which to work out their own disputes, As the 1960s progressed, Soviet and Chinese delegations began to clash openly with each other at AAPSO meetings as dimension of international conflict was added to the debate about struggles in Africa. Neuhauser (1968) considered that Peking at times misread the reality of Middle Eastern and African politics out of an over-enthusiastic generalization from China’s own revolutionary experience as provocative. [xxxiii]

Mao’s Cultural Revolution was not a turn away from international affairs, but rather an attempt to set an example for revolution.  A task the Soviet Union’s revisionists had betrayed. In the heightened atmosphere the Chinese media would proclaim: Under the guidance of invincible Mao Zedong thought, African revolutionary people have furthered the development of anti-imperialism armed struggle [xxxiv]

The Chinese contended with the Soviet Union for ideological influence leadership of revolutionary movements in the Third World gifting material aid and training. As the Soviet Union exclusively backed South Africa’s long-established African Nationalist Congress ANC, for instance, the Chinese which had begun exchanges with the ANC in 1953, also supported the rival Pan-Africanist Congress. In this competition for influence China aiding organisations because of their supposed hostility to Moscow — the PAC in South Africa and SWANU in Namibia were classic examples used by opponents of China’s actions. The counter-argument was that these decisions were not solely seen as a result of trying to counter revisionist influences but also motivated by the belief that people in struggle generate their own organisations and leaderships. As it turned out the dominant national liberation group prevailed.

The story was similar in Angola, where China provided arms and training to the MPLA in the early 1960s. This ideological and political struggle between the USSR and the PRC after the 20th Congress worked against the people of Angola during the 1970s, The MPLA had sent a delegation to China in 1962, and Paulo Jorge, MPLA Secretary of the Political Bureau for International Affairs first visited in 1965. The CCP had continued to provide training and arms to the MPLA throughout the 1960s but as the MPLA grew closer to Moscow Beijing extended support to both the National Front for the Liberation of Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). China did not publicly and actively identify itself with one Angolan national liberation movement to the exclusion of the others, even though UNITA seems to have received more of China’s attention. In 1975, the Chinese government were largely perceived as supporting the U.S. and South African-backed UNITA in the Angolan civil war—in the name of defeating the Soviet Union’s attempts to gain a strategic foothold in Africa through its support for the MPLA. The PRC suspended all aid to the UNITA organization at the conclusion of 1975.

In 1964, UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi  (1934-2002) had met Mao and Zhou Enlai and received military training in China; then returned the following year and again in 1967.

During his exchange with a member of the aforementioned delegation of African revolutionaries, Mao linked his own domestic political struggles directly to the struggle against Soviet revisionism on the continent:

African visitor: The Soviets used to help us, and then the red star went out and they don’t help us anymore. On the contrary, they sell arms to our oppressors. What I worry about is: Will the red star over Tiananmen Square in China go out? Will you abandon us and sell arms to our oppressors as well?

Mao Zedong: I understand your question. It is that the USSR has turned revisionist and has betrayed the revolution. Can I guarantee to you that China won’t betray the revolution? Right now I can’t give you that guarantee. We are searching very hard to find the way to keep China from becoming corrupt, bureaucratic, and revisionist. We are afraid that we will stop being a revolutionary country and will become a revisionist one. When that happens in a socialist country, they become worse than a capitalist country. A communist party can turn into a fascist party. We’ve seen that happen in the Soviet Union. We understand the seriousness of this problem, but we don’t know how to handle it yet. [xxxv]

A return will look in more detail at China support in individual arenas of struggle

  • North Africa
  • West Africa
  • East Africa
  • South Africa



[i] Fight for national independence and do away with blind worship of the west (September 2nd 1958) Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:261

[ii]  Mao, Zedong, Talk with African friends (August 8, 1963)


[iv] Africa’s task is to struggle against imperialism (February 21,1959) Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:286

[v] Hsu Nai-chiung The Interrelation of Political and Economic Independence.Peking Review #5, Jan. 28, 1966, pp. 12-14. Mao made the distinction between the rulers and the ruled: “When I say the United States is bad, I mean its ruling clique, while the American people are very good. Many people among them have not yet awakened”. Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:263

[vi] e.g.. Van Ness, Peter (1970) Revolution and Chinese Foreign Policy: Peking’s support for wars of National Liberation. Berkerley: University of California Press, Hutchinson (1975) China’s African Revolution. London: Hutchinson.

Woodsmokeblog related Posts

Compass Points North

Global Maoism

Guilty to the charge of promoting revolution

Reaching Out: Global Maoism

[vii] ‘You Fight Your Way and I’ll fight My Way’ Selected Works of Mao Tsetung Volume IX. Paris: Foreign Language Press 2021: 215

[viii] Rittenberg and Bennett (2001) The Man Who Stayed Behind. Duke University Press 270–1.

[ix] Mao Zedong, “Opening Speech to the Eighth Party Congress, 15 September 1956


[xi] Zhou En-lai’s high profile tour of north and west African countries included a nine-day trip to close ally Albania, whose contribution was not overtly acknowledged, serving as the transit country for arms had been supplied to the Algerian FLN. See previous post on Albania’s African contribution. Zhou En-lai’s African odyssey was followed by an Asian tour. After leaving Somalia, he visited Burma (14 February 1964), Pakistan (18 February) and Sri Lanka (28 February).

[xii] Zhou Enlai’s 1964 African speeches were not included in the official released Selected Works of Zhou Enlai , Volume II,  published in English in 1989 by Foreign Language Press, Beijing . They were made available in reports in Peking Review and in the 1964 publication, Afro-Asian Solidarity Against Imperialism: A Collection of Documents, Speeches and Press Interviews from the Visits of Chinese Leaders to Thirteen African and Asian Countries. Peking  Foreign Language Press

[xiii] “Premier Chou En-lai answers newsmen’s questions in Accra,” Peking Review, No. 4, 24 January 1964, pp. 15–16.

[xiv]  Afro-Asian Solidarity, p. 196. The Revolutionary Prospects in Africa Excellent speech, given by Zhou at a rally in Mogadishu Somalia, on February 3, 1964, was reprinted in the Peking Review February 14 1964.

[xv] Detailed in Debeche, Ismail (1987) The role of China in international relations: the impact of ideology on foreign policy with special reference to Sino-African Relations (1949-1986) Volume Two. Thesis University of York 

[xvi] Donovan C. Chau (2014) Exploiting Africa: the influence of Maoist China in Algeria, Ghana, and Tanzania. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press

[xvii] Hsinhua News Bulletin December 27th 1966

[xviii] Lovel, Julial (2019) Maoism, a global history. The Bodley House Chapter 6 – into Africa pp185-222

[xix] see Newsreel of Fighting Africa Sings Praises to Mao Zedong and His Great Cause — Djoliba National Ballet (Guinea)

[xx] Peking Review #49 December 4 1964 p5

[xxi] Martin Bailey, “Tanzania and China,” African Affairs, Vol. 74, No. 294, (Oxford University Press, Jan1975), 42.

[xxii] Seifudein Adem (2013) Imperial Ethiopia’s relations with Maoist ChinaAfrican East-Asian Affairs the China Monitor

[xxiii] The People’s Daily 9 December 1967

[xxiv] China Pictorial #8 August 1968

[xxv] Jean Daubier, A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, 1971, p. 313

[xxvi] ‘We Don’t demand Foreigners Recognise the Ideology of the Chinese People (December 6, 1970). Mao Zedong On Diplomacy. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press 1998:448

[xxvii] CIA, ‘What the Chinese Communists Are Up to in Black Africa’ (23 March 1971), Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, vol. E-5, Documents on Africa, 1969–1972; and See:  Donovan Chau (2014) Exploiting Africa: The Influence of Maoist China in Algeria, Ghana and Tanzania, Naval Institute Press

[xxviii] Peking Review #43, Oct. 25, 1968, pp. 26-27

[xxix] Peking Review #7, Feb. 13, 1970, 2 pages

[xxx] Interviews with the Delegation of the Liberation Front of Mozambique, Peking Review #41, Oct. 8, 1971

[xxxi] Peking Review #22, May 28, 1976.

