chapter  9
14 Pages

Overlapping Empires

Beijing has been called communism’s “Second Rome,”1 an independent seat of political and doctrinal authority which, although initially subordinate to Moscow, soon became an implacable rival. The analogy with Constantinople ( 330) is apt, because it highlights China’s special place in communist history after the Second World War. Whereas central and eastern European communist states were subjugated to Stalin; China had more degrees of freedom. Europe’s captive nations were satellites with no prospects of becoming second or third forces, because of the Soviet Red Army, but Mao harbored greater ambitions. A Kremlin invasion of China was never a realistic option, although the Soviet Red Army briefly occupied Manchuria August 1945 to early 1946.2

The founding of China’s People’s Republic October 1, 1949 consequently has a double symbolism: the independent rise of Red Asia, and the beginning of the end of the Kremlin’s monolithic rule over the global communist movement. Stalin reigned in the west, both in the Soviet Union and the captive nations. Whatever good or bad happened, the buck always stopped at his door. Mao by contrast ruled his own house, and toyed with dreams of a communist Asian empire from North Korea to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Tibet. While he sympathized with and was beholden to Stalin, often publicly calling him “boss,” Mao swiftly became master of communism’s second Rome. Crimes against humanity on his watch in China and elsewhere in Asia influenced by the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution would be his responsibility, not Koba’s.3