By using Graham Allison’s Bureaucratic Politics Model to set up the rules, advantages, and players of the Shenyang Military Region’s political game this paper finds that while the political shifts of the central government had impact on the game they were not the only factor in Sino-DPRK border clashes of 1967-69. Domestic player skill, reputation, perceptions, and implementation all played their part in influencing government actions. Since Shenyang was in charge of both the eastern Sino-Soviet border and the Sino-DPRK border the competition played within its military bureaucracy was able to influence events on both borders. The resultant, seemingly irrational, action undertaken by the Chinese gives insights into the nature of both the Sino-DPRK relationship, and the Chinese decision making process.
The People’s Republic of China’s has consistently had some of the most effectual relations with its neighbor, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK). Many in policymaking circles have come to rely on the Sino-DPRK relationship, traditionally referred to ‘as close as lips and teeth,’ as a possible solution to the current North Korean nuclear issue. However, despite the many reports that have been written on China’s ability to influence DPRK, there has been surprisingly little analysis of the relationship’s history and driving factors. Though the PRC was one of the DPRK’s first allies, the relationship has not always been close and peaceful. In fact, during China’s Cultural Revolution, Sino-DPRK relations reached their nadir as the two sides came to blows.
Modern works on the Cultural Revolution, even those focusing on Chinese foreign affairs, continually fail to mention the dire state of the Sino-DPRK relationship of the period. Those that do spend a few lines on explanation only to quickly point out that their relationship was quickly repaired. The recent release of material from the archives of China and North Korea’s former allies has created a renewed interest in the Sino-DPRK relationship. However, much of the recent work has stuck closely to the historical narrative with little attempt to explain the rational nature of the ‘67-69 clashes. Previous works have simply chalked up Chinese actions during the Cultural Revolution as the irrational acts of an irrational time. However, once the Chinese bureaucratic politics game is factored in, it becomes clear that to those Chinese players seeking both their personal and organizational goals within the political landscape of the time, these clashes resulted from what were, indeed, rational actions.
While the Sino-DPRK relationship had its ups and downs, the relations of this period began their downward spiral toward the end of 1965. The souring of relations was largely due to decreases in Chinese aid, which failed to match rebounding Soviet military and economic aid. As competition and threats between the Chinese and the USSR continued to mount, the Chinese made every effort — using both carrots and sticks — to drive the North Koreans away from relations with the USSR. However, Chinese carrots didn’t carry enough value and their sticks only served to drive the Koreans closer to the USSR. Economic and cultural exchanges, which had previously been a mainstay of the relationship, ground to a halt as the Cultural Revolution dawned. 1966 saw the relationship continue down the same path; the Chinese viewed DPRK relations with the USSR with ever increasing suspicion while actions by both Chinese politicians and Red Guards alike served to deepen the relations’ decline.
Throughout this period, the Sino-DPRK border remained a point of contention between the two neighbors. Of the 800 plus miles of the Sino-DPRK border a river delineates all but 20 miles. The non-river part of the border had long been a disputed territory with both the Chinese and the Koreans claiming most of the Baektu (Changbai) area as well as the lake at the mountain’s peak. In all, the land territory dispute and discrepancies in river border positioning led to 600 square miles of claim discrepancies. A 1962 border treaty settled the status of much of the contested territory by dividing possession of Mt. Baektu in half. The Chinese, however, remained unsatisfied and only three years later, as the Sino-DPRK relationship began to sour, they reasserted their claim to the disputed Baektu area as compensation for their involvement in the Korean War. In turn, the Chinese began to see the DPRK alliance with a seemingly aggressive Soviet Union as a link between two increasingly tense borders. The two former friends looked at one another over a contentious border as animosity increased and their relationship crumbled.
The Sino-DPRK border clashes of 67-69 therefore allow for a unique look into both the Sino-DPRK relationship and Chinese decision making during the Cultural Revolution. Clashes that occur nearly contemporaneously with attempts to improve Sino-DPRK relations, and in the face of a constant Soviet threat, seem irrational. But as we unearth glimpses of the pronounced political shifts and implementation lag of the Cultural Revolution we expose dynamics within Chinese politics. The long duration of the border issue allows for views of how and when shifts took place, why personnel changed, and the increasing impact of the decentralization inherent in the Chinese system. In order to analyze these clashes and their causal decisions the author will employ journal articles, narrative histories of the Cultural Revolution, books on Sino-DPRK relations, and translations of Foreign Affairs documents from China and North-Korea’s former allies in order to develop a sequence of events. These events are then combined with Graham Allison’s Bureaucratic Politics model to interpret the decision making structure of the Shenyang Military Region: the military region in control of Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, and therefore the DPRK and eastern Soviet borders. The explanation of said decision-making structure and its composite events will allow the author to show that the border tension and clashes between the PRC and the DPRK during the winters of 67-69 were greatly impacted by centrally delineated advantages within the game of the Shenyang Military Region.
In order to interpret the Chinese decision making process during the Cultural Revolution the author has decided to employ Graham Allison’s ‘Governmental Politics Model’. Instead of treating governments as monolith and their policy making process as a ‘black box,’ Allison’s model allows for conflicting goals within organizations, varying levels of political influence, and counterintuitive government action. By treating all government action as the result of a domestic political game we open up analysis of events that seem to contradict our understandings of rational government behavior.
Though Allison’s model was originally developed for use with the Cuban Missile Crisis it proves ready for adoption into the Chinese domestic politics of the Cultural Revolution era. Taking action as a political resultant and not the chosen outcome of the central government proves especially useful as the party apparatus broke down over the course of the era. Since domestic political issues distracted the central government they delegated more and more responsibility outside of central control, which created a more pronounced relationship between government action and the political game. Since both the government itself, and the organizations therein, are not treated as uniform in Allison’s model, it provides a method of explaining the competition between different branches and players within the PLA. At the same time, central influence and conflicting actions meant that this inner-PLA conflict did not fit well within a factionalism model. This proves especially true as the military and those involved with the Shenyang region were at less risk than other departments, and therefore were less likely to cling to contacts. Finally, even when the leaders of Shenyang reached a decision, said decision might not be implemented for some time, if it was at all. In Allison’s model, and in the politics of the Cultural Revolution, the game doesn’t end when the decision is made.