[xxxii] Peking Review January 19,1968 pp25-27

[xxxiii] Neuhauser, Charles (1968) Third World Politics: China and the Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization, 1967-1967. Harvard East Asian Monographs, 27. Cambridge, Mass.: East Asian Research Center, Harvard University

[xxxiv] People’s Daily, December 9th1967

[xxxv] Rittenberg and Bennett (2001) The Man Who Stayed Behind. Duke University Press 271–2.


Mao Zedong (1999) On Diplomacy, Foreign Language Press, Beijing

  • Asian-African countries should unite to safeguard peace and independence. August 21 1956 p187-188
  • Fight for national independence and do away with blind worship of the west. September 2 1958  p260-263
  • Africa’s task is to struggle against imperialism February 20 1959 p286-287
  • Africa is in the forefront of struggle. April 27 1961
  • Our relations with all African people are good  may 3 1963 p 375-376
  • We support the oppressed people in their wars against imperialism.  June 23 1964 p404-407
  • We don’t demand foreigners recognize the ideology of the Chinese people. December 6 1970 p 448

Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung Volume VIII (2020) Foreign Language Press, Paris

-Chairman Mao Zedong’s important talks with Guests from Asia, Africa and Latin America. May 7 1960 p307-309

Selected Works of Mao Tse-Tung Volume IX (2021) Foreign Language Press, Paris

  • Chairman Mao receives African Guests. August 8 1963 p21-22
  • Conversation with Zanzibar expert Miraji Mpatani Ali and his wife.  June 18 1964p 88-100
  • Statement supporting the people of the Congo (Leopoldville) against US aggression. November 28.1964

Zhou Enlai (1955) Speeches at the Plenary session of the ASIAN-AFRICAN CONFERENCE (April 19, 1955) Main Speech & Supplementary Remarks. Selected Works of Zhou Enlai, Volume II (1989) Beijing: Foreign Language Press pp155-165

Babu, Abdul Rahman Mohamed (2002) The Future That Works Selected Writings of A.M. Babu [editors: Salma Babu & Amrit Wilson] Africa World Press, Inc.

Babu, Abdul Rahman Mohamed (1981) African Socialism or Socialist Africa? Tanzania Publishing House

Brautigam, Deborah (2011) The Dragon’s Gift: The real story of China in Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Chau, Donovan C.  (2014) Exploiting Africa The Influence of Maoist China in Algeria, Ghana, and Tanzania. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press

CIA Research Reports, Africa 1946-1976. United States. Central Intelligence Agency. Frederick, MD. : University Publications of America, 1982. (Microfilm format)

CLAYTON, Anthony (1981) The Zanzibar Revolution and its aftermath. London: C. Hurst & Co.

DEBECHE. Ismail (1987)  The role of  CHINA in international relations: THE IMPACT OF IDEOLOGY ON FOREIGN POLICY WITH SPECIAL REFERENCE TO SINO-AFRICAN RELATIONS (1949-1986) Thesis University of York

Eisenman, Joshua (2018): Comrades-in-arms: the Chinese Communist Party’s relations with African political organisations in the Mao era, 1949–76, Cold War History

To link to this article:

ELLEN Ray, WILLIAM SCHAAP, KARL VAN METER, and LOUIS WOLF (1980) Dirty Work 2: The CIA in Africa. London: Zed Press

Feng Chih-tan (1963) Glimpses of West Africa. Foreign Language Press, Beijing

Greig (1977) The Communist Challenge to Africa: an analysis of contemporary Soviet, Chinese and Cuban politics. Foreign Affairs Publishing

Hanchen Nan (1965) Resolutely struggle against imperialism and neo-colonialism and for the economic emancipation of the Afro-Asian peoples. Peking: Foreign language Press

Hutchinson (1975) China’s African Revolution. London: Hutchinson

Lovell (2019) Maoism, a global history. The Bodley House Chapter 6 – into Africa pp185-222,

Matt Galway,Global Maoism and the Politics of Localization in Peru and Tanzania. Left History Vol 17, No 2 (2013)

Petterson, Don (2002) Revolution in Zanzibar An American’s Cold War Tale. Westview Press

Priyal Lal, Maoism in Tanzania: material connections and the shared imaginaries in Cook (2014) Mao’s Little Red Book, a global history. Cambridge University Press

Rittenberg, Sidney (2001) and Amanda Bennett. The Man Who Stayed Behind. Duke University Press

Senate Internal Security Sub-committee (1972) Communist Global Subversion and American Security Volume 1 : The Attempted Communist Subversion of Africa Through Nkrumah’s Ghana. Washington: US Government Printing Office

Strauss, Julia C. The Past in the Present: Historical and Rhetorical Lineages in China’s Relations with Africa. The China Quarterly, 199, September 2009, pp. 777–795

Van Ness (1970) Revolution and Chinese Foreign Policy: Peking’s support for wars of national liberation. University of California Press

Wilson, Amrit (2013) The Threat of Liberation Imperialism and Revolution in Zanzibar. London: Pluto Press

Chile , China & diplomatic silence

The friendly relations between China and Allende’s Chile, followed by diplomatic silence and business-like relations with Chile under Pinochet broke an unspoken contract that revolutionaries without power expect better of Socialist states they admire and defend.

The international communist movement gets conflated with behaviour of regimes negotiating the currents of international relations in a hostile imperialist dominated world. Historical precedents abound of disillusionment and sense of betrayal engendered by the pragmatic nuisances and decisions taken from Brest-Litovsk onwards.

Former regime supporters of different political currents  can name their own pivot event that shredded the bounds of friendship and solidarity : non-aggression pacts, suppression in Hungry, peaceful co-existence, the Sino-India border war, invasion of Czechoslovakia, Sri Lankan revolt, war in the Horn of Africa, three world theory, the occupation of Kampuchea, teaching Vietnam a lesson or the silence over Chile. The tapestry of issues is beyond this simple chronology of articles in the English language edition of Peking Review on Sino-Chilean relations and the aftermath of the 1973 military coup.

Continue reading    Friendly relations   

Of related interest

English edChile: An Attempt at “Historic Compromise”

Compass Points North

Reaching Out: Global Maoism

58. Global Maoism

45. Guilty to the charge of promoting revolution

125. Silage Choppers and Snake Spirits

It was by chance I finished reading the lives and struggles of Joan Hinton and Sid Engst on International Women’s Day. From her contribution at Los Alamos to the suburban farms of distant China in transformation, Joan’s talent and dedication shines through her life.

“Those who knew Hinton remained captivated by her. She was stubbornly orthodox, but with an exuberant laugh and unflagging vitality. At 88, she still played the violin and attended a weekly discussion group filled with food and politics. And on many mornings Hinton could be found on the farm that she and Engst tended for decades, wearing her Mao cap and checking on her dairy cows.” Maggie Jones, New York Times

In this a book based on an oral history project, the voice of Joan comes through strongly as Dao-Yuan Chou weaves the personal experiences of Joan and Sid into the fabric of developments in China before, and after liberation in 1949.

