Today, the People's Republic of China is North Korea's only ally on the world stage, a tightly knit relationship that goes back decades. Both countries portray their partnership as one of "brotherly affection" based on shared political ideals-an alliance "as tight as lips to teeth"-even though relations have deteriorated in recent years due to China's ascendance and North Korea's intransigence.In A Misunderstood Friendship, leading diplomatic historians Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia draw on previously untapped primary source materials revealing tensions and rivalries to offer a unique account of the China-North Korea relationship. They unravel the twists and turns in high-level diplomacy between China and North Korea from the late 1940s to the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Through unprecedented access to Chinese government documents, Soviet and Eastern European archives, and in-depth interviews with former Chinese diplomats and North Korean defectors, Shen and Xia reveal that the tensions that currently plague the alliance between the two countries have been present from the very beginning of the relationship. They significantly revise existing narratives of the Korean War, China's postwar aid to North Korea, Kim Il-sung's ideological and strategic thinking, North Korea's relations with the Soviet Union, and the importance of the Sino-U.S. rapprochement, among other issues.A Misunderstood Friendship adds new depth to our understanding of one of the most secretive and significant relationships of the Cold War, with increasing relevance to international affairs today.


Chapter One: Victory and Expansion of the Revolution in China and North Korea, 1945-1950

Chapter Two: Sharp Contradictions Among the Leadership, 1950-1953

Chapter Three: Chinese Economic Aid and Kim's Juche Idea, 1953-1956

Chapter Four: Mao's Policy of Mollification, 1957-1960

Chapter Five: North Korea's Balancing Act, 1961-1965

Chapter Six: The Lowest Ebb, 1966-1969

Chapter Seven: China's Last Ally, 1970-1976



Anyone who reads this groundbreaking study will gain a new perspective on current Sino-North Korean relations. Using a host of new Chinese materials, A Misunderstood Friendship reveals fascinating new details about both Chinese and North Korean policy. It will be a must-read for all who are interested in the Cold War in East Asia. (Gregg Brazinsky, George Washington University, author of Winning the Third World: Sino-American Rivalry During the Cold War)

This pathbreaking book systematically uncovers the previously hidden history of relations between the Chinese and North Korean Communists. In their painstaking research, their sharp analysis, and their clear exposition, Shen and Xia show why they are considered among the world’s foremost Cold War historians. Given the importance of Cold War history for the dramatic events in Northeast Asia today, this book could not be more timely. (Thomas J. Christensen, Columbia University, author of The China Challenge: Shaping the Choices of a Rising Power)

This is the first scholarly book about the history of China’s relationship with North Korea, and no two scholars are better suited than Shen and Xia to take on this task. They have produced a superb book, drawing on a remarkable array of sources. Their book puts to rest some long-standing myths about Sino-North Korean relations and is therefore of immense value for scholars. Although the authors focus on the Cold War period, their survey is very much relevant to current policy debates about security on the Korean peninsula and will be extremely useful for a general audience as well. (Mark Kramer, program director of Cold War studies, Harvard University, coeditor of Imposing, Maintaining, and Tearing Open the Iron Curtain: The Cold War and East-Central Europe, 1945–1989)

About the Author
Image of Yafeng Xia
Yafeng Xia

Zhihua Shen is the director of the Center for Cold War International History Studies at East China Normal University, Shanghai. He coauthored this book with Yafeng Xia during his time at the Wilson Center. Yafeng Xia is professor of history at Long Island University, Brooklyn. His books include Negotiating with the Enemy: U.S.-China Talks During the Cold War, 1949‒1972 (2006). Read More