Learning about the revolutionary history of Russia and its ascension to a modern state, I continue to be struck by the parallels to the rise of modern China and its revolutionary period in the late 19th and early 20th century. Last semester I took a class on the Rise of Modern China with very limited knowledge of Chinese or Russian revolutionary history. Though we did discuss the effects of Marxism-Leninism on the Chinese revolutions, I lacked the knowledge necessary to place this in any sort of historical context. However, the past few class sessions have helped me crystalize the ways in which China and Russia followed similar trajectories as they modernized.
One of the clearest similarities between the two countries was their agrarian-based economies and large peasant populations that, along with the intellectual classes, became revolutionaries due to their exasperation with ineffectual monarchies and unequal social structures. Both nations had tentative revolutionary successes before finally defeating the powers of their respective empires: Russia had a 1905 revolution as well as the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and China had revolutions in 1911 and 1949. Both countries were weakened by civil wars between opposing ideological and national groups. Communism took hold in Russia first, but Lenin proved highly influential to Mao Zedong, who would become Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and declare it a communist state in 1949. Indeed, the revolutionary activity in Russia proved to be an impetus for the Chinese revolutionaries to stage a second uprising.
One of the most intriguing – and perplexing – similarities I have yet to notice is the parallel family backgrounds of Mao and Stalin. These two men are considered to be among the world’s most ruthless and fearful dictators, and both came from families with strict, abusive fathers and compassionate mothers. Both also dabbled in religion before reverting to atheism. I don’t know much about psychoanalytic theories of war or dictatorship, and I hardly know what to make of this connection, but I would like to continue to explore studies of comparative revolutions in upcoming weeks.