The Engst Family in Beijing, 1967 Fred Engst, Erwin Engst, Karen Engst, Joan Hinton, and Bill Engst (Photo courtesy of Bill Engst)The Engst Family in Beijing, 1967 Fred Engst, Erwin Engst, Karen Engst, Joan Hinton, and Bill Engst (Photo courtesy of Bill Engst)

The author’s comments on this, the third edition of his work comments on what aspects of their rich and complicated lives might be relevant and useful rather than simply interesting , answering those who questioning the space allocated to both Joan’s and Sid’s early lives. That inclusion is important.

What is striking is not only the contrasts between their up bring in America and their subsequent lives in a developing China but the continuity of the actual people, their approach to life and perspectives on what was the right thing to do. Their ethical drive remained as strong to the end of the lives, disappointed and in disagreement with the post-Mao abandonment of the collective spirit that had sustained China in its socialist goals.

Their lives together date from 1948, when Joan Hinton, former physicist on the Manhattan Project, travelled to Shanghai to join her future husband Sid Engst, a radical-minded New England dairy farmer who had joined the Chinese Communists in their Yan’an base two years earlier. They settled, raised a family and made revolution in witnessing the transformation of China. Here the witness was also a participation.

Here is a biography that encompasses the sweep of the mass movements that punctuate twentieth century China with a targeting of the successes and errors at the grassroots as the turbulence of struggle is recounted with detail forensic observation about such episodes as how farm managers were bullied by bureaucrats into trying to meet impossible production targets during the Great Leap Forward. Their assessment of the years that follow doesn’t stray from the down-playing characterisation of lean, hungry years rather than the famine scenario of much of contemporary scholarship. Having been relocated to Beijing their detailed recollection of the faction-ridden Cultural Revolution in the chapter ‘Snake Spirits’ brings out the complexities of line struggles among the communists and sympathisers within the foreign community resident in the capital.

John Sexton’s earlier review recounts:

“In 1966 the family, now with three children, was transferred to Beijing and drawn into the whirlwind of the Cultural Revolution. Used to living alongside peasants, Joan and Sid chafed in the luxurious foreign ghetto of the Friendship Hotel. With a handful of colleagues, they authored a big-character poster, later personally endorsed by Mao Zedong, demanding that foreigners be treated as Chinese and allowed to join the struggle. Their wish was soon fulfilled only too well, when their friends David and Isabel Crook were arrested by one of the many Red Guard factions and locked up for 5 years.” ( July 24, 2009)

Active in the ‘Bethune-Yanan Rebel Regiment’ that involved the foreign ‘experts’ working in Bejing institutions, Joan and Sid were part of September Eighth Fighting Group – for the date of Mao’s approval of their daziba – and actively involved before transferring to the Red Star Commune just outside Beijing.

History as biography is a well-established genre and the details herewithin realistically conveys the effort, frustration and joys of a life lived in pursuit of not a dream but building a future.

silagechoppers-207x300Dao-Yuan Chou (2019) Silage Choppers and Snake Spirits – The Lives and Struggles of Two Americans in Modern China. 3rd edition Paris: Foreign Language Press

ISBN: 978-2-491182-02-1   Price: 8 EUR / 10 USD



Foreign Languages Press


Joan’s brother, Bill Hinton1919-2004, another farmer and American activist, wrote some seminal rural studies still worth reading ~ Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village and later Shenfan: The Continuing Revolution in a Chinese Village, as well as Hundred Day War: The Cultural Revolution at Tsinghua University.

Her son, Yang Heping (Fred Engst) wrote a paper that she would have agreed with, “On the Relationship Between the Working Class and Its Party Under Socialism”, (2015) . It fred Engst Yang hepingargues that the economic basis for the development of capitalist-roaders can be largely eliminated by abolishing “bureaucratic privileges” for Party members, and that mass organizations of the sort which developed in the Cultural Revolution can be institutionalized to criticize Party members and units in which capitalist-roaders start to develop.   PDF Format


  • Western Lives in China, the sympathetic foreigners under Mao, remains a developing subject of academic enquiry enliven by the personal contributions of the foreign community who lived through the transformation of China in the second half of the last century.  Link to East Is Read

China’s “Foreign Friends” enthusiastic international participants during the struggles of the 1930s and 40s and the ‘Red and Expert’ in the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution have been the focus of studies such as:

Anne-Marie Brady, Making the Foreigner Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People’s Republic, Rowman and Littlefield, 2003

Brady, Anne-Marie Friend of China. The Myth of Alley Rewi, RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.

Epstein, Israel My China Eye. Memoirs of a Jew and a Journalist. Long River Press, 2000

Hamilton, John Maxwell, Edgar Snow: A Biography. Indiana University Press, 1988.

Beverley Hooper, Foreigners under Mao: Western Lives in China, 1949–1976.  Hong Kong University Press 2016

MacKinnon, Janice and Stephen R. MacKinnon, Agnes Smedley: The Life and Times of an American Radical. 1988

Porter, Edgar The People’s Doctor: George Hatem and China’s Revolution, University of Hawai Press, 1997.

Rittemberg, Sidney and Amanda Bennett, The Man Who Stayed Behind, Duke University Press, 2001

Strong, Tracy and B. Keyssar, Helene. Right in Her Soul: the Life of Anna Louise Strong. 1983

O’ Brien Neil L.O., An American Editor in Early Revolutionary China. John William Powell and the China Weekly/Monthly Review, Routledge, 2003

Wong, Jan, Red China Blues. My Long March from Mao to Now, Anchor Book, 1999.

Barlow, Tani E. Lowe Donald M., Teaching China’s Lost Generation: Foreign Experts in the PRC, China Books and Periodicals, 1987

120. Is the East Still Red?

A redundant question one would think.

Academics like Joseph W. ESHERICK, Martin Hart-Landsberg work, the American magazine Monthly Review, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal in Australia along with the myriad of leftist schools of thought and old friends of China like the American William Hinton and China resident Fred Engst have all covered the restoration of capitalism in post-Mao China.

Support for the present Chinese regime is far from likely to come from sources formerly considered revisionists by the Communist Party of China, such as the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and the occasional apologetic from the pro-China trend such as the American Freedom Road Socialist Organisation. 

Even long-term supporters like JOSE MARIA SISON ,founding Chairman, Communist Party of the Philippines, said in a 2016 interview with New Culture Magazine associated with Communist Reconstruction Union of Brazil

”Indeed, the Dengist counter-revolution resulted in the restoration of capitalism in China and its integration in the world capitalist system. By Lenin’s economic definition of modern imperialism, China has become imperialist. Bureaucrat and private monopoly capital has become dominant in Chinese society. It is exporting surplus capital to other countries. Its capitalist enterprises combine with other foreign capitalist enterprises to exploit third countries and the global market. China colludes and competes with other imperialist countries in expanding economic territory, such as sources of cheap labor and raw materials, fields of investments, markets, strategic vantage points and spheres of influence.

However, China has not yet engaged in a war of aggression to acquire a colony, a semi-colony, protectorate or dependent country. It is not yet very violent in the struggle for a redivision of the world among the big capitalist powers, like the US, Japan, Germany and Italy behaved in joining the ranks of imperialist powers. It is with respect to China’s contention with more aggressive and plunderous imperialist powers that may be somehow helpful to revolutionary movements in an objective and indirect way. China is playing an outstanding role in the economic bloc BRICS and in the security organization Shanghai Cooperation Organization beyond US control.”

