If Sino-Russian relations today sometimes seem bluntly pragmatic, things were not always so, and as imperial dynasties in both countries crumbled one hundred years ago many interactions between these two Eurasian land empires had a decidedly romantic hue. As Elizabeth McGuire
relates in the rich, persuasive and utterly engrossing Red at Heart: How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution
(Oxford University Press, 2017), more than one generation of young Chinese people was swept up by the romance of the new socialist order taking shape after Russia's October Revolution. The personal encounters this political event brought about, and the Chinese revolutionaries' experiences as translators of languages and revolutions, and as lovers of Russian culture, politics and people, had profound consequences which endure to this day.
Drawing on memoirs and archives in Chinese, Russian and European languages, and an effortless marshaling of the deeper social histories from which these emerged, McGuire offers riveting accounts of Sino-Russian and Sino-Soviet infatuations, affairs, marriages and heartbreaks – on both personal and political levels. Spell-binding in themselves, these tales of the lives and relationships of Red at Heart's protagonists offer us an enchanting new lens through which to understand the twentieth-century histories of Russia and China – as well as Taiwan – and their mutual entanglements. This is a book where themes of gender and love, education, literature and popular culture, and indeed ideology and geopolitics are all bound up together, combining to offer us a deeply humanistic account of how political cataclysms may be very personal affairs, and vice versa.
Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the Slavic-Eurasian Research Center, Hokkaido University. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.