What are some similarities and differences between the courses of the Chinese and Russian communist revolutions?
The contrasts between the revolutions that replaced the Romanov Dynasty in Russia with the Bolshevik movement and the revolution that brought to power in China the Communist Party led by Mao Tsetung and Zhao Enlai are far more important than the relatively minor comparisons that can be made.
The Russian revolutionary movement can be traced back to the 1825 failed Decembrist revolt against Czar Nicholas I. While the rebellion against czarist rule was ruthlessly crushed, it did plant the seeds for a more resilient, more ruthless revolutionary movement that would eventually take power in 1917. It is important to keep in mind that there were multiple revolutions during 1917. In February (or March, depending upon which calendar, Julian or Gregorian, one consults), a popular revolt against the dire economic circumstances resulting from corruption and misrule by the current czar combined with the economic strain and human losses associated with Russian participation in the Great War (soon to renamed World War II) succeeded in ousting the Romanov Dynasty. The Provisional Government that took over was led by Aleksander Kerensky, who attempted to establish a republican form of government. Kerensky, however, would ultimately be outmaneuvered by the infinitely better-organized Bolsheviks, who, in November of that year, succeeded in ousting the Provisional Government and establishing the totalitarian system that would survive for the next 74 years.
The Russian Revolution was a largely urban-centered political movement involving educated, committed Marxists within a society torn between Western economic influences and its Eastern Orthodox cultural heritage. In contrast, the Chinese revolution that brought to power its communist party occurred in a very different environment. China had endured many years of colonial rule at the hands of Europeans and Japanese. During the 1920s, the Chinese Nationalist Movement led by Sun Yat-sen fought a successful revolution against outside influences (at least until the later Japanese invasion of Manchuria) and against the ruling Qing Dynasty; and his successor, General Chiang Kai-chek, would further entrench the nationalist movement in power following Sun's death in 1925.
It is important to keep in mind, as with the February/March 1917 Russian Revolution, that the communists were not the principle instruments of the destruction of the age-old ruling monarchies, but that they ultimately reaped the greatest benefits of these revolutions. It was the Chinese nationalists who defeated the the emperor, although the state of the dynasty, by then, made it ripe for its disintegration. It was the Japanese invasion that would facilitate the eventual success of the communists, a rural, agrarian-oriented revolutionary movement that differed greatly from Russia's communist, revolutionary movement. The chaos of the war in Asia against the Japanese united the nationalists and communists, but the post-World War II fighting that resumed following Japan's defeat saw the communist guerrillas victorious and the nationalists fleeing to Formosa (now, Taiwan). Mao and Zhao's movement was certainly influenced by Marx and Engels, but it was given a far more unique "Chinese" characteristic with the publication of Mao's so-called Red Book, which, in contrast to the Bolshevik's emphasis on industrialization and urban settings, was oriented more towards China's vast population of peasants and the agricultural fields they tirelessly worked.
Once in power, the communist parties of Russia/Soviet Union and China ruled very differently, at least from an ideological perspective. Both employed enormous levels of brutality, and both dispensed with those dissidents fortunate enough to be spared the firing squad by dispatching them to labor camps, but there the similarities largely ended. The forced collectivization under Stalin and the myriad campaigns against deviationism under Mao represented the counterproductive extremes to which each regime would go, but China remained far more orthodox in its application of its ideology than would the more opportunistic Bolsheviks.
(One final word: In contrast to what some might write in these pages, Stalin's death did not usher in a period of "democracy and capitalism." Nikita Khrushchev, who succeeded Stalin, did introduce relatively liberal reforms into Soviet economic policy, but to suggest that democracy and capitalism were allowed to develop is grossly misstated. The repressive system of labor camps and the summary executions of those deemed insufficiently orthodox continued until the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980s.)
There were similarities between the Chinese and Russian revolutions as discussed below:
The two communist revolutions both occurred around the World War period with the Russian revolution occurring in 1917 just a year before the end of WWI and the Chinese revolution occurring in 1949 just after WWII.
The two countries had charismatic leaders who led the campaigns with China under Mao Zedong and Russia under Vladimir Lenin. They were able to convince the populace of the need to change their political and social structure to improve their living standards.
The main agenda of both countries was to spread the communist agenda to the rest of the world in order to increase their global influence and fulfill their quest for power.
There were also differences in the revolutions as discussed below.
The Chinese revolution lasted longer than the Russian revolution because the Russians had a substantial amount of knowledge about socialism and the ideas of Karl Marx, making it easier for them to achieve success faster. On the other hand it took the Chinese a while longer to gather this information and build the party.
The revolutions focused on the impoverished members of the populace with Russia focusing to engage the industrial workers while China focused on the peasant farmers.
Both the Chinese and Russian revolutions applied the theories of Karl Marx to situations Marx himself had not anticipated. For Marx, communism was a form of social organization that would arise in highly developed wealthy nations after internal tensions and growing inequality led to the self-immolation of late capitalism. Both the Chinese and Russian revolutions were not transitions from late capitalist democracies but instead located in the context of agricultural nations with autocratic leaders, the warlords who followed upon the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in China and the Russian tzars. In Russia, after a period of devastating oppression under Stalin, their was a gradual movement towards democracy and capitalism, but and even greater trend towards kleptocracy, crony capitalism, and oligarchy. In China, after the Cultural Revolution (a period similar in humanitarian tragedy to Stalinist Russia), the planned economy is gradually creating a unique model of state capitalism mixed with limited private enterprise resulting in a level of economic prosperity, despite lack of individual freedom, that has eluded Russia.