China has also seen the rise of a vocal political movement of “neo-Maoists” — militant leftists who espouse many of the utopian egalitarian ideas that China’s current leaders have largely abandoned. In 2015 self-styled “Chinese Maoist communists” from 13 provinces and cities held a two-day secret meeting in Luoyang City in central China’s Henan province. The manifesto they published afterwards online was nothing less than a call for revolution to overthrow the current system, which they claimed had evolved into a “bourgeois fascist dictatorship led by bureaucrat monopolist capitalists”.

Explaining China

Pao-yu Ching’s ‘China: Socialist Development and Capitalist Restoration’

Listen on Soundcloud

Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist)

2012 13th National Congress Resolution on China noted

“that the restorationists in China have the upper hand and that the most likely future for China is one of further embedding capitalist practices at the expense of the interests of the Chinese workers and peasants. “

2018 published,

EXPLAINING CHINA: How a socialist country took the capitalist road to social-imperialism

Click to access Explaining+China+Final+v2.pdf

Communist Party of India (Maoist)

China: A Modern Social-Imperialist Power

: An Integral Part of the Capitalist-Imperialist System [2017]

Also 2019 text primarily written by Ragnar V. Røed, to a large degree based on the document from the Communist Party of India (Maoist)

China – A Social Imperialist Power

Marxistisch-Leninistische Partei Deutschlands (MLPD)

From the Restoration of Capitalism to Social Imperialism in China

German edition May 1981, Kommunistischer Arbeiterbund Deutschlands (KABD)
(Communist Workers’ League of Germany)

English edition October 1987, published by the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD)

Publishing house: Neuer Weg Verlag und Druck GmbH, Germany [Improved English edition 2019]

See previous post 111. MLPD not joining the party

Stefan Engel [2017]

On the Emergence of the New-Imperialist Countries

New Zealand

Is China an Imperialist Country? Considerations and Evidence

By N. B. Turner, et al. [2014]×11-IsChinaAnImperialistCountry-140320.pdf

An earlier text from Ray Nunes of the Workers’ Party of New Zealand on

The Restoration of Capitalism in China [1995?]


Compass Points North

A brief blossom appeared in the Chinese media in May 1971 that proposed Programme for Anti-Imperialist Struggle. Was here the international lead and guidance that some in the international communist movement had desired from Mao’s China? Referencing the 1970 statement “People of the World, Unite and Defeat the US Aggressors and All Their Running Dogs!”[i] it asserted it had “become a programme for the anti-imperialist struggle waged by the Chinese people together with the revolutionary people throughout the world.”

It voiced the constant refrain that the “danger of a new world war still exists…but revolution is the main trend in the world today.” However it targeted the common enemy as only U.S. imperialism and argued that “revolution is the main trend in the world today”. It identified Indochina as the main battlefield in the world people’s struggle against U.S. imperialism wrongly asserting that “the battlefields in the whole of Indochina have merged into one”. Equally it conflated the struggles in America , describing them rhetorically as “violent revolutionary storms” :

“The people of the United States are dealing heavier and heavier blows from within at U.S. imperialism, the world’s ferocious enemy, – and they have become an important vigorous force in the world people’s struggle against U.S.imperialism.”

This heightened exhaltation and hyperobole full of “fresh victories” contained a solidary reference to “social-imperialism, too, finds the going tougher and tougher.”

This “Programme for Anti-Imperialist Struggle”[ii] clearly stated the strategic line that “the international united front against U.S. imperialism is an important magic weapon for the world people to defeat U.S. imperialism and all its running dogs.”

It was a rhetorical address behind the times, not synchronised to the political compass, a misleading media appearance at a time when China was recalibrating its strategic foreign policy concerns, partly following a report submitted by Four Marshals that assessed the strategic threat to China.

1969, in mid-May, Zhou Enlai at Mao’s behest asked four veteran marshals— Chen Yi, Ye Jianying, Xu Xiangqian, and Nie Rongzhen—to “pay attention to” international affairs. He urged them to meet “two to three times a month” to discuss “important issues” of international security and to provide the CCP Central Committee (CC) with their suggestions.[iii]

Only Mao, Zhou, the four marshals, and their two assistants—Xiong Xianghui, a high-ranking intelligence and foreign service officer and Yao Guang, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s Department of European and American Affairs—knew about the study group.

Mao reading the People’s Daily in his study room (Apr 20, 1961)

The tense international context in which they met was for China a war scare.

The four marshals first focused on relations with Moscow just as the Sino-Soviet border clashes were breaking out; although they saw the Soviets as dangerous, they doubted that Moscow intended to launch war against China. The incidents brought the two countries to the brink of a major military confrontation.

Soviet leaders even considered conducting a pre-emptive nuclear strike against China. Henry Kissinger claimed in his memoirs that in August 1969 a Soviet diplomat in Washington inquired “what the U.S. reaction would be to a Soviet attack on Chinese nuclear facilities.” [iv]

Later that year the Western press also reported rumours of Soviet plans to strike at Chinese nuclear bases. The Soviet leadership had a track record: the Brezhnev doctrine provided post-facto justification for Soviet tanks in Prague and regime change to defend “existing socialism”. Whether these overtures reflected actual planning or were merely part of a disinformation campaign to exert psychological pressure on Chinese leaders is uncertain.

When the border fighting intensified in August 1969, marshals Chen Yi and Ye Jianying worried about a confrontation with Moscow and proposed playing the “card of the United States.” [v] In a separate report, Chen proposed high-level talks with the U.S. in order to solve basic problems in the relationship. The ideological confrontation of the anti-revisionist struggle had taken on a new character when it took on the character of conflict between nation states: the Soviet Union by the late 1960s had become China’s number one threat, whereas the United States was perceived as becoming less threatening.

When a group of four marshals recommended that Chairman Mao “play the American card” against the Soviet threat and even undertake high-level talks with the U.S.- to improving relations with the United States—the number one imperialist country- they faced a receptive opponent. Nixon had sent a signal as far back as 1967 in a Foreign Affairs article discussing the need to normalize relations with China, he had written “There is no place on this planet for a billion of its potentially able people to live in angry isolation.”

On the orders of Mao Zedong, People’s Daily published a translation of the full text of Nixon’s inaugural address. In the address, Nixon said,

“Let all nations know that during this administration our lines of communication will be open. We seek an open world–open to ideas, open to the exchange of goods and people–a world in which no people, great or small, will live in angry isolation.”

The report by the Four Marshals’ Study Group provided Chinese leaders with a strategic assessment that emphasized the benefits of improving Sino-American relations. As subsequent developments revealed, the marshals’ reports to Mao and Zhou was the catalyst for important decisions regarding the United States, paving the way for the Sino-American rapprochement.

In an interview with Time magazine in October 1970, Nixon declared that he viewed China as a world power. He observed,

“Maybe that role won’t be possible for five years, maybe not even ten years. But in 20 years it had better be, or the world is in mortal danger. If there is anything I want to do before I die, it is to go to China. If I don’t, I want my children to go.”

Mao set the foreign policy agenda and guidelines on his own: a front page photograph in the People’s Daily intended by Mao as a signal to the Americans (which they missed), on 1 October 1970 (National Day), Mao had journalist Edgar Snow stand by him at the Gate of Heavenly Peace during the parade.

Mao, together with Lin Biao (right) chatting with American journalist Edgar Snow on the top of Tian’anmen Tower (Oct 1, 1970)

Several months later, Snow met with Mao for five hours of talks on 18 December 1970 during which the Chairman was reported as saying:

[T]he foreign ministry was studying the matter of admitting Americans from the left, middle, and right to visit China. Should rightists like Nixon, who represented the monopoly capitalists, be permitted to come? He should be welcomed because, Mao explained at present the problems between China and the US would have to be solved with Nixon. Mao would be happy to talk with him, either as a tourist or as President.