To better enhance the explanatory power of such games of implementation the inclusion of Allison’s concept of ‘bureaucratic inertia’ proved necessary. This concept, originally from his ‘Organizational Process’ model, melds well with both models. Bureaucratic inertia allows for the slow moving nature of organizations, central policy may change and a new political shift may begin, but it takes time for an organization’s operating procedures and goals to catch up to with the new reality. This concept, combined with the implementation game, explains the lag between events and their causal actions.
The events in the Shenyang military region during the period of 1967-9 link well with Allison’s model. Instances of Sino-DPRK border clashes occurring well after their inciting actions with the lag between central declarations and their implementation indicates the importance of bureaucratic inertia and implementation. Further, the lack of central government focus on Shenyang’s issues of concern and the removal of central government controlled forces away from the DPRK border indicates the importance of the domestic Shenyang game to Sino-DPRK relations. In short, Allison’s model allows us to tell an important story of Chinese politics during the Cultural Revolution by showing us the importance of inter-organizational competition and giving us glimpses of the decision mechanics that led to Sino-DPRK clash.
As Allison indicates, three important organizing concepts within the ‘Governmental Politics Model’ are: who plays the game, how their stand is decided, and their impact. Perhaps primary within this is establishing whose interests and actions have an important effect on the issue in question. In the case of the Shenyang Military Region and the Sino-DPRK border players within two positions seem to have the most impact: commander and political commissar of the region, respectively controlling military orders and indoctrination. These two groups of players caused the decision resultant and their position as two sides of the same organ instigated their internally competitive relationship.
The outcome of the game further depends on which player is in each position and when. Competition between the two began in January 1967 while Chen Xilian was the standing commander of the Shenyang military region and Song Renjiang was the acting Political Commissar of the region. Surprisingly, the Cultural Revolution’s myriad political ousters only majorly impacted the roster of the Shenyang one time. Early in the game, open competition between the two sides resulted in Pan Fusheng replacing Song as the Political Commissar for the region. While there are probably other players within the Chinese political system that had impact on the government action that resulted from the Shenyang game, the aforementioned players were in the most influential positions over regional and main force military actions on the Sino-DPRK border, and, as such, are the main focus of this interpretation.
With the players and their positions established, the next task is to determine the stands, perceptions, and interests of each player. First off, Allison indicates that all players are pressured by parochialism to favor the orientation of their organization. As such, the position of the player will typically indicate not only the player’s interest in an issue but also their stand on said issue. Since all players involved were careerists they were more likely to follow the goals of their organization and seat. These goals, however, were drastically disparate. Pan and Song’s political organization pushed for the propagation of Maoism and attacks on those that went against it. On the other hand, Chen’s military organization tended to express more interest in avoiding a two front conflict and maintaining Chinese security.
Beyond parochialism, each player had their own goals, which were shaped by their perceptions of national, organizational, and domestic interests. Though Chen Xilian was eventually purged as a member of the ‘Little Gang of Four’ his political views throughout the Cultural Revolution were quite moderate and had even been in opposition with those radical supporters of the Cultural Revolution who constituted the original ‘Gang of Four.’ Chen’s personal political leanings influenced his perceptions of national interests. Song Renjiang had been labeled a ‘capitalist roader’ after his purge, but again, his behavior can only be linked to the opposing political view. Song’s denouncement of his former moderate bosses engendered him to the radicals in Shenyang and reinforced his own radical politics. Song’s replacement, Pan Fusheng, had a similar level of internal political conflict. Pan’s moderate agrarian policies in Henan during the Great Leap Forward had led to his temporary removal from power by the dominant radical powers. However, once reinstated into government during the Cultural Revolution, Pan began to push the politics of the ‘ultra-left,’ and was later charged with following the line of the ‘gang-of-four.’ Neither Song, Chen, nor Pan followed their side of the political spectrum with absolution, but it did combine with their parochialism to shape their actions. The players in the Shenyang would doubtlessly have other issues of interest to them, but the border issue provides an intersection of domestic priorities, organizational parochialism, national security, and individual interests.
The final two influences on the player action, stakes and deadlines, are closely related within the Shenyang game and DPRK border clashes. Thought the border issue was not an existential threatening issue for either side, the stake of the military’s moderates was assuredly higher — If the moderates did not succeed in limiting radical action against North Korea then the possibility of a dual front conflict increased. On the other hand, if the radicals in the political department failed to increase the number of foreign Maoist devotees they did not risk their department’s legitimacy. So, the radical supporters of the CCRG could shift their interests away from the issue without major concern over its result. Since no player focuses on a single problem, deadlines force players to take their stands and act. For Shenyang, fear of Soviet aggression and winter border clashes along the Sino-DPRK border provide deadlines. As tension from these deadlines increased, the players’ valuation of inflammatory actions decreased.
A player’s impact on the game is largely determined by their power within the game. Power, in Allison’s model, is composed of three aspects: bargaining advantages, a player’s skill and will in using said advantages, and other player’s perceptions of the first two aspects. Chen, Sung, and Pan’s bargaining advantages were largely sourced from their formal authority; however, their control of resources was intrinsically different. Both Sung and Pan’s connection to the political department meant that they had both the party’s mouthpiece and the military training regimes at their disposal. Chen, as indicated above, maintained actual control of Shenyang military and its human resources. Once Sung was purged, the two remaining players of the game shared similar levels of favor with the central government, so differences in both their reputation and access to higher-ups became negligible.
The strength of each player in the game, however, was not consistent throughout the entire period. The advantages and disadvantages of each player’s hand varied greatly over time. The absence of a static set of advantages in the Shenyang game means that we cannot approach the period as one chunk. Instead, an examination of the political events of ‘67-‘69 indicates the presence of four political shifts throughout the period that had impact on advantages within Shenyang. For simplicity’s sake I will refer to these shifts as ‘Radical Shifts’ 1 and 2, and ‘Normalizations’ 1 and 2. As the names indicate, each period featured an overarching trend toward one side of the political spectrum or another, which, in turn, influenced Shenyang’s game play.
