A Russian Radical and East Asia in the Early Twentieth Century: Sudzilovsky, China, and Japan

Vladimir Tikhonov, Oslo University
Nikolai Sudzilovsky-Russel. Source: Wikipedia Commons.
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Abstract

This article deals with the noted Russian Narodnik revolutionary Nikolai Sudzilovsky-Russel (1850–1930), his views on China and Japan, and the background of those views in the Russian intellectual tradition. Russian revolutionaries tended to share many of the Eurocentric biases of their Westernizer (Zapadniki) mentors and often viewed Asia—East Asia included—as retrograde, Japan being seen as an exception. Russian Narodniks’ positive view of Japan was not unrelated to their belief in the unilineal hierarchy of progress and civilization, in which Japan was seen as topping Russia. Sudzilovsky-Russel’s views originally developed as a continuation of this paradigm. However, his observations of the contemporaneous Chinese revolutionary movement and personal exchanges with Sun Yat-sen (1866–1925) showed him the revolutionary potential of China. In the end, he accepted the idea that a political revolution in China would provide an important impulse to the cause of social revolutions in the West. Concurrently, in the dialogue between Russian and Chinese revolutionaries, something akin to a general strategy for radical change on the world’s agricultural periphery was taking shape, anticipating a number of later ideological and political developments in both China and Russia. Sudzilovsky-Russel viewed the tasks facing Russian and Chinese revolutionaries as essentially similar: while catching up with the supposedly advanced societies of the West, both were to bypass the “plutocratic” capitalist stage on their way to an emancipatory, alternative modern future. 

Keywords: Narodnik, Nikolai Sudzilovsky-Russel, Sun Yat-sen, socialism, revolution, catch-up modernization, China, Japan, Russia