Snow made it public in Life magazine at the end of April 1971.

In sending China’s ping-pong team to Japan and inviting the U.S. team to China in the spring of 1971, Mao overruled the recommendations of the Foreign Ministry. The advent of ping-pong diplomacy – political use of a sport in which the Chinese were world champions, and thus were ‘number one

There were confidence building measures, expressions of friendship and dismantling of isolationist measures (such as recognition of passports) detailed in Yafeng Xia account of the developing renewed relationship between China and America.[vi]

By July 1971 Kissinger was in China in conversation with Zhou Enlai making assurances on Taiwan that the Chinese saw as a precondition for normalization. It opened the way for Nixon’s February 1972 trip.

Yafeng Xia[vii] argued that: Although the radical leftists may have been wary of an abrupt change of policy toward the erstwhile “number one enemy,” the United States, they deferred to Mao’s views and competed for Mao’s favour. Their dependence on Mao’s patronage greatly limited their room to oppose him. Thus, although they were strong supporters of the Cultural Revolution and of radical policies abroad, they were unwilling to confront Mao on policy toward the United States.

Nixon and Jiang Qing during his visit to China in 1972.                           Nixon and  Jiang Qing during his visit to China in 1972.

Throughout this period, Mao made all important decisions regarding China’s policy toward the United States. Chinese documents and memoirs confirm that neither Lin nor other radical leaders played any appreciable role in, or mounted any opposition to China’s policy toward the United States. Western academics argued that the evidence indicates that Lin himself was not opposed to the Sino-American rapprochement. Whatever the convenient charges made after his death, Lin’s flight north after the failed assassination planning is seen as an act of survival not allegiance.

Through Ambassador Huang Zhen in Paris, the Chinese leaders notified Washington that the Lin Biao incident in September 1971 would not change China’s attitude toward the United States and that China would proceed with the preparation for Nixon’s visit.

 China’s changing perception of its national interest’s largely determined Sino-American relations, with the Soviet threats to China, epitomised by the Sino-Soviet border clash in March 1969 and the Soviet-Vietnamese defence treaty in November 1978, facilitated Richard Nixon’s historic trip in 1972 to normalisation of relations in 1979. And the US played the China Card as Soviet third-world interventions, especially in Africa, were also factors in the U.S. opening to China.

The chairman considered Sino-American rapprochement an ultimate success of his long-term struggle against US imperialists, as it compelled Nixon to drop US anti-China policy. Upon hearing Nixon’s triumphant remark that his trip to China ‘changed the world’, Mao, therefore, satirically observed that ‘I think the world changed him’[viii]

Mao’s foreign policy goal as ‘mobilizing the Third World against both the capitalist-imperialist power, the US, and the social-revisionist power, the USSR’. That focus narrowed: In February 1973, he famously urged Kissinger to forge ‘a horizontal line’, consisting of the United States, Japan, China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, and Western Europe, to ‘commonly deal with a bastard’[ix]

Observers schooled in the rhetoric of the Cultural Revolution evoke the anti-Japanese war and alliance with the Kuomintang to couch policy in an ideologically coherent way; tactical united front with a less immediately dangerous adversary (the “secondary enemy”) against a more dangerous foe (the “principal enemy”). For political opponents a “tacit alliance,” as Henry Kissinger characterized it, quickly took shape between Beijing and Washington.[x]  

Some foreign policy concerns and positions that shaped China’s foreign relations were the very public hostility to the intentions of the Soviet Union that identified “competition between the two superpowers” (and promoted the strategic focus of U.S.-Soviet rivalry as in Europe) . China said U.S. economic and political influence in the world had declined. However Superpower rivalry for ‘world hegemony’ had become ‘more fierce’, with détente as ‘camouflage’. China increasingly throughout the 1970s identifying the Soviet Union as the aggressive power. The Chinese kept warning about the peril of potential war: China’s hostile attitude towards détente did not subside even as China’s domestic revolutionary ideology disappeared.

Mao’s well-known theory of the three worlds, first laid out in his talk with Zambian Mao and FriendsPresident Kenneth Kaunda February 1974, symbolised his abandonment of the ‘horizontal line’. In part, the Three Worlds Theory implied a retreat from Mao’s united front strategy against the United States in the 1960s aimed at assisting local insurgents and arousing proletarian revolution around the world. Nor was it simply a focus on the strategic state relations or reiteration of his previous international statements that reflected on “international class struggle.” Arguably the theory’s basis highlighted “development” as a question of fundamental importance for China. In early 1975, with Mao’s approval, “Four Modernizations” (first publicly raised in 1964) re-entered China’s domestic affairs. In a speech at the National People’s Congress the target was set that China should aim to modernize its industry, agriculture, national defence, and science and technology by the end of the century.

September 1977, again restored to leadership, Deng Xiaoping explained that ‘the international situation has undergone many changes; many old concepts and old formulas do not reflect reality, and past strategies are also not consistent with the current reality’. Deng redefined China’s domestic and foreign policies and re-embarked on ‘the great march toward the four modernizations’ with a strategy to modernize China by turning to the West. As Chen Jian’s study of the changing relations between the two countries notes:

“A historical review of the development of Chinese-American relations reveals that during four-fifths of the twentieth century, China and the United States were allies, tacit allies, or constructive partners. Only during one-fifth of the time were they adversaries.”[xi]

Chen suggests that from a Chinese perspective, the global Cold War ended in many key senses during the mid-to-late 1970s. That post-Mao transition in policy explored by Minami (and in line with most observers) concludes “After late 1978, however, Mao’s China was no more”



[i] Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong)

People Of The World, Unite And Defeat The U.S. Aggressors And All Their Running Dogs  Peking Review (23 May, 1970)

[ii] Renmin Ribao (1971) A Programme for Anti-Imperialist Struggle Peking Review No.21 May 21st 1971

[iii] Xiong Xianghui, (1992) “The Prelude to the Opening of Sino-American Relations,” Zhonggong dangshi ziliao [CCP History Materials] No. 42 (June 1992), formerly an aide to Zhou Enlai, had been the secretary to this special study group tasked by Chairman Mao in 1969 to review China’s strategic policy.

[iv] See Kissinger, White House Years Simon & Schuster .2011: 183

[v] “Report by Four Chinese Marshals, Chen Yi, Ye Jianying, Nie Rongzhen, and Xu Xiangqian, to the Central Committee, ‘Our Views about the Current Situation’ (Excerpt),” September 17, 1969, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Zhonggong dangshi ziliao, no. 42 (June 1992), pp. 84-86.

[vi] Yafeng Xia (2006) China’s Elite Politics and Sino-American Rapprochement, January 1969–February 1972 Journal of Cold War Studies Vol. 8, No. 4, Fall 2006, pp. 3–28

 [viii] Personal Experience and Eyewitness Account: Memoirs of Huang Hua. (Beijing: Shijie zhishi chubanshe, 2008).   Quoted in Kazushi Minami (2016): Re-examining the end of Mao’s revolution: China’s changing statecraft and Sino-American relations, 1973–1978,  Cold War History 16:4 (2016): 359-375

[ix] Memorandum of Conversation, February 17–18, 1973, FRUS, 1969–1976, vol. XVIII, Doc. 12. Quoted in Kazushi Minami (2016): Re-examining the end of Mao’s revolution: China’s changing statecraft and Sino-American relations, 1973–1978,  Cold War History 16:4 (2016): 359-375. 

