Russia is famous for its thinkers and writers. The country has produced several brilliant minds throughout history that have left their mark on the world. Russian intellectuals had a significant influence on the culture of China, especially in the 20th century when there was an influx of Russian immigrants fleeing the Bolshevik Revolution. With increasing globalization, ideas, people, and information travel at lightning speed worldwide. Various factors played essential roles in these exchanges, including colonialism, trade, migration, and new technologies such as radio and television. Indeed, numerous Chinese intellectuals who studied in Russia left their mark on intellectual life in China after returning home. This article explores how several Russian thinkers and vice versa influenced prominent Chinese thinkers.
Russian thinkers that influenced China
The First World War was a turning point in Russian-Chinese relations. While Russia was busy fighting Germany, many Chinese students went to study in Russia. Many of these students were from the New Culture Movement, a radical intellectual movement that called for a complete break from Confucianism and the adoption of Western culture.
One of these students was Lu Xun, one of the founders of modern Chinese literature and one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Lu Xun was strongly influenced by Russian Realism, a literary movement that developed in the early 20th century. Lu Xun also greatly interested in Marxism, which he studied in depth while in Russia. His writings had a significant influence on Chinese writers and intellectuals. His articles were published in the Chinese Communist Party’s “Red Flag” journal.
Lu Xun and Russian Realism
The Russian word “Realism” was first used by Ivan Turgenev in 1846 in his novel “Literary Review.” In the 19th century, Russian writers such as Turgenev, Tolstoy, Gogol, and Dostoevsky wrote about Russian society to accurately portray the realities of their time. These writers opposed the Romantic Movement, which was very popular in Russia. Romanticism emphasized the imagination and emotions, the metaphysical, and nature. In contrast, Realism emphasized social problems, the concrete, and humanity.
May Fourth Movement and Marxist Thinking
The May Fourth Movement (1919) was a radical anti-imperialist and anti-traditional movement that broke out in Beijing after the October Revolution in Russia (1917). It is, therefore, unsurprising that the Movement was influenced by Marxist thinking, which had a strong presence in Russia at the time. The May Fourth Movement was a period of rapid social change in China as the country struggled to break away from the Qing Dynasty, the last Chinese imperial dynasty. The Movement saw the growth of many political and social groups, including the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Dong Fang and Futurism
Futurism was a literary and artistic movement that glorified change, new technology, industrialization, and the many social changes that came with the First World War. The Futurist Movement, an avant-garde movement that started in Russia in the early 20th century, affected Chinese literature and art, mainly the writings of Dong Fang and paintings by Li Zongren. Chinese Futurists were particularly interested in exploring the Chinese language’s possibilities in poetry and experimenting with Chinese characters and grammar.
Zhou Enlai: The first Premier of the PRC
Zhou Enlai was a famous Chinese revolutionary, diplomat, and statesman who served as the first Premier of the PRC. He was one of the foremost leaders of the Chinese Communist Party and was heavily influenced by Russian Bolshevism. Zhou studied at a Russian university in the early 1900s and joined the Bolshevik Party in 1918. He worked closely with Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party. After the October Revolution, he was sent back to China to organize the Communist Party.
Deng Xiaoping: The Father of Chinese Reform
Deng Xiaoping, credited with leading China through significant economic and political reforms, was heavily influenced by Russian Bolshevism. Deng studied in Moscow in the early 1920s, where he joined the Chinese Communist Party. He worked closely with Vladimir Lenin and other Russian Bolsheviks. After the Russian Revolution, he was sent back to China to organize the Communist Party there.
Zhou Enlai: A Disciple of Marx and Engels
Zhou Enlai was not only influenced by Russian Bolshevism but also by the ideas of Marx and Engels. After studying in Russia, Zhou returned to China, where he worked closely with the Chinese Communist Party. He became closely associated with Mao Zedong, who was the leader of the Communist Party. Soon after the Revolution, Zhou worked closely with the Soviets, who sent advisors to help the Chinese government. However, he was very critical of the Russian advisors, arguing that they did not understand the Chinese situation.
Mao Zedong: Influenced by Russian Bolshevism
The founder of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong, was heavily influenced by Russian Bolshevism. Mao studied in Moscow in the early 1920s, where he joined the Chinese Communist Party. He worked closely with Vladimir Lenin and other Russian Bolsheviks. After the Russian Revolution, he was sent back to China to organize the Communist Party there.
Mao became the leader of the Chinese Communist Party after the death of his colleagues, including General Zhu De, one of the Party’s founders. He led the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese people’s long struggle for power. During the Cultural Revolution, Mao implemented radical policies that caused significant damage to China. However, after he died in 1976, the Chinese Communist Party began to moderate Mao’s radical policies, initiating a process of economic and political reform that would transform the country.
This article looks at how Russian thinkers influenced Chinese thinkers and vice versa. It is interesting to note that the ideas of Marx and Engels also influenced many of the thinkers who Russian thinkers influenced. Zhou Enlai was a disciple of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and other Russian Bolsheviks. Many thinkers discussed in this article were responsible for shaping modern China. Mao Zedong, the founder of the PRC, is perhaps the most famous among them. Despite his mistakes, Mao remains an important figure in Chinese history.