Before moving on it behooves us to take a look at the nature of these shifts. In total, there are three basic properties of these shifts: central influence, porous boundaries, and a sinusoidal shape. First off, the advantages in Shenyang were greatly influenced by the motions of individuals at the top of the system. By its very nature, the Cultural Revolution increased the influence of individual participants within the political sphere. Since players no longer had the party as a unifying shroud, competition took place in the open, which allows us to see the shifts in general political disposition that would normally take place within the ‘black box.’ The favorable winds in Beijing, as impacted by key players, dictated the hands and advantages of Shenyang.
Advantages, however, did not favor complete central control, which made the shifts porous and open to opposing political action. The political shift of the central government for a period did not dictate the political nature of the events therein. A good player could successfully push for their goals no matter the hand they receive. This porous nature, combined with bureaucratic inertia, should caution our understanding of the political environment of each shift: more than just radical actions succeeded during a ‘radical shift.’
Finally, the shifts did not happen all at once; instead, they slowly mounted in strength until an event occurred that reversed the trend. In sinusoidal form, shifts would get more radical, then reverse, and get more moderate. The advantages of the favored side would increase continually throughout the shift, which increased their success rate throughout. As such, political purges of radical elements might be successful only after several months of a normalization period.
Though further down on the official political hierarchy, Shenyang’s game nonetheless carried the most direct impact on the Sino-DPRK border itself. Shenyang was in charge of the PLA main forces that had been stationed in the region, including the border patrolsthat carried out both central and regional directives along the Sino-DPRK border. With the players and their goals and advantages within Shenyang well established, we must further flesh out the progression of the game itself. To do so, two aspects of Shenyang’s game must be explained: the action-channels and rules of the game.
Actions channels are the ‘regularized means of taking governmental action on an issue’ and those individuals that are tied to action-channels are the players. Since we know that Chen, Pan, and Song were the influential players of the Shenyang game we know that both the political commissar and the military leadership within the region were the action-channels. Just as the PLA itself is divided into departments that delegate orders and those in charge of the political actions, so too was the division within Shenyang. So, Pan and Song were linked to an action-channel that allowed them control of Shenyang’s ideological training and of the PLA’s political work, but did not permit them direct control of troop movements to push their goals. On the other hand, since the game doesn’t end with the formal decision being made, Chen’s control of directives and commands was vulnerable to both problems of vertical implementation and tension that could be fueled by the political commissar.
The final aspects of the Shenyang game are the rules of the game. Rules constrain the actions that are available to players, but the political terrain of the Cultural Revolution allowed a less binding playing field. Since central directives were not always implemented by the regions to their fullest immediately, changes in central directives did not constitute a change in the rules of the regional game. Instead, the upheaval of the time period left a very limited set of movements in the domain of the illegal or inappropriate. For one, while increased levels of regionalism became part of the Chinese system during the Cultural Revolution, no sprouts of warlordism were permitted. The central government, out of necessity, allowed the regional commanders increasingly high levels of autonomy with the caveat that the central still remained above all. Overstepping this boundary engendered reaction from both the center and the regional commanders, as was the case with the Wuhan incident, as we will see below. A less explicit rule, but a nonetheless important rule to follow for any player’s potential success, was acceptance of Mao’s leading position. Questioning Mao’s position became a bit of an anathema within Chinese politics, leaving players on both sides of an issue to rely on using Mao’s own quotes to support their side. Within this, it is important to note that, while the domestic game operated on its own level, the central government still had the ability to change the players, rules, and advantages of the game, should they draw its attention.
While the clean lay-out of Shenyang’s players, the players goals, the shifting advantages, and the game’s static structure may provide us with some incite into the process that led to Chinese government action, the game did not exist in a vacuum. The regional game in Shenyang directly interacted with the events of the period both domestically in China and within North Korea, so a detail of events and their impact on Shenyang is necessary in order to provide a better understanding of the Sino-DPRK clashes and the Chinese government process.
Though the Cultural Revolution had been raging throughout the entirety of 1966 the PLA had managed to maintain its role as a party-army, remaining impartial to the ever-shifting politics of the Cultural Revolution. The leadership of the military had engaged in political competition, but up until January 1967 the military forces had been supporting the party as a whole without engaging the myriad cliques that sprang up. However, this all changed with Mao’s January 1967 call for the PLA to interfere in the Cultural Revolution on behalf of the “revolutionary” forces so as to help them seize power. As a result of the ensuing crack down, the PLA took over the majority of the provinces; placing factories, power stations, banks, state houses, and commercial organizations under their singular authority. The military’s status as the only functioning branch of state power combined with its authority over the state security organs made the PLA the main controlling political force in China by default. This unprecedented PLA intervention in domestic politics served as a marker of an ever more radical period in Chinese politics (radical shift #1). This radical shift saw the removal of the Foreign Ministry’s (FM) moderating influence, the active radicalization of leadership, an increase in the revolutionary activity of the Red Guards (RG), a peak of the Central Committee’s Cultural Revolution Group’s (CCRG) power, as well as direct radical-conservative conflict and uprising in the Shenyang Military Region’s Liaoning and Jilin provinces.
Though January had brought an increase in the influence of the military it did not bear the same good tidings for the Foreign Ministry. Mass organizations, which had been formed within the FM, finally seized power in January. This seizure of power brought with it a radicalization of the ministry and a self-criticism by Chen Yi, the ministry’s conservative leader. The FM’s radicalization initiated a downward trend in the ministry, which it would not begin to recover from until the spring of 1969. In March 1967 the Chinese ambassador to the DPRK was withdrawn and openly criticized by the more leftward leaning elements of the FM. Throughout the remainder of the spring, all Chinese ambassadors (aside from the ambassador to Egypt) were withdrawn to Beijing — leaving the embassies in the more radical hands of the Chargé d’Affaire. By August, the few remaining moderate elements within the Liaison offices had been purged. This radicalization crippled the FM’s moderating influence and, due to its constant over-reactions, made the FM a source of international tension.