 [ix] Chen Jian. From Mao to Deng: China’s Changing Relations with the United States .CWIHP Working Paper 92 November 2019

[x] Kissinger to Nixon, “My Trip to Peking, June 19-23, 1972,” 6/27/72, Box 851, NSF, Nixon Presidential Material, p. 2, National Archive. Quoted in Chen Jian. From Mao to Deng: China’s Changing Relations with the United States . CWIHP Working Paper 92 November 2019


Mao and Zhou Enlai meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (Feb 17, 1973)93780

August 29th 1967~ An Aberrant Episode

In the annuals of Modern Chinese diplomacy it was a blip in the deportment and operation of the embassy Chinese staff in clash with police and pressmen outside the Chinese legation in London. Tension erupted into violence and bloodshed at the Chinese Legation in Portland Place, London, when according to British media, a chanting mob of Chinese diplomats attacked the police and press photographers. The Chinese, wielding iron bars, bottles, clubs and an axe, charged the police who were guarding the rear entrance. Several people were reported injured during the attack.

August 1967 saw a brief explosion of some of the passion and intensity that had been generated throughout the Cultural Revolution upon the back streets of London. It was in a wider context of the struggles within the Foreign Ministry in Beijing that events spiralled outside of the normal diplomatic niceties into violent confrontation.


29th August 1967: A Chinese who was one of a mob of Chinese diplomats who attacked police and press outside the Chinese Legation in Portland Place, London. His face is splattered with blood and he is being held down on the pavement by a policeman. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

As reported at the time in Peking Review (September 8th 1967)

“BRITISH imperialism, which is rabidly opposing China, in Hong Kong, has recently adopted a series of illegal measures and committed savage acts against the Office of the Chinese Charge d’Affaires and Chinese news and commercial agencies in Britain. Apart from unwarranted restrictions on the freedom of movement in and exit from Britain of Chinese diplomatic personnel and functionaries, and their attempt to cut off normal diplomatic telecommunications of the Chinese legation, the British authorities have called out large numbers of police and special agents for round the clock cordoning off the Chinese diplomatic mission and other agencies in Britain. They have carried out repeated outrageous provocations against the Chinese personnel.”

It had been a tense summer in Anglo-Chinese relations with conflict points in Beijing, Hong Kong and London.

June 1967 saw Red Guards break into the British Legation in Beijing and assault three diplomats and a secretary. British officials in Shanghai were attacked in a separate incident, as the PRC authorities attempted to close the office there.

Throughout June–August 1967 there were mass protests in Hong Kong, and during riots in July People’s Liberation Army troops fire on British Hong Kong Police, killing 5 of them.   The commander of the Guangzhou Military Region, Huang Yongsheng, secretly suggests invading Hong Kong, but his plan was vetoed by Zhou Enlai.

On 23rd August 1967, a Red Guards sacks the British Legation in Beijing, slightly injuring the chargé d’affaires and other staff, in response to British arrests of Communist agents in Hong Kong. A Reuters correspondent, Anthony Grey, was also imprisoned by the Chinese authorities regarded as retaliation for the earlier imprisonment of communist journalists by the British in Hong Kong.

The Times

In reporting the violent incident outside the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place on 29th August 1967, the British press reports wrote of members of the Chinese Legation threatening the police with assorted utensils, of Chinese diplomats armed with iron bars and bottles attacking the police and members of the press who were waiting at the rear entrance of the embassy, in a confrontation histrionically (and briefly) labelled “The Battle Of Devonshire Close”. Pictures captured staff members of the Chinese Legation standing in front of a large portrait of Chairman Mao Tse Tung shouting anti British slogans outside the Legation in Weymouth Street. Others showed members of the Chinese legation surround a police Special Branch car in Portland Place during a violent dispute over its presence outside the legation’s offices. Some of the officials are holding copies of ‘Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong’.


“In the face of the brutality by the British police and special agents, Chinese legation personnel fought back in self-defence, fully displaying the courage of our Red soldiers in the diplomatic service, who are armed with Mao Tse-tung’s thought.”

Peking Review (September 8th 1967)

portland place


The clash in Devonshire Close lasted five minutes, the static stand-off all-day. An earlier fifteen minute battle, broken up by the police, had been fought in the front of the Chinese Legation between “ruffians” and Chinese officials.


An Aberrant Episode:

Red Diplomats Armed With Mao Tse-tung’s Thought Are Dauntless

Visitors would come for badges and copies of Mao’s Quotations – the Little Red Book- and talks with Chinese officials. Gaining “recognition” was a time-consuming vanity project for some activists seduced by the euphoria of revolutionary opposition. Good relationships with the office of the Charge d’Affaires and the Hsinhua News provided access to material, prestige and a reflective political vindication. There was another side to the relationship as Muriel Seltman’s memoirs observed:

Like others in the so-called Anti-Revisionist Movement, we regularly visited the Chinese Legation for talks on the progress of the ‘struggle’ in England. There was an element of competitiveness in this, each small group vying for the honour of ‘recognition.’ Again, we did not realise that the personnel at the legation were using us for their own advancement and their political fortunes and jobs depended upon the degree to which they could convince their superiors they were recruiting support in England for the Chinese Party. They were probably assessing the likeliest “winners” in the stakes for a new Communist Party. Everybody behaved correctly, of course, but at this time we had no idea that claiming support from abroad was part of the power struggle in China.” What’s Left? What’s Right? by Muriel Seltman

Accusations and mistrust in pro-China anti-revisionism in Britain was very evident with the MLOB explaining events through a conspiracy prism as a result of intrigues against them and in favour of all the elements seeking to disrupt the developing Marxist-Leninist Organisation. As far as this minor English group were concerned, they saw themselves as the victims of “the Foreign Ministry and diplomatic service of the People’s Republic of China [that] were already dominated by counter-revolutionary agents of the Chinese capitalist class long before the “cultural revolution” began.” See: Report of the Central Committee of the M.L.O.B. On the Situation in the People’s Republic of China. London: Red Front Special edition, January 1968

After all, no mention was made in the ‘publication of recognition’, the daily bulletins of the Hsinhua News Agency, of the Action Centre for Marxist-Leninist Unity, nor of the Conference of Marxist-Leninist Unity held in September 1967, nor of the Marxist-Leninist Organisation of Britain set up by that Conference! Except on one occasion, no invitations to receptions and film-shows at the Office of the Chinese Charge d’Affaires were extended to leading members of the group, and people who had long been on the official invitation list of the Chinese Charge d’Affaires office were dropped from it as soon as their membership in the M.L.O.B. became known. “It is clearly no accident” claimed the MLOB that an expelled member was closely associated with “the representatives of the People’s Republic of China in London”. Furthermore, “Certain diplomatic representatives of the People’s Republic of China in London went so far as to disseminate verbally slanderous attacks against certain of the leading members of the A.C.M.L.U. and later of the M.L.O.B…. In general, the office of the Charge d’Affaires and the Hsinhua News Agency gave support and publicity respectively to “broad organisations” of friendship with China, such as the “Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, Ltd.” and the “Friends of China”…. an organisation of friendship with China as one to foster support for the faction headed by Mao Tse-tung; it functions, therefore, as a propaganda arm of the Chinese capitalist class in Britain, and also, through its “leftist”, “revolutionary” pronouncements, as a net to catch anti-revisionists and divert them from the developing Marxist-Leninist Organisation of Britain.” – Red Front, January 1968

Drawn from, Sam Richards The Rise & Fall of Maoism: the English Experience (2013)

portland placeSource: Peking Review

…….Meanwhile, back in China

The convulsive moment in London had domestic roots in Mao’s ambiguous call to “revolutionise” foreign affairs. Like much of the Cultural Revolution experience, spontaneity rather than a planned programme lay at the heart of the confusion that ensued. It is easy to inject here a quotation from Mao that “revolution is not a dinner party”, that mass movements have their own dynamics and that, as Mao acknowledged, things develop unexpectedly and beyond any individual’s control. Behind this incident was the fervour of what had arisen from the mass struggle for supervision that characterised the Cultural Revolution. It is tempting to judge the clash in London as a by-product of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland given the timing and context of the event. However one should question the superficial attribution by cold war warrior, Arthur Cohen when he argued that central was Mao’s craving, an egotistical desire to disseminate to foreign countries “Mao’s cult” (in his 1968 CIA study, on Red Guard Diplomacy). There was a purpose to the propaganda activities of Chinese missions abroad seeking to demonstrate their loyalty to Mao Zedong Thought [see earlier posting, Reaching Out: Global Maoism].

