“Spring has come. Thank you, dear Party!”

This paperback, Xǐnǎo Means Brainwashing, was published in the Soviet Union in 1977. The name of the author, “M. G. Stepanov,” sounds pseudonymic. The book is a highly critical review of Maoist ideology, propaganda and repression in China in the 1950s-70s, mostly drawing on Western sources. Its approach to the subject mixed education with counter-propaganda but once it had laid out the basic facts of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, comment was superfluous.

In the mid-1970s, Moscow feared the “Chinese hegemonists” would cross the Amur and invade the Far East. In 1969, the PLA’s indifference to its own casualties and its human-wave tactic on the Damansky peninsula pushed Moscow to the brink of panic: it did not take an overdeveloped imagination to picture a gigantic human wave rolling all over the Russian Far East. It was natural that Soviet propaganda channeled this apprehension to the people, depicting life in Communist China as hell on earth. (A broken clock’s moment of truth.) But there was a side effect to that uncharacteristic truthfulness.

Parallels. Soviet readers could not help seeing Mao’s China as a grotesquely distorted reflection of the Soviet Union, either in its contemporary Brezhnev phase or in the earlier Stalinist period. In the USSR, preschool girls did not make songs about Stalin, one or two a day – what a bizarre and dangerous idea: art was a serious, ideologically sensitive business reserved for professional songwriters. Soviet party cells did not sanction members for the bourgeois excess of owning two teacups instead of one. Stalin did not publish his new poems in Pravda. Nevertheless, the stories out of Red China felt unpleasantly relevant, as satire can be.

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