Comparison of Chinese and North Korean Communism up to the 1980s (Part 2)

by James Graham

Democratic centralism and the two nation's history of despotism allowed both Mao and Kim to implement their policies and create personality cults centred on themselves. Mao's personality cult reached its peak during the cultural revolution of the mid 1960s to the early 1970s. Even at this height his cult was however nothing compared with that of Kim's. For a start Kim's cult was always more of a family cult one in which even his mother Kang Ban-suk was given the honorary title of the "Mother of Korea". Kim through the manipulation of history, North Korea's education system and mass media also set himself up as a role model for all age groups in the country. Strong personality cults allowed Mao and Kim to dominate the politics and pervert the communism of China and North Korea respectively.


Chinese and North Korean communism began to diverge significantly only in the 1970s. In 1971 during the Sino-Soviet rift China announced an intention to normalise its foreign relations. A policy change epitomised by Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972. Economic change followed gradually and only as a means to recover from the ravages of the Cultural revolutions. This was until the death of Mao and the rise to power of Deng Xioping. Deng's economic reforms initially included market style reforms, de-collectivisation and an open door to foreign investment. The first reforms were a dramatic success with efficiency in agriculture increasing rapidly in subsequent years. These significantly and permanently changed Chinese communism to a point where the Party's main newspaper the People's Daily declared in 1981 that Marxism-Leninism did not provide a problem to every economic, social and political problem in the world. This was anathema to the North Koreans and the vast majority of communists the world over. The KWP did make some limited attempts to attract foreign investment but with little success. They were thus further convinced that Juche was North Korea's most appropriate form of development. Since Deng's reforms Chinese communism has come to look more and more like communism in name only and created a deep divide with the strand of communism the North Koreans continue to practice.

The two countries geographic proximity, shared history and ideology have meant the significantly smaller of the two, North Korea has been heavily influenced by what has occurred in China. This "echo effect" has meant that North Korea has often copied a change in policy or innovation by China though this has by no means all been one way. North Korea's Flying Horse movement is comparable to China's Great Leap Forward movement and some elements of the North Korean collectivisation were copied by China. Up to the late 1980s North Korea did however have the Soviet Union as a strategic counterweight to limit Beijing's influence. Having fought to protect North Korean communism once it has always been unlikely that while China remained communist it would let communism come to an end in its neighbour. Thus to a certain degree North Korean communism has been supported by its Chinese neighbour ever since the Korean War.

Chinese and North Korean communism has a shared past and birth and indeed developed along similar lines and with comparable levels of success until the mid 1970s. Deng's reforms dramatically changed communism in China and have made it contrast sharply with the Juche inspired communism of North Korea. Throughout the 1980s a booming China and a stagnating North Korea have made the superiority of China's distorted communism abundantly clear.

Chinese and North Korean Communism up to the 1980s

Chinese and North Korean Communism (Part 1)
Chinese and North Korean Communism (Bibliography)