Sino-Soviet conflict (1929)

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Sino-Soviet conflict (1929)
Part of the Chinese Civil War
KVZHD 1929 01.jpg
Soviet soldiers with captured Kuomintang banners.
DateJuly – December 22, 1929

Soviet victory

  • Provisions of 1924 agreement upheld
Flag of the Republic of China.svg  China
Flag of Russia.svg White movement [1]
Flag of the Soviet Union (1924-1936).svg  Soviet Union
Commanders and leaders
Flag of the Republic of China.svg Zhang Xueliang Flag of the Soviet Union (1924-1936).svg Vasily Blyukher
Units involved

Flag of the Republic of China Army.svg Northeastern Army

Flag of Russia.svg White guerilla groups

Special Red Banner Far Eastern Army


c. 200,000 [6]

  • Flag of Russia.svg 3,000+ White Russians [7]
c. 113,000 (peak) [4]
Casualties and losses
Official Chinese accounts:
2,000 killed, 1,000 wounded, 8,550 captured [8]
Modern estimate:
c. 5,000 lost [1]
Official Soviet accounts:
143 killed, 665 wounded, 4 missing [8] [9]

The Sino-Soviet conflict of 1929 (Chinese :中东路事件, Russian : Конфликт на Китайско-Восточной железной дороге) was an armed conflict between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Chinese warlord Zhang Xueliang of the Republic of China over the Chinese Eastern Railway (also known as CER).

Simplified Chinese characters standardized Chinese characters developed in mainland China

Simplified Chinese characters are standardized Chinese characters prescribed in the Table of General Standard Chinese Characters for use in mainland China. Along with traditional Chinese characters, they are one of the two standard character sets of the contemporary Chinese written language. The government of the People's Republic of China in mainland China has promoted them for use in printing since the 1950s and 1960s to encourage literacy. They are officially used in the People's Republic of China and Singapore.

Russian language East Slavic language

Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely used throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. Although, nowadays, nearly three decades after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russian is used in official capacity or in public life in all the post-Soviet nation-states, as well as in Israel and Mongolia, the rise of state-specific varieties of this language tends to be strongly denied in Russia, in line with the Russian World ideology.

Zhang Xueliang ruler of Manchuria

Zhang Xueliang or Chang Hsueh-liang, nicknamed the "Young Marshal" (少帥), was the effective ruler of Northeast China and much of northern China after the assassination of his father, Zhang Zuolin, by the Japanese on 4 June 1928. He was an instigator of the 1936 Xi'an Incident, in which Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of China's ruling party, was arrested in order to force him to enter into a truce with the insurgent Chinese Communist Party and form a united front against Japan, which had occupied Manchuria. As a result, he spent over 50 years under house arrest, first in mainland China and then in Taiwan. He is regarded by the Chinese Communist Party as a patriotic hero for his role in the Xi'an Incident.


The conflict was the first major combat test of the reformed Soviet Red Army – one organized along the latest professional lines – and ended with the mobilization and deployment of 156,000 troops to the Manchurian border. Combining the active-duty strength of the Red Army and border guards with the call-up of the Far East reserves, approximately one-in-five Soviet soldiers was sent to the frontier, the largest Red Army combat force fielded between the Russian Civil War (1917–1922) and the Soviet Union’s entry into the Second World War. [10]

In 1929, the Chinese Northeastern Army took over the Chinese Eastern Railway to regain solo control of the railway. The Soviet Union quickly responded with a military intervention, eventually forcing the Chinese to return the railway to the previous format of joint administration. [11]


On 25 July 1919, the Soviet government’s Assistant Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Lev Karakhan, had issued a manifesto to the Chinese government promising the return of the Chinese Eastern Railway to Chinese control with no financial cost. [12] On 26 August, the Karakhan Manifesto was published by the Soviet press, but the document failed to mention neither the return of CER to the Chinese nor the lack of financial compensation. [12]

Lev Karakhan Soviet diplomat

Lev Mikhailovich Karakhan (Karakhanian) Armenian Կարախանյան Լեւոն Միքայելի, Russian Лев Михайлович Карахан was a Russian revolutionary and a Soviet diplomat. A member of the RSDLP from 1904. At first a Menshevik, he joined the Bolsheviks in May 1917.

Chinese Eastern Railway railway line

The Chinese Eastern Railway or CER(Chinese: trad. 東清鐵路, simp. 东清铁路, Dōngqīng Tiělù; Russian: Китайско-Восточная железная дорога or КВЖД, Kitaysko-Vostochnaya Zheleznaya Doroga or KVZhD), also known as the Chinese Far East Railway and North Manchuria Railway, is the historical name for a railway across Manchuria.

