The warmth of China and Russia’s present-day relationship is sometimes said to reprise 1950s ties between Mao’s PRC and the Soviet Union, even if that remains a poorly understood period in both countries. Still less understood, moreover, is the deep Soviet cultural influence on China which accompanied this era of socialist alliance, and this in part is why Yan Li
’s China’s Soviet Dream: Propaganda, Culture, and Popular Imagination
is such an invaluable book.
Presenting a fascinating compendium of insights into the ways that Soviet fashion, literature, architecture, language and many other things washed over China during the mid-20th century, Li offers a sophisticated argument that this all fed into an entire framework for socialist modernity which China sought to adopt at this crucial period in its history. This was not always a one-way street, and this book also highlights instances where Chinese people were hesitant to embrace Soviet ways of doing things. But even as we look at this earlier ‘Chinese Dream’ from a temporal remove of over six decades, there can be little doubt that it left a mark on China that is still palpable today, and therefore deserves our attention.
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.