Mao Zedong / Mao TseTung, on 9 September 1966, declared that in all foreign affairs offices abroad there should be a ” revolutionization” ~ The immediate consequence of Mao’s ambiguous instruction was an increase in study sessions , concealment of signs ‘ of “luxury” living , and according to Cohen, more anti – social behaviour during diplomatic functions for personal of all Chinese Oversea mission.

For a year, from the summer of 1966 until September 1967, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Peking headed by Chen Yi had come under verbal and physical challenges by local Red Guard organisations, identified later by Zhou Enlai /Chou En-lai as the Foreign Language Rebel regiment determined to carry the Cultural Revolution into the foreign affairs system

In December 1966, China had begun recalling ambassadors and senior embassy staff members back home; by late spring of 1967, only Ambassador Huang Hua in Cairo remained at his post; other embassies were left in the control of charges d’affaires. Consequently this raised questions about the morale and effectiveness of the foreign service.

In response to Mao’s call to “revolutionise” there was a ready-made target in China’s foreign minister, Chen Yi .In his self-criticism of January 24, 1967, Chen said:

“At the inception of the Great Cultural Revolution movement, I did not comprehend this Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. At that time the impact of the mass movement was overwhelming, and I did not have the proper ideological preparation for it. . . . I was apprehensive about the impact of the mass movement, fearing that it might jeopardize order and affect foreign affairs work.”

The self-criticism was first published in Huna-Wei-Pao (Red Guard Newspaper), February 8, 1967; translated in “Ch’en Yi’s Self-Criticism,” Chinese Law and Government, Vol. I, No. 1, Spring 1968, p. 54.

The ultra-left Red Guard contention in the dispute with Chen was his firm hostility to carrying the Cultural Revolution into foreign affairs circles. Chen’s intent was to maintain a relatively moderate course in foreign affairs, which in particular meant that embassies were not to become centres for ‘making [cultural] revolution” in foreign countries,  and continued adherence to the principle of non-interference in others affairs.

The guidelines for struggle distinguish between foreign relations and foreign policy. In interventions to stabilise the situation and deflect the attacks on Chen Yi, Chou En-lai was tireless in his efforts to minimise the disruption and damage to the foreign ministry, maintaining in meetings with Rebels the Central leadership’s position endorsed by Mao that that the Red Guards could oversee the Ministry’s work and criticize Chen Yi, but could neither take over operation of the ministry nor “overthrow” its head.

Red Guards’ response was a violent one. On May 29 about 300 of them representing one of two rebel groups raided the Ministry, forcibly removed classified material from safes. The Red Guard posters containing this information indicated that Chen Boda / Ch’en Po-ta had to intervene to demand the return of the classified state materials.

The radicals reached the peak of their power in August 1967 when they apparently gained control of the Foreign Ministry when Yao Teng-shan, the last Chinese charge d’affaires in Djakarta, who returned to Peking in April 1967 , apparently took over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for two weeks in August. Yao Teng-shan, until late April 1967, had been the ranking CPR official in Indonesia as charge’ d’affaires ad interim. On April 28, he and Hsu Jen, the consul general in Djakarta, were declared personae non gratae by the Indonesian Government and ordered to leave the country. They were declared “red diplomat fighters” and given heroes’ welcomes. Virtually every leading member of the government (except Mao), including the entire hierarchy of the Foreign Ministry, was reportedly present to greet them at the airport.

xinhua news item

Before Yao Teng-shan brief reign ended, apparently coincident with the sacking of the British chancery in Peking, he had “wrested power from the Foreign Ministry’s Party Centre” and had “sent cables to the [Chinese] embassies in foreign countries without the permission of Chairman Mao and Premier Chou.”

The practical consideration reinforced the argument that Yao Teng-shan interim had violated China’s guiding foreign policy principles and that extremist influence in the Foreign Ministry and in the Foreign Service was doing irreparable harm to China’s image abroad as when the British embassy was occupied by Red Guards.. The mission, first been besieged on June 9, was on August 22, was set on by Red Guard and completely gutted it. The British charge d’affaires and several of his staff were reportedly beaten when they rushed out of the building.

Red Guards mass outside the British embassy gates in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.

Red Guards mass outside the British embassy gates in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s.

Yao Teng-Shan was not heard from again after the August 22 Red Guard assault on the British chancery. Unofficial channels in Hong Kong subsequently related that these acts were conceived by Yao Teng-Shan, not the Peking leadership, and were responsible for his being labelled soon after as a man of mad personal ambitions. Subsequently, (June 21, 1971) The New York Times reported, on Yao Teng-Shan fate:

PEKING, June 20—A prominent Chinese diplomat accused of having been responsible for violence against foreign embassies committed during the Cultural Revolution has been imprisoned, according to reports circulating in Peking.

The diplomat, Yao Teng shan, was a member of a revolutionary group that was in control of the Foreign Ministry in August, 1967, when the office of the British charge d’affaires was burned and attacks were made on the Indonesian and Burmese embassies.

Mr. Yao, according to the reports, was taken June 11 to a mass trial in an indoor stadium in Peking, attended by 4,000 people, and denounced, He was said to have been accused of plotting in 1967 to do personal injury to Premier Chou En‐lai and of holding Chen Yi, then Foreign Minister, as a prisoner for several days.

The mass denunciation has not been mentioned in the press. However, foreign diplomats have become aware of the trial through a number of Africans and Asians who said they had been invited to attend.

The extraordinary proceedings were seen as an effort to relieve the Government of responsibility for excesses com mitted during the most convulsive stage of the Cultural Revolution, which have been a source of embarrassment. Premier Chou, who is pursuing a new pragmatic foreign policy, has been at pains to portray China as a responsible member of the world community.

Peking is seeking to strengthen its diplomatic ties in its efforts to isolate the Chiang Kai‐ shek government on Taiwan and also to gain admission into the United Nations as the sole delegation of China. Recently diplomats of non‐Communist governments have been shown new courtesies in Peking, such as being taken on more tours of the country. And in the last week army guards stationed at embassy gates have begun saluting chiefs of mission.

It was understood that Premier Chou had privately expressed his regrets to John D. Denson, the British chargé d’affaires, about the 1967 attack on the British office. Donald C. Hopson, who was then chargé d’affaires, was injured in scuffles with extremist Red Guards.

The way now seems open for an exchange of ambassadors between Britain and the People’s Republic if London closes its consulate at Tamsui, in northern Taiwan, and gives full backing to United Nations membership for Peking. At pre sent, the British and Chinese are represented in each other’s capitals at the charge d’affaires level.

In a further move to absolve the present Government of any responsibility for violations of diplomatic immunity during the Cultural Revolution, articles in the Chinese press in recent weeks have attacked leftist extremists as plotters against the Communist party and the, government.

