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Learning Leadership: Mastering Chinese Language and Culture

Pictured: The 1957 visit of the Chinese delegation to the Kiev Military District, when Marshal V. I. Chuikov was the Commander there. He is to the right of Peng Dehuai, the former Defense Minister of the People’s Republic of China.

In considering various avenues for researching Marshal Chuikov’s life and work, one tactic is to examine his focus on being a life-long learner in a series of posts exploring his academic preparation, teaching and training duties, and leadership practices. As a fellow educator, life-long learner, and researcher, it is interesting to discover Vasily Ivanovich’s learning style and approach. Considering the number of years he spent in formal education after his Civil War experience in the Red Army, it is no wonder that he was considered to be a cultured intellectual.

As part of his educational experiences at Frunze Military Academy where he proved to be a stellar student, he was invited to enter Chinese language and culture studies. Various sources confirm that the Chinese languages of Mandarin and Cantonese are two of the most difficult languages to learn. A young Chuikov spent an intensive time memorizing characters and learning proper pronunciations to prepare for his diplomatic service in the late 1920s. He wrote about this time in his book titled Mission to China:

“My first business trip to China in 1926 was not accidental. At twenty-six, I experienced a lot: behind my back were the Southern, Eastern, and Western fronts of the Civil War, [4] wounds, and command of a regiment. Like many active participants in the Civil War, in 1922 I went to study at the M. V. Frunze Military Academy. After graduating in 1925, I was offered to continue my studies at the Chinese Department of the Oriental Faculty of the same Academy. […] We studied hard, with great enthusiasm. Day and night we crammed Chinese characters, tried to master their correct pronunciation, painstakingly studied the history of China, the traditions and customs of its people. I still remember our teachers - V. S. Kolokolov, Liang Kun, professor-historian A. E. Khodorov, and others.

Our faculty was often visited by comrades who had already been to China. They told us a lot about the situation in that country. […] Frankly speaking, it was not easy for us, then still poorly acquainted with the situation in that country, to understand all the vicissitudes of the revolutionary storm in China, to imagine the ways of its further development. In 1926, some students of the Oriental Faculty of the Academy were given the opportunity to visit China. I was sent to practice with the duties of a diplomatic courier.”


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