The China Quarterly

Research Report

Return to Zhenbao Island: Who Started Shooting and Why it Matters a

Lyle J.  Goldstein 


This research reveals a new consensus among scholars in both Moscow and Beijing that the 1969 Sino-Soviet border crisis was a premeditated act of violence orchestrated by the Chinese side. International and domestic causes are investigated for their strength in explaining China's belligerence. There has been a widespread belief among sinologists that China acted out of desperation against Soviet strength and aggressiveness, which had been demonstrated most clearly by the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and the associated “Brezhnev Doctrine.” The author presents evidence that challenges this traditional interpretation. Rather, a stronger explanation for China's aggressiveness in March 1969 is Mao's need at that particular time for an external threat to unify the country. The article additionally explores the implications of these revelations for the study of Chinese foreign policy and international relations generally.


a This research was supported by the Research Program in International Security (RPIS) at Princeton University. In addition the author would like to thank Professor Gilbert Rozman, Aaron Friedberg, Lynn White III and members of the Princeton International Relations Seminar. This article reflects the author's personal views and does not represent the opinion of the Naval War College or the U.S. Government.