Throughout this period, the Sino-DPRK relationship continued its downward spiral, and the seizure of the FM left the ministry unable to slow its further degradation. The constant barrage of anti-DPRK propaganda published in RG journals first came to a head in late January with the first official DPRK rebuttal to Chinese attacks. The Nodong Shimbon (the DPRK’s party mouthpiece) denounced the “propagandistic lies” that had been printed about a rumored coup attempt against Kim Il-Sung. When no official response was offered by the Chinese and the attacks continued the DPRK fired a final volley in February; stating that Beijing “would have to bear all the consequences” if it continued the unfriendly acts toward the DPRK. This warning served to temporarily temper attacks on the DPRK, but the damage had already been done and the relationship continued to deteriorate.
Mao’s call for the PLA support of the left ended the military’s long-term non-involvement in the domestic politics, but once involved, the military, for the most part, acted as a moderating force in local politics. Since the military’s main assignment was still the restoration of order and a reduction of violence, the PLA favored order over revolution. The regional forces of the PLA tended to favor the established local politicians and conservative mass organizations when conflicts arose. The radicals that had supported domestic PLA intervention with the belief that the military would ‘support the left’ were sorely disappointed. This evoked “revolutionary” opposition to the military from the forces of the left: to which, depending on the influence of the radicals in Beijing, the PLA responded with varying degrees of toughness. As radicals were on the rise, the PLA was restrained and Red Guards were permitted to raise their level of revolutionary activity as the radicals were on the rise. Further, as the radicals and the CCRG grew in strength they began to hold more influence over the Central Military Commission (CMC); in April the CMC was stuffed with four additional Pro-CR members. As the radicals continued to gain power throughout the spring of 1967 advantages were gained by those in political positions that were linked to the CCRG and the radicals in the center.
The moderation pushed by the regional PLA forces caused the Cultural Revolution to grind to a near halt by February and March ‘67. As a result, the increasingly radical central government, under the behest of the CCRG, weakened the civil authority of the regional PLA command and suspended, transferred, or removed many of those commanders that had been supporting the local political officials against the radicals (as had been the case in Liaoning and Jilin). The strong local ties of the regional PLA forced Beijing’s central intervention with its main force units. These 38 main force corps had remained disconnected from the regional forces and political positions, and therefore, were under more direct central government control. Even the troops that had been concentrated along the DPRK border prior to January were moved to replace regional forces elsewhere. The direct connection between these forces and the CMC tied them to the top-level shifts of advantage between the conservatives and the radicals. In order to replace the regional forces and aid the radicals in their cause, more main force units were moved from March through June ‘67 than during the Korean War. In total, the central government used 20 of the 36 main force corps as “support the left” units.
As with elsewhere in China, the spring of 1967 saw serious clashes between the radical and moderate forces in Liaoning and Jilin. The continuous fighting between the main forces of the Shenyang Military Region and rival groups of Red Guards crippled production and transport throughout the remainder of the summer. The Wuhan incident, a regional military mutiny against the Cultural Revolution in July, which was suppressed by the centrally controlled main force units, removed the last of Beijing’s faith in the regional forces and strengthened the call for their rapid replacement by main force corps. Shenyang’s fighting, which continued until August, resulted in the purge of two Liaoning commanders and the reorganization of both Jilin and Liaoning by main force units.
The spring and summer’s unrest in Liaoning and Jilin was linked to the political competition between General Chen Xilian and Song Renjiang. The radical RG groups sided with Song Renjiang while the military and conservative groups sided with Gen. Chen Xilian. While Song was not a committed radical his desertion of Liu and Deng (his former bosses) had both engendered him to the radical forces and ostracized him from the moderate and conservative forces. The spring of 1967 provided political advantages to those with radical leanings, but advantages don’t paint the whole picture. As Allison indicates, each player’s skill and reputation are also important factors in the game. In this case Song’s reputation as a deserter alienated him from the moderates while at the same time his reputation as a former moderate did not win him the protection of an increasingly powerful CCRG. In the end, the military and conservative alliance overwhelmed the radical Red Guards. Song Renjiang was ‘dragged out’ and replaced by, the even more radical, Pan Fusheng as Political Commissar.
Representatives from both sides of the political spectrum had been sent to Shenyang to cater a deal between the two competing groups, but the Wuhan incident had set a series of policy oscillations in progress that would consistently shift the advantages, and goals of the game in the Shenyang Military Region. The first such shift came in September as a reaction to the arming of RGs, criticism of the PLA, and other ‘excesses’ that radical shift #1 had wrought.
After July’s Wuhan incident and the attacks on the PLA throughout August, September provided the PLA with a newfound sense of control. The September 5th Directive gave the military the grounds to restore order via the use of force. The PLA had been in direct conflict with many RG groups throughout the summer but had been unable to respond to violence in kind. With these newly granted powers, many of the persistent RG groups were quickly overcome. The PLA had already become a dominant influence in most provinces; nonetheless the directive expanded this influence and brought many provinces under the direct control of the main force units. Insubordinate regional military officers were purged and moved while the main force units took over their political positions. Prior to September there had been widespread regional/central competition within the PLA, but after September these disputes became less important in most of China, especially Shenyang, due to high levels of main force control.
With the main force units in control of Shenyang, the Shenyang Military Region’s game becomes the most influential game for the Sino-DPRK border. The Shenyang Military Region was in charge of both the main force units and the border guards of the DPRK border – which means that, while the shifts in advantages and players were linked to central level politics, the competition between Chen Xilian’s moderate military and Pan Fusheng’s radical political department within Shenyang had direct impact on activities of the border area. Further, since the competition between Chen and Pan loosely aligns with the competition between the CMC and the CCRG at the central level, it is easy to link the shifts in central politics to both the Shenyang game and the outputs on the borders.
The first normalization shift, which was brought on by the September directive, began the political movement back toward normalcy. Very little about this sea-change was immediate, but once the border clashes and RG incidents caused by bureaucratic inertia and the game of implementation are accounted for relations began to improve and politics swung in the moderate direction.