In December, in a conversation With Edgar Snow, the American writer, Chairman Mao Tse‐tung said he was not in control of the Foreign Ministry in 1967 and 1968.

Liu Shao‐chi, the chief of state, was deposed in 1967 after Red Guards denounced him and his supporters in the government and the party.

Mr. Yao became a leading member of an extreme lefist faction that took over the Foreign Ministry after he re turned from Indonesia, where he had been charge d’affaires.

According to some reports, Chen Yi, former foreign Minister who disappeared for a number of years, attended the mass meeting, Mr. Chen, who is still a vice chairman of the influential military affairs commission of the party, showed up for the Mat time in many months at May Day celebrations this year. Chi Peng‐Fei, who is now identified as acting foreign minister, was also said to have been present at the denunciation

Zhou Enlai was quoted by a Red Guard newspaper as explaining the circumstance :

I supported the Foreign Ministry in the Central Committee [in August]. When the Foreign Ministry went to the brink, I held a meeting … I was directly responsible for running the Foreign Ministry and as a result they seized power from me. They sent telegrams directly to foreign embassies. As a result they were sent back. Yao Teng-shan went everywhere making reports and creating trouble. He went to the Ministry of Foreign Trade once. His report to the Ministry of Foreign Trade was incorrect,and was very provocative. I criticized him on the spot. The Central Committee- put forward the slogan of “Down with Liu, Teng, T’ao.” He put forward the slogan “Down with Liu, Teng, Ch’en.” How can you as a cadre at the head of department level [Yao may have become deputy head of the General Service Department of the Foreign Ministry upon his return from Indonesia] put forward such a slogan? Who gave you permission? As for sending telegrams to embassies, no one understood this. You [rebels] always want to do everything in such an absolute fashion.  ~ Huing-Wei-Pao, September 15, 1967

The general judgement is that before a semblance of order was restored to the Foreign Ministry in the autumn of 1967, its operations had been disrupted, the Foreign Minister had been subjected to unprecedented abuse and humiliation, and China’s diplomatic presence abroad had been tarnished. The aftermath reported in western intelligence briefing:


Chen Yi emerged from the prolonged encounter with his position intact defended, not only by Chou Enlai but also Comrade Chiang Ch’ing (Jiang Qing, often referred to in western publication as Madame Mao).

“Chen Yi has carried out the Chairman’s line. He has fought some good battle, and fought extremely well in the c a p t u r e of Shanghai. All the same, he has said some incorrect things. He is not, however, a plotter, and when he has made mistakes, he has corrected them a bit.” (Jiang Qing ‘s speech to Red Guards on 10 January 1967)


This episode is  explored in “The Foreign Ministry and Foreign Affairs during the Cultural Revolution” by Melvin Gurtov (a re-working of his work for the Rand Corporation) published in The China Quarterly No. 40 (Oct. – Dec., 1969), pp. 65-10. Further investigated in the 1998 Routledge publication, Chinese Foreign Policy During the Cultural Revolution by Barbara Barnouin and Yu Changgen, which deals, in part, with the internal effects of the Cultural Revolution upon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs based largely upon interviews with former Ministry of Foreign Affairs staff and rebel leaders that were conducted in Beijing between 1991 and 1993. An interesting foreign policy overview can be found in Chinese Foreign Policy during the Maoist Era and its Lessons for Today by the MLM Revolutionary Study Group in the U.S. (January 2007)


111. MLPD not joining the party

Not quite joining in celebrating the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, after the death of Mao Zedong, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany and its predecessor KABD (Communist Workers’ League of Germany) analysed the revisionist development in China, documented in eight pamphlets published in the “China Today” series.

In June they made available online their analysis in English language version also posting excerpts from the series REVOLUTIONÄRER WEG on the restoration of capitalism in the People’s Republic of China issue.

CHINA Restoration of capitalism in the People’s Republic of China

CHINA China’s Leadership Is Drifting in the Right Deviationist Wind!

CHINA The “Theory of Three Worlds” as a Strategic Conception Smacks of Right-Wing Opportunism!

CHINA HOXHA versus MAO TSETUNG – Defend Marxism-Leninism and Mao Tsetung Thought

CHINA Excerpts on China from Revolutionärer Weg (Revolutionary Way – RW) Theoretical Organ of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Germany (MLPD)

CHINA TODAY 7 From the Restoration of Capitalism to Social Imperialism in China

CHINA TODAY 6 From the Restoration of Capitalism to Social Imperialism in China

Lin Biao


Reading a Norwegian critique of ‘Third worldism’ sparked the curiosity to return to source. The publishers Routledge have reprinted (under a Revivals series label) a collection of documents from China on The Lin Biao Affair. 9781138203921

This anthology reproduces the information given by the party leadership as well as ‘Project 571’ and the speeches and writings of Lin Piao between 1965-1970.Included is Mao’s interpretation of events, available here online .

While in the late Mao period, there was the nation-wide Campaign to Criticize Lin Piao and Confucius: the common western complaint was about the thread-bare-ness of the official account of the Lin Biao incident.

The post-Mao leadership’s offensive against the Cultural Revolution’s ultra -left saw the shackling together in the 1980 Trial of the Lin Biao and Jiang Qing “Counter-Revolutionary Cliques”.

Subject to varying academic interest in journal articles, the Lin Biao affair has received scant attention since his demise. For a long time the standard text available was a popular Penguin paperback, The Rise And Fall of Lin Piao (1976 ) by Jaap Van Ginneken  that relied extensively on high level Chinese documents.

Subsequently books have echoed the revisionist stance of the sceptically received, The Conspiracy and Death of Lin Biao (1983) by Yao Ming-Le  and Stanley Karnow . Translated from a Chinese manuscript  smuggle out to the West, this account (regard as  great political fiction?) chronicles the events surrounding the death of Lin Biao, Mao’s chosen successor killed in a plane crash while fleeing after an attempted coup. Alternative edition published under the more explicit title The Conspiracy and Murder of Mao’s Heir.

The siniologist Frederick C Teiwes & Warren Sun, The Tragedy of Lin Biao: Riding the Tiger during the Cultural Revolution (1996)  offer an interpretation which radically undermines the standard view of Lin Biao presenting him as someone basically uninterested in power or even politics, who was thrust into leading positions and the successor role by Mao against his wishes.

While The Culture of Power: The Lin Biao Incident in the Cultural Revolution (1999) by ,  Qiu Jin daughter of the former commander-in-chief of the Chinese air force, who served under Lin and, along with thousands of others, was imprisoned as a result of the purges that followed Lin s death, intriguingly speculates that Lin was unaware of the “plot” against Mao, since he was extremely ill, but it was rather something concocted by his “princeling” son and wife.

The true “reversal of verdict” on Lin Biao has taken place on the leftist margins associated with Third Worldism which critics see as an ideological variety of Lin Biaoism – if singularly based on the text of Long Live the Victory of People’s War!.

In 2006 the Spanish group Gran Marcha Hacia el Comunismo (Long March Towards Communism) called for a reassessment of the Lin Biao affair in the document “Acerca de la Cuestión de Lin Piao” (On the Question of Lin Piao) .

In its maoist phase, what was to become LLCO published in 2008 a study, Two Roads Defeated in the Cultural Revolution, Part 2: Lin Biao’s Road and the document, “The sun rises in the East and sets in the West.”

There was a small revival of interest as internet distribution made available the arguments summarised by N. Brown’s Long Live the Revolutionary Spirit of Lin Biao! posted at in December 2013.

These were answered in a flurry of counter-reaction of ideological criticism from internet Maoists-identifying commentators, and from the Gonzaloist trend.