Karakhan Manifesto

The Karakhan Manifesto was a statement of Soviet policy toward China dated 25 July 1919. It was issued by Lev Karakhan, deputy commissioner for foreign affairs for Soviet Russia. The manifesto offered to relinquish various rights Russia had obtained by treaty in China, including extraterritoriality, economic concessions, and Russia's share of the Boxer indemnity. These and similar treaties had been denounced by Chinese nationalists as "unequal." The manifesto created a favorable impression of Russia and Marxism among Chinese. It was often contrasted with the Treaty of Versailles (1919), which granted Shandong to Japan.

Along with the original Karakhan telegram, the Chinese had the Vilenski pamphlet as evidence. [12] The Vilenski pamphlet also shows the Chinese that the Soviets were willing to return the CER to the Chinese without compensation. The July 25th Karakhan telegram shows the Soviet Union's original intention, which was to return the CER back to Chinese control without compensation. The July 25th telegram was used to satisfy the diplomatic requirements for the Chinese government, while the August 26th one was published to uphold propaganda requirements inside the Soviet Union. [12]

The first major step in uncovering the hostile takeover of the CER by the Chinese in 1929 starts with the understanding of the Secret Protocol of March 14, 1924, and the Secret Agreement of September 20, 1924. The March 14, 1924, Secret Protocol stated that all former conventions, treaties, protocols, contracts and any other document between the Soviet and China would be annulled until a conference could convene. [13] This made all treaties, border relations and commercial relations dependent on the upcoming conference. This, in turn, gave the Soviets time to turn to Zhang Xueliang in Manchuria, the strongest warlord there at the time. He had control of the Mukden government (today the city is known as Shenyang). The Soviets were the first to propose joint management of the CER with the Chinese, but Zhang stood in the way of this joint management. The Soviets decided to make a deal with Zhang. [14]

Shenyang Prefecture-level & Sub-provincial city in Liaoning, Peoples Republic of China

Shenyang, formerly known by its Manchu name Mukden or Fengtian, is the provincial capital and the largest city of Liaoning Province, People's Republic of China, as well as the largest city in Northeast China by urban population. According to the 2010 census, the city's urban area has 6.3 million inhabitants, while the total population of the Shenyang municipality, which holds the administrative status of a sub-provincial city, is up to 8.1 million. Shenyang's city region includes the ten metropolitan districts of Shenyang proper, the county-level city of Xinmin, and two counties of Kangping and Faku.

On May 31, 1924, Lev Karakhan and Dr. V. K. Ellington Koo, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of China, signed the Sino-Soviet treaty. It included multiple articles, which played right into the Soviets' hand because in Article V it said “the employment of persons in the various departments of the railway shall be in accordance with the principle of equal representation between the nationals of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and those of the Republic of China.” [12] The Soviets added, “In carrying out the principle of equal representation the normal course of life and activities of the Railway shall in no case be interrupted or injured, that is to say the employment of both nationalities shall be in accordance with experience, personal qualifications and fitness of applicants.” [12]

While negotiations had been concluded with the Chinese, the Soviets turned to make a deal with Zhang Xueliang. They promised him full control of choosing which Chinese officials would be on the board in the joint Chinese-Soviet management of the CER. This would give him half control of CER. On September 20, 1924, he signed the Secret Agreement, not knowing the Chinese government had signed the Secret Protocol earlier in the year. Since the CER was originally controlled by the Soviets, the majority of the positions would be under Soviet control. Then the Soviets claimed they should keep majority control because any other solution would interrupt or injure the railway. [12]

The Soviets were also the puppet master of the President for the CER. The Soviet government was able to regain majority control of the CER by playing the secret protocols off each other and outmaneuvering the Chinese. The Soviets allowed the Chinese to think they were adding workers loyal to their government. However, in reality, the Soviets were creating more jobs on the railway and hiring Soviet workers. In the end, the Soviets controlled 67% of all positions on the CER. [12]

