Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia
(Columbia University Press, 2018)
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Today, the People’s Republic of China is North Korea’s only ally on the world stage, a tightly knit relationship that goes back decades. Both countries portray their partnership as one of “brotherly affection” based on shared political ideals—an alliance “as tight as lips to teeth”—even though relations have deteriorated in recent years due to China’s ascendance and North Korea’s intransigence.
In A Misunderstood Friendship, leading diplomatic historians Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia draw on previously untapped primary source materials revealing tensions and rivalries to offer a unique account of the China–North Korea relationship. They unravel the twists and turns in high-level diplomacy between China and North Korea from the late 1940s to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Through unprecedented access to Chinese government documents, Soviet and Eastern European archives, and in-depth interviews with former Chinese diplomats and North Korean defectors, Shen and Xia reveal that the tensions that currently plague the alliance between the two countries have been present from the very beginning of the relationship. They significantly revise existing narratives of the Korean War, China’s postwar aid to North Korea, Kim Il-sung’s ideological and strategic thinking, North Korea’s relations with the Soviet Union, and the importance of the Sino-U.S. rapprochement, among other issues. A Misunderstood Friendship adds new depth to our understanding of one of the most secretive and significant relationships of the Cold War, with increasing relevance to international affairs today.
“This pathbreaking book systematically uncovers the previously hidden history of relations between the Chinese and North Korean Communists. In their painstaking research, their sharp analysis, and their clear exposition, Shen and Xia show why they are considered among the world’s foremost Cold War historians. Given the importance of Cold War history for the dramatic events in Northeast Asia today, this book could not be more timely.”
– Thomas J. Christensen, Columbia University
Zhihua Shen is the director of the Center for Cold War International History Studies at East China Normal University, Shanghai. The author of a number of major Chinese-language works on Cold War history, he is also the coauthor, with Yafeng Xia, of Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnership, 1945‒1959: A New History (2015) and coauthor, with Danhui Li, of After Leaning to One Side: China and Its Allies in the Cold War (2011).
Yafeng Xia is professor of history at Long Island University, Brooklyn. His books include Negotiating with the Enemy: U.S.-China Talks During the Cold War, 1949‒1972 (2006).