The CCRG’s power was on the wane throughout the normalization period beginning with their signing off on the September directive. Throughout autumn criticisms over the ‘excesses’ that had occurred during the previous period abounded. The blame for these problems was placed squarely on the shoulders of the Red Guards and personnel that were linked to the ultra-radical May 16th Group. The members of the ‘May 16th Group’ were purged and their RG groups disbanded by the Central Committee in the autumn of 67, though some still operated under its crest well into 1968. Even the formerly powerful CCRG was not immune to such purges and lost five of its total eleven in the autumn reprisal due to their links to the group. The CCRG’s grip on the PLA was reduced to an all time low in autumn as both the PLA’s Cultural Revolution Group and the General Political Department (GPD) were replaced with a ‘political work group,’ which reported directly to the CMC administrative committee. No political power vacuum emerged with the absence of a strong CCRG for where the radicals were reduced in power, the moderates gained.
With the CCRG’s influence in the PLA dwindling, the moderates of the PLA took the opportunity to exert control over both their own internal politics and the local politics of many regions. Beginning in October, the PLA began to force the Red Guards back into schools. The military commissions that oversaw them were reinstated in an effort to clamp down on further movements by local RGs. An attack on a cadre member by Red Guard units now relied on approval of the PLA itself. In order to quash the radicals who still remained within the regional forces of the PLA study classes were instituted in early autumn. This indoctrination of rank and file soldiers intensified in December and continued unabated until May 1968.
While it might be convenient to conclude from this that the CCRG’s influence had been crippled throughout autumn, it is not entirely true. An internal foreign policy speech by Yao Wenyuan, which attacked the DPRK, came just prior to December’s border clashes and shows the CCRG still had the ability to alter advantages in Shenyang’s game.
Even with the moderation of the September directive and the rebuke of the ‘excesses’ of the CR the RGs persisted in dampening the Sino-DPRK relationship. Since, far from urging the Red Guards to stop, the central officials had persisted in referring to the DPRK as ‘revisionist’, the Soviet-DPRK relationship and the non-cadre status of ethnic Koreans made them a safe outlet for still ongoing, albeit weaker, radical sentiment.
Calling the DPRK and its leaders ‘revisionist’ remained in vogue throughout the remainder of 67 for both sides of the central Chinese leadership. Repairing relations with the DPRK was not a priority and in this environment there is little wonder that there were difficulties with both bureaucratic inertia and implementation. Since each actor in the game has a limited amount of time and attention, many issues deemed unimportant will be glossed over or ignored completely. On top of this lack of attention it is also important to note that organizations have difficulty changing courses and even with higher levels of attention some inertia would have been understandable. In Shenyang, no specific advantages or rule changes initially related to the DPRK, so since the players of the game still had domestic issues taking immediate priority, the Sino-DPRK border took three months and a major event to catch up with the overall trend. So, although Pan and the radicals had dwindling advantages in Shenyang the slow moving nature of the bureaucracy allowed for their continued activities.
Business as usual for the radical elements along the DPRK border meant antagonizing the ‘revisionist’ DPRK. In late-September early-October the North Koreans began finding the dead bodies of ethnic Koreans thrown onto trains that were entering the DPRK. These bodies were the result of the fighting between ethnic Koreans and Red Guards in the Yanbian Prefecture of Jilin. The Red Guards disrupted DPRK trains bound for the PRC as well: halting trains in order to force Mao badges on DPRK citizens.
Had the Sino-DPRK tension remained in the realm of name-calling and Mao badges, it would be easy to excuse such activity as unimportant or beyond the hand of the government during this period of chaos. Unfortunately, however, the tension and inertia proved too much for the border to hold. Zhou Enlai and other Chinese leaders’ damning of the DPRK as ‘revisionist’ did little to improve an already tense situation. Throughout the entirety of 1967, Soviet military aid to the DPRK had been modernizing the North Korean military, providing more than 250 jets in one year. This, combined with the DPRK’s increasingly close relationship with the USSR, which had begun exerting pressure on its own border, mounted tension to new levels. These tensions culminated with military clashes along the Sino-DPRK border in late 1967. These clashes, though under-reported at the time, helped to bring the attention of decision makers to the Sino-DPRK border, thus acting as a deadline to force player decisions, and slow the bureaucratic inertia that had been plaguing the trend toward normalization. As a result, by the end of 1967 Red Guard attacks on the DPRK had largely been stopped.
The unique nature of the Shenyang Military Region left Chen and the military moderates in an unenviable position; to the north they were in charge of the contested border with an increasingly assertive USSR, and to the East they shared a border with the DPRK, which had already seen direct conflict. In January 1968 the CMC gave orders for Shenyang to strengthen the deployment of border guards along Soviet border and to form an elite detachment of border guards, this came in response the increasing numbers of USSR border clashes; most recently, an attack on several Chinese along the Heilongjiang border. Opening conflict on both borders went against the goals of Chen and the Shenyang moderates, the bigger Soviets had to be the priority, but in order to do so the moderates would have to gain more traction.
The reduction of CCRG power that had begun with the September 5th directive continued throughout the winter of ’67-8 with the closure of several CCRG media mouthpieces, and Jiang Qing and Chen Boda’s temporary disappearance from the public stage. So, when the DPRK seized the USS Pueblo in late-January ’68, it provided an easy out for Shenyang to sell its priorities to the government at large, and shortly after the Pueblo crisis began, the PRC issued a statement of “firm support” for the DPRK. Although the Chinese response came after both a reduction in the threat of a US response and the USSR’s own declaration of support the very existence of any positive Chinese response at such a time of tension is an indicator of moderate influence. Chinese support for the DPRK soon began to show real results, trade delegations were sent to Pyongyang, PRC specialists and military advisors returned to DPRK factories, negotiations began on a new trade agreement, and attempts were made by Zhou Enlai to patch up the relationship. At the same time, Jilin’s Revolutionary Council was formed with main force commanders at its lead. These commanders then reorganized the province in an attempt to further reduce the power of its radical elements. The moderate period was finally in full bloom, but, just as the case had been during the radical shift, one event could wipe out the gains of the entire period. The dismissal of Chief of General Staff Yang Chengwu was such an event.
As the purge of Yang Chengwu initiated yet another radical shift, the CCRG began to regain its footing and assert its control over the party’s mouthpiece. In Shenyang, Chen Xilian’s newfound leadership of the Liaoning RC was countered by radical violence and protests. Pan Fusheng’s increasing advantages combined with his control of the region’s political action-channels to enable the espousal of his goals. The radical push and promotion of Maoism that resulted from this new trend continued to grow until the final RC was established, though not before the damage of the summer’s propaganda ‘war’ had been done.
As the acting Chief of General Staff, Yang Chengwu had been pushing the moderate agenda of the CMC throughout the PLA in direct competition with pro-CCRG elements. During the previous period of moderation Yang had briskly pushed for the rehabilitation of both civilian and military personal that had been purged thus far. Yang’s push for moderation and attempts to undermine radical power placed him squarely against the CCRG and the radical power-holders who still lent it their support. During his attempts to discredit Xie Fuzhi one such power-holder, by linking him to the ‘May 16th Group,’ Yang over-stepped the authority of the CMC and was removed as a result. Yang was later charged with factionalism and having a “mountain stronghold mentality,” however, his consistent undermining of radicals and support of conservatives in both the civilian government and the PLA left little doubt over the reason for his purge. Although the moderate RC leadership that had been put in place by Yang was not removed as part of his fall from grace, the purging process and subsequent denouncement of Yang’s ‘reversal of verdicts’ foreshadowed the emergence of a new period of conservative weakness and the revitalization of the radical movement.
As indicated above, Yang’s dismissal was a setback for the moderate politics of the CMC, but, perhaps more importantly, it was also a call to arms for the leadership of the Cultural Revolution. Radicals were alarmed at the success gained by Yang prior to his ouster and, in response, began to wind up resistance via the media. From March, the CCRG began resuming publication production through its numerous mouthpiece media organizations with production returning to its highest capacity by June. These CCRG media blasts increased the levels of provincial violence due to their calls for attacks on the military and defiance against the newly established RCs.
By May 1968, Liaoning had finally established its own RC, to match those of Jilin and Heilongjiang. The Liaoning RC was headed by Chen Xilian and the commanders who had joined him in the struggle against Song Renjiang, however, the reemergence of pro-radical media, meant that this new RC provided little reprieve from the radical/conservative competition that had, thus far, defined the region’s game. Pan and the political department combined with the CCRG media to push radical propaganda both within and without the PLA. Violence in Liaoning spiked during the summer of 68, forcing a second summer-long PLA suppression of radical elements.
CCRG influence increased the advantages of those radicals in the political department, but central influence was far from definitive; in May, a central directive was handed down that tried to reduce political competition and promote unity, but the competition had already been stepped up, and neither side wanted to be the first to back down. The period of April through June saw the radicals of the CCRG in renewed political competition with those moderates who had attempted to restore the power of former office holders. The political competition, which had been reignited by the fall of Yang Chengwu and the ‘reversal of verdicts,’ soon became a full-blown class struggle: the fifth round of the Cultural Revolution.
While increased levels of domestic anti-RC violence in Shenyang would have been enough indication of a shift in the advantages of Pan and the CCRG’s radical supporters, the shifts also had direct impact on Sino-DPRK relations as well. Instead of pushing for direct military conflict with the DPRK, which would have been beyond the bounds of a political commissar, Pan and the radicals of Shenyang, flush with new power amid the CCRG’s reemergence, attacked the ‘revisionists’ with the only means at their disposal: propaganda. The “loudspeaker war,” as it was called in some diplomatic circles, featured a border-long array of megaphones set to blast propaganda all hours of the day. The DPRK responded in kind, and soon both sides of the border were flooded with competing propaganda messages. Again, bureaucratic inertia and the implementation game meant that the radical and moderate shifts were far from mutually exclusive. Therefore, it was still business as usual for the Chinese advisors who had returned to the DPRK during the normalization period. Perhaps the best example of the lack of trend exclusivity was the joint Sino-DPRK group that repaired a border dam while under the constant barrage of the blaring propaganda of the ‘loudspeaker war.’ Chen Xilian may have been in charge of troop orders and the Liaoning RC, but Pan’s new advantages meant that he could push his goals: radical control within Shenyang and spread Maoist propaganda along its borders. The propaganda war and radicalization during the summer of ‘68 removed any inkling that the Sino-DPRK relationship was bound to improve. During this period relations were drawn to a standstill, trade was minuscule, and DPRK officials began flying over the USSR for fear of forced landings in Chinese territory.
The summer of ‘68 was the final drive for many revolutionary activists in the provinces, so when the military began to regain control in late-July and August the power of the CCRG again began to dwindle. The PLA’s hardline push for the establishment of all RCs intensified by the end of July and culminated in five weeks of the PLA fighting rebel groups, removing mass organizations, and denouncing Cultural Revolution excesses. The RCs were majority controlled by the military and other moderate elements, so as the RCs were established and rebel groups suppressed the radical trend began to slow. By the time the final RC was established in September, the military had cemented its effective control over the country, and a new conservative shift was emerging. The competition in the Shenyang region and the tensions on the Sino-DPRK border, however, were far from over.
With the establishment of the final RC, China began yet another political shift and the Shenyang region moved with it. The CCRG had solidified its position within the central government, but the military maintained control over the now dominant RCs, so little could be done by the CCRG to rend control of the PLA from the CMC. Again the military’s moderating influence was emboldened by the Soviets’ continued threat. For a second time, Chen and the moderates of the Shenyang region were faced with potential conflicts on two borders, which ran counter to their goals. The political playing field was in favor of the moderates, but the tension on the Sino-DPRK border had already reached an unprecedented level, so the typical lack of focus on the DPRK border previously enjoyed by Chinese officials would, again, create consequences.
