Want to keep learning?

This content is taken from the Yonsei University's online course, Lips and Teeth: Korea and China in Modern Times. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds So this week, we plunge into our study of the third and final major war on the Korean peninsula, the Korean War in the 1950s. But first, before we get into the military action, we need to step back and look at the story of the rise of a new force in the northern part of Korea and in all across China, and that’s communism. The linkages formed between communist partisans in China and in Korea is one of the critical new features in the Sino Korean relationship as it evolved in the 20th century. And of course, it has ongoing impact on the relationship between China, the PRC, today, and North Korea, the DPRK.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 seconds The Chinese Communist Party was founded in Shanghai in 1921, and although Mao Zedong, the most famous leader of the party, was present at the creation at that meeting, he was still a junior figure, a minor player at that time. But during the long march in 1934, 1935, when the Chinese communists were forced out of their so-called Soviet, their communist headquarters in Jiangxi province, and force a long retreat, took essentially an entire year, marching across much of China, finally arriving up in a new northern base in Yan’an. Along that march, Mao Zedong took control of the Chinese Communist Party. He emerged as paramount leader.

Skip to 1 minute and 36 seconds And so from that stage, in early 1935, all the way until his death in 1976, Mao would be the leader of Chinese communism and forge a very important relationship with the leader of Korean communism, Kim Il-Sung. Now in those early days, back in the 1920s and ’30s, the Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, was racked with power struggles at the highest level. But it was nothing compared with the early days of the Korean communist movement and Korean Communist Party. Those factional power struggles were so intense that Stalin, who was the ultimate leader of the entire communist movement worldwide, actually abolished, disbanded, the Korean Communist Party in 1928.

Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds As a result of that action, left leaning Koreans, many of whom were as much about anti Japanese nationalists’ guerrilla struggle as they were about deep faith or good knowledge of Marx and Lenin, these types started migrating across the border into Manchuria or further into China, and joining with the communist insurgency, the communist guerrillas who were fighting under Mao’s leadership. That’s precisely the story of Kim Il-Sung, the most important North Korean communist leader of his generation. He was already in Manchuria, brought there by his father, who resettled the family in the 1920s in Manchuria at a point where it was still part of China.

Skip to 3 minutes and 7 seconds So Kim Il-Sung was educated in the Chinese language, quickly learned Chinese, he went to Chinese schools in Manchuria. And as he moved toward the left, as he became a part of the Communist movement, he initially actually joined the Chinese Communist Party. So he was first a member of the CCP joining, historians think, in 1931. As she became increasingly involved in the military campaign, that guerrilla campaign against Japanese occupation which of course now included Manchuria, which was occupied by the Japanese and carved out into a separate puppet state of Manchukuo. As Kim Il-Sung was involved in guerrilla unrest within Manchukuo, he was fighting as part of a Chinese unit. In other words, he was part of the Red Army.

Skip to 4 minutes and 0 seconds Especially in the later 1930s, when the Chinese formed a special contingent, the Northeast anti Japanese army, Kim served as an officer in that army with Chinese superiors. And so that was the story right up until around 1940 when Kim Il-Sung had to slip across the border with a small group of his partisan followers into the Soviet Union, having been hounded out by the anti insurgency campaigns of the Japanese army in Japanese controlled Manchuria. So although Kim Il-Sung rode into Pyongyang on Soviet tanks and achieved paramount status in North Korean communism with the backing of Moscow, his roots were Chinese. He was the product of a new era in the lips and teeth special relationship.

Skip to 4 minutes and 52 seconds But now, the bond was communist, not Confucian. Based on the ideas of Marx and Lenin, not of Confucius and Mencius. After the sudden defeat of Japan in World War II in 1945, Mao and Kim were poised to make great gains across Asia for communism. And with the backing of Stalin, that set the stage for the next great conflict, the Sino Korean War, we could call it, of the 1950s, that we’ll be looking at in depth this week.

Comrades in arms

A new force rose to dominance in China and the northern half of Korea—Communist Party—to reinvent Sino-Korean relations, turning Confucian allies into anti-imperialist comrades in arms.

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Lips and Teeth: Korea and China in Modern Times

Yonsei University

Get a taste of this course

Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: