“The Enemies Made this Possible”: Sino-North Korean Relations after 1948

Adrian Buzo will be publishing a large Routledge Handbook on North Korea  (which I believe is slated to be published in 2021) and asked me to contribute a chapter. I asked my PhD student Yujin Lim to co-author this piece and fortunately she agreed, since she has been working in North Korean materials available in Seoul and recently published an impressive article on the geometry of US troop reductions in South Korea in 1978. Now that our chapter has been completed and submitted, I can share the provisional title and abstract and look forward to sharing further with colleagues:

“The Enemies Made this Possible”: Sino-North Korean Relations after 1948

Adam Cathcart and Yujin Lim

This chapter is anchored in the relationship between Kim Il Sung and Mao Zedong, documenting China’s support – initially heavy and later ebbing – for unification under Kimist leadership. Mao’s government and Kim’s remained tied to one another for security even after Chinese troops departed from North Korea in 1958 and the Cultural Revolution opened up its seemingly unlimited rage and chaos in 1966. As China became a more status quo power, North Korea continued to pursue strategies of peaceful reunification toward Seoul mixed in with rhetorical assaults on the US-South Korean alliance. Questions of leadership and personality are examined throughout the chapter, along with themes of Korean unification and China’s outlook on North Korean comrades. The chapter concludes by showing how Kim Jong-un has drawn from certain aspects of his grandfather’s legacy in order to conduct a foreign policy toward China which has alternated between cold and warm.


The quote in the chapter title is from Zhou Enlai, whose meetings alongside Kang Sheng with Albianian comrades in spring 1970 — soon after Zhou’s trip to Pyongyang are available here.

As for further fodder for putting context around Sino-North Korean relations in the 1970s, I recommend Sergei Radchenko and Bernd Schaefer (‘”Red on White”: Kim Il Sung, Park Chung Hee, and the Failure of Korea’s Reunification, 1971-1973,’ Cold War History vol. 17, no. 3 [2017]: 259-277) and the now-easily accessible Peking Review, which includes speeches on relations with China by Kim Il-sung that are fastidiously edited out of the North Korean leader’s Works. (This absence holds true for his Pyongyang meetings in 1970 with Zhou Enlai as well as Chairman Hua Guofeng’s visit in 1978; while Workers’ Party history editors hold up Kim’s guidance to other small states or meetings with foreign journalists, apparently discussions with or public speeches at rallies alongside North Korea’s prime regional ally are apparently a step too far.) With respect to Hua Guofeng and how China aligned with North Korea in the important year of 1978, I was able to draw in my chapter from a slightly rare volume (which I picked up via the discard pile of Yanbian University Library) is Zhonggong Zhongyang duiwai lianluobu erju, Chaoxian laodongdang wenjian xuanji (1978 nian), Beijing 1979.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s