Two main events occurred in September that led to the second normalization trend, the first being the decrease in the militancy of the CCRG’s mission. The new mission of the CCRG, in accordance with the Mao’s March call to end the dissemination of Maoist materials, was to instead push for domestic “struggle, criticism, and transformation.” Also in September, the five remaining CCRG members gained high-level positions, solidifying their influence in the central government. Yet, as before, the central government was far from the only influence, both the CMC and the RCs provided formidable counter-weights to CCRG solidity. The establishment of the final RC provided September with its second normalizing event. The summer’s collapse of party apparatus meant that the RCs were now largely in control of the nation’s security and governing, and they were now primarily headed by non-CCRG leaning military leaders. In total, the PLA representation in RC leadership had grown to 50%. Beijing’s direct hold over the regional commanders further dwindled as the RCs grew in influence. However, decentralization did not spell regionalism and the central government still had the power to change players, rules, and advantages. The shifts of the center still had impact, but the moderation of the CMC combined with the Soviet threat to overpower most radical CCRG influences. As had been the case the previous winter, this trend took some time to get completely moving and by the end of ‘68 efforts to neutralize rebels and the Red Guards were stepped up and made a more direct focus.
Beginning in August the Chinese began to suffer renewed fears of Soviet intervention. This was grounded, at least in part, in the continual border clashes with Soviet guards. These clashes, though unarmed, gave the Chinese indications of Soviet intent and led them to make further preparations for the conflict they viewed as inevitable. On the other side, the Soviets did little to assuage Chinese fears of conflict. The Soviets performed frequent military flyovers of Heilongjiang and aimed their medium-range missile barrage at selected Chinese targets throughout September. Unsurprisingly, this fearful and newly moderating climate led Chen Yi, head of the FM and political conservative, to attempt to draw the DPRK back away from the Soviets. On DPRK National Day, September 7, Chen Yi gave a speech about tacit Soviet acceptance of the Republic of Korea, claiming that the Soviets do not have the best interests of the DPRK in mind. This push by the FM was not enough to moderate the already tense situation on the Sino-DPRK border, and as Soviet actions continued to play into Chinese fears, tensions on both borders began to mount.
Perhaps the final confirmation to the Chinese of Soviet intent was the announcement of the ‘Theory of Limited Sovereignty’ in November of 1968. To many in the Chinese government, this theory’s announcement indicated the preparation of Soviet public opinion for armed incursions into China. Tensions mounted with the Soviets while relations with the DPRK continued to languish. December brought the first Sino-DPRK border clash of the winter. Perhaps in an effort to limit the potential for conflict between the two nations, the Chinese sealed the border from their side. As stated above, the border had been lined with both Chinese and North Korean soldiers for some time now and tensions were high. When the border was sealed a ‘considerable number’ of North Korean farmers and businessmen were still on the Chinese side of the border. Shots were fired when these Koreans tried to flee back to the DPRK side of the border, which triggered a border-shooting incident for both sides.
December’s border clash can be chalked up to a mix of border tension, implementation problems, and inertia, as had been the case during the previous normalization period. However, despite September’s sea-change and mid-winter’s increased moderation, March did not bring an improvement in relations as it had the previous year, instead it brought further conflict. Many things were different between these two years and could be partially to blame, but perhaps the most obvious and important was the increase in volume and violence of the Sino-Soviet border clashes.
A new year brought no reprieve from conflict, during January and February of 1969 Sino-Soviet border incidents intensified in number and severity. In response, the Shenyang began preparations to defend the disputed island of Zhenbao, along the Heilongjiang border, throughout the month of February. The tensions came to a watershed with two clashes over Zhenbao on March 2 and 15. Though they were largely deemed as victories for the Chinese, the clashes resulted in proportionately more Chinese casualties. The Zhenbao clashes further confirmed Chinese suspicions of Soviet aggression and further increased the tensions along the Sino-DPRK border.
Continued tension between the Soviets and the Chinese, the Sino-DPRK border tension, and the DPRK-Soviet alliance, resulted in further clashes between the Chinese and the DPRK. The Chinese saw the DPRK alliance with the Soviet Union as proof of a mutual anti-China stance. The Soviets had modernized the Korean military, the very military that faced the Chinese along their Liaoning and Jilin border. At the same time, central Chinese government officials made no effort to limit their inflammatory rhetoric against the DPRK. So, as the expected Sino-Soviet clashes of March came to pass, tensions on both sides of the Sino-DPRK border increased and miscalculations occurred.
As the Zhenbao clashes were ongoing, conflict again flared up on the Sino-DPRK border. While the exact number of Sino-DPRK border clashes in March 1969 is unknown there were at least two such incidents. The first, as had been the case with the clash of the previous December, was a reported case of shooting across the Chinese sealed border. This incident seems rational given the conditions of the time: high tension, a sealed border, and Chinese animosity. Chen and other moderates may not have ordered a confrontation, but a clash still sprang from errors or games of implementation. The second incident, however, is more difficult to explain. During the same period of time, Chinese soldiers also crossed the DPRK Tumen River border from Yanbian Prefecture in Jilin, the DPRK responded by sending troops of its own but the Chinese soldiers withdrew before shots were fired. Such action by Chinese soldiers has been explained by some as a Chinese push of its claims to the Baektu region, which, as indicated above, had reemerged in 1965. This explanation, however, falls into the ever-present trap of treating China as monolith. There had been no consistent push by the central government for recovery of disputed territory. Further, the Tumen River itself was not part of China’s renewed territory claim and, as such, an incursion would not strengthen the claim." The immediate Chinese withdrawal implies the presence of a standing order from Chen and there is little evidence to suggest that Pan was directly pushing for such a result. It may be best, therefore, to explain this incursion as we have the other conflicts; goals of a strong moderate leadership being neglected due to a mixture of high border tension, and vertical issues of implementation.
Again, it had taken the deadline of a major event for focus to fall on Sino-DPRK relations. The larger scale Sino-Soviet clashes of March 1969 cemented a new focus in the Foreign Policy of China." A majority of April’s 9th party congress, including Mao’s opening speech, focused on the battle over Zhenbao and the increasing Soviet threat." The congress also further affirmed the drive to curb rebel involvement, which had intensified at the end of 1968." While the congress lengthened the life of the domestic CR, it also signaled the reduction of the CR of foreign policy. Efforts soon began to patch up problems with Chinese borders and allies and saw ambassadors quickly returning to 20 of their previous 47 countries." The DPRK, specifically, saw its status rise from ‘revisionist’ to ‘anti-imperialist.’ Although not as good as ‘socialist’ (an honor only allowed Albania), this was a notable improvement." These changes meant that, while Sino-DPRK relations would not return to normalcy for another year, Chen Xilian and the moderates of the Shenyang military region were able to cement their goals and focus on the Soviet border. The clashes and tensions along the Sino-DPRK border may have been a result of competition within the Shenyang military region, but it still took Mao’s attention to cement a final outcome.