The Chinese entertained joint management until mid-1929. The change from Soviet control to Chinese control started when the Chinese authorities made a radical move to try to remove Soviet management. Chinese authorities stormed the Soviet Consulate in Harbin. They arrested the General Manager of the CER, his assistant and other Soviet citizens and removed them from power in the CER. The Soviets retaliated by arresting Chinese citizens inside the USSR. On July 13, 1929, the Soviets sent their formal demands to the Chinese concerning what was happening on the CER. On July 19 they discontinued their diplomatic relations with the Chinese. They suspended railway communication and demanded that all Chinese diplomats leave Soviet territory. [15] By July 20 the Soviets were transferring their funds to New York. While in the cities of Suifenhe and Lahususa, the Soviets were terrorizing the Chinese civilians by having their warships' guns pointed at the city and having their planes make fly-bys. [15] On 6 August, the Soviet Union created the Special Red Banner Far Eastern Army commanded by Vasily Blyukher. [1] By doing so they were willing to do whatever it took to return the CER back to their control.


Small skirmishes had broken out in July, but this would not be considered the first major military action. The first battle happened on August 17, 1929, when the Soviets attacked Chalainor. Chinese troops retreated to an entrenchment which was supported by machine guns. The Soviets had walked into a trap—whether by Chinese deception or by accident, nobody can say. The Soviets suffered heavy losses that day; this would be the only time the Soviet forces would incur such heavy losses. [15]

In October the Soviets forced their naval fleets up the Amur and Songhua rivers and capture the Lahasusu. This maneuver caused the Chinese to move to a different location. On their way to Fujin, Chinese troops would kill any civilian they came across and raid any stores. [15] The Soviets stated that they did not touch the civilian population, and encouraged Chinese civilians to fight alongside them against the Chinese army. They also denied killing civilians, and were said to only take military goods. All civilian personal items were left in place; this was strictly enforced. [15]

On November 17 the Soviets decided to take ten divisions and split their attack into two stages. The first stage was to go past Manzhouli and attack the region of Chalainor. After capturing the region, Soviet troops set their sights on Manzhouli. [15] When they reached Manzhouli they found that the Chinese were not prepared for battle and that Chinese forces were looting houses, stores and stealing civilian clothes and trying to escape. The Soviet strategy was a success; on November 26 the Chinese were ready to sign a treaty with the Soviets on Soviet terms. On December 13, after much debate on the Chinese side, the Chinese signed the Khabarovsk Protocol. This restored peace and the 1924 status quo ante , which was the Sino-Soviet treaty of 1924. [15]

The victory over China was an eye opener for the world. During the conflict, the Soviets used propaganda to help spread communist ideology and confuse the Chinese Army by using radio and leaflets. They did this by deceiving the Chinese command on which town was the Soviets' next target. “Its military forces combined carefully measured use of depth and variety, coordinated in the fashion of a swift action design to achieve the precise goal of ‘an annihilating offensive under complex condition’ against enemy forces.” [15] The conflict brought a sense of military prestige back into the Asian region. The Soviet victory was also applauded by such western nations as the (US, France and Great Britain). It showed the west that the Soviets were able to use both diplomacy and military might to achieve its goal. However, while some might have applauded the Soviets for using this technique, others feared it. This was a legitimate concern. The western nations were frightened that this method could potentially mean the Soviet Union might one day be able to beat a western nation at its own game. [15]

The impact of the conflict left the Manchurian region in a power vacuum. This left the door wide open for the Japanese to take control of the region. After observing how easily Soviet forces beat the Chinese, the Japanese employed a similar technique to defeat the Chinese and occupy Manchuria following the Mukden Incident in 1931. [15]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bisher (2005), p. 298.
  2. Jowett (2017), pp. 63, 64.
  3. "Нечаев Константин Петрович" [Nechaev, Konstantin Petrovich]. (in Russian). Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Jowett (2017), p. 65.
  5. Jowett (2017), p. 66.
  6. Jowett (2017), p. 62.
  7. Jowett (2017), p. 63.
  8. 1 2 Jowett (2017), p. 76.
  9. Krivosheev, G. F. (1997). "Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century". Page 370, Table 111.
  10. Michael M. Walker, The 1929 Sino-Soviet War: The War Nobody Knew (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2017), p. 1.
  11. Collective security Archived 2008-07-05 at the Wayback Machine
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Elleman; Bruce A.; The Soviet Union's Secret Diplomacy Concerning the Chinese Eastern Railway, 1924–1925; Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 53 (1994), S. 461
  13. Elleman; 468
  14. Elleman; 471
  15. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Patrikeeff, Felix; Russian Politics in Exile: The Northeast Asian Balance of Power, 1924–1931 in: Manchurian Railways and the Opening of China: An International History Basingstoke 2002, ISBN   0-333-73018-6


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