A Revolution Perceived: The October Revolution through Chinese Eyes
Influence is an astrological concept, not a historical one. To render the concept historical, it is necessary to take as the point of departure for analysis not the influence, but the influenced, who appropriate for themselves an event or an idea outside their own history that is not of their making. This process of appropriation raises immediate questions concerning the meaning of influence.
Such was the case with the October Revolution in Chinese eyes. Except for an occasional Chinese, the Revolution did not appear in 1917-1918 the earthshaking event it was made out to be in later years. Those who did appreciate its revolutionary nature were not, therefore, transmuted into Bolsheviks; rather, they read into it their own concerns, and expressed their appreciation in a vocabulary they were familiar with because of the course Chinese radicalism had taken in the years before 1917: the vocabulary of anarchism. Chinese radicals who first received the message of the October Revolution found in it something it was not. They would not concretely grasp it until after they ceased to describe it in a vocabulary derived from a radical tradition that was contrary in some of its basic premises to what Bolshevism represented. This initial confusion was to leave its mark not only on their immediate appreciation of the Revolution but on their understanding of Marxism as well.
News of the Revolution reached China immediately after it had broken out, but throughout 1918, reporting on Russia remained sporadic and emphasized the Revolution's political and military events rather than ideology. There is little indication that in this reporting the Revolution carried a qualitative significance beyond that of other major world events following World War I. As stated in the Prologue, and as one historian of the period has put it, these reports displayed little comprehension of the Revolution's basis. When a special significance was attached to it, this significance was couched in terms that distorted its Bolshevik ideology. In the words of this historian:
Because of a variety of restrictive conditions, reports on the Russian October Revolution in Chinese publications of the time (which were for the most part organs of bourgeois and petit-bourgeois parties and groups)