In each of the four political shifts throughout 1967-9 those with the strongest advantages were able to win out by the end of the period. The skill of the players, however, typically proved more important than the influences of the central government and players on both sides were able to secure movements in their favor no matter the political climate. As such, the Sino-DPRK border clashes of the period were less, decisions handed down from above, and more, the imperfect result of open competition between the politics and the command of the PLA. The Cultural Revolution’s rapid political shifts and involvement risk gives more pronounced indications of the mechanics of the decentralized decision making process. Competitions and political shifts that normally would have taken place within the ‘black box’ were laid bare for the world to see, and though the actions may be exaggerated the underlying principle remains the same: even in the case of authoritarian governments, actions result from competition over organizational, individual, and political differences, even if the competition is behind closed doors. The varying conceptions of what is ‘rational’ and what is in the ‘national interest’ make government action under pressure of deadline difficult to predict.
Knowledge of these border clashes, as well as the myriad other low points of the Sino-DPRK relationship, will hopefully temper the desire of US policy makers to rely on Chinese ‘fraternal’ relations with the DPRK as possible solution to the nuclear issue. These low points show us that North Korean reactions to Chinese pressure are far from obedient, so perhaps a new direction is necessary for successful nuclear disarmament.
While this study has relied on many recently translated and released documents from former Chinese and North Korean allies there is still a great deal of source limitation in this topic. Without full access to Chinese sources it has proven difficult to find statistics and personnel involved in the border clashes. Further, more in depth reports of the Shenyang leadership’s activities would be necessary for a more complete look at the decision making process. As Chinese documents, the next probable area of emerging data, are released, interest in these issues should increase in hand with the ability to answer the questions they present. However, due to the sensitive nature of this time period, such a breakthrough will not be rapid. In the mean time, other increasingly available resources will allow for greater levels of understanding of both Chinese decision-making and the Sino-DPRK relationship.
 Office of the Geographer 1962, p. 1-3
 Chung 1978, p. 120
 Parish 1973, p.698
 Allison 1971 p.164-9
 Ibid. p.166-7
 Four supporters of Hua Guofeng that were purged by Deng Xiaoping in 1980 for ‘grave errors’ committed in the struggle against the ‘Gang of Four’
 Chien 1969, p.179
 Dealing with Responsibility for the Great Leap Famine, China Quarterly 201:186-7
 Directorate of Intelligence June 1968, p. 52
 Nelson 1972, p.445
 Allison 1971, p.169
 Nelson 1977, p.51
 Allison 1971, p.173
 Ibid. p.170-1
 Joffe 1973, p.459
 Joffe1973, p.453
 Domes 1968, p.359
 Ma 2004, p.45-50
 Kádas March 1967: Document 11
 Gurtov 1969, p.72
 Barnouin and Yu, p.24
 Ibid. p.76
 Schaefer 2004, p.7
 FEER 1971, p.255
 Joffe 1973, p.454
 Ibid. p.455
 Nelson 1977, p.80
 Nelson 1972, p.454
 Kádas January 1967: Document 8
 Nelson 1972, p. 455
 Chien 1969, p.55
 Directorate of Intelligence 1967, p.137
 Nelson 1977, p.133
 Allison 1971, p.168-9
 Chien 1969, p.56
 Directorate of Intelligence 1967, p.159
 Chien 1969, p.56
 Nelson 1977, p.36
 Joffe 1973, p.455
 Chang 1972, p.1004
 Chien 1969, p.128
 Ibid. p.68
 Ibid. p.117
 Nelson 1977, p.81-3
 Domes 1968, p.359-60
 Nelson 1972, p.461-2
 Chien 1969, p.105
 Schaefer 2004, p.8-9
 Ibid. p.8 FEER 1969, p.240
 Nelson 1972, p.455
 Jarck October 1967: Document 15
 Jarck November 1967: Document 17
 Chung 1978, p.126
 Maxwell 1973, p.731
 Chung 1978, p.130
 FEER 1968, p.255
 Barnouin and Yu 1997, p.86-7
 Yang 2000, p.27-8
 Chien 1969, p.130-1
 Chen 2003, p.7
 Simmons 1971, p.631
 Schaefer 2004, p.13
 Person 2010, p.219
 Nelson 1977, p.134-6
 Nelson 1977, p.100
 Ibid. p.99
 Ibid. p.98
 Parish 1973, p.685
 Chien 1969, p.109
 Ibid. p.130-1
 Ibid. p.56
 Whitson 1968, p.943
 Nelson 1972, p.463
 Chien 1969, p.178
 Honecker 1984: Document 23
 Schaefer 2004, p.15
 Jarck 1968: Document 19
 Joffe 1973, p.455
 Nelson 1972, p.464-5
 Barnouin and Yu 1997, p.76
 Chien 1969, p.134
 Ibid. p.136
 Joffe 1973, p.457-8
 Ibid. p.460
 Barnouin and Yu 1997, p.63
 Maxwell 2007, p.245
 FEER 1969, p.141
 Simmons 1971, p.634
 Barnouin and Yu 1997, p.86
 SCMP 1969, p.1
 Maxwell 1973, p.731
 Barnouin and Yu 1997, p.87
 For a more in-depth account of the Sino-Soviet border issue and Zhenbao Island see Maxwell 2007, p.229-253
 FEER 1971, p.345
 Schaefer 2004, p.27
 SCMP 1969, p.1
 Honecker 1977: Document 24
 Chung 1978, p.130
 See Appendix 1 & 2 for the Tumen River’s location in relation to the disputed territory
 Barnouin and Yu 1997, p.63
 Ibid. p.89
 Chang 1972, p.1005
 Dany 1970, p.703
 Schaefer 2004, p.28