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This comprehensive study of China's Cold War experience reveals the crucial role Beijing played in shaping the orientation of the global Cold War and the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The success of China's Communist revolution in 1949 set the stage, Chen says. The Korean War, the Taiwan Strait crises, and the Vietnam War—all of which involved China as a central actor—represented the only major "hot" conflicts during the Cold War period, making East Asia the main battlefield of the Cold War, while creating conditions to prevent the two superpowers from engaging in a direct military showdown. Beijing's split with Moscow and rapprochement with Washington fundamentally transformed the international balance of power, argues Chen, eventually leading to the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the decline of international communism.
Based on sources that include recently declassified Chinese documents, the book offers pathbreaking insights into the course and outcome of the Cold War.
We are fortunate to have this book because of the author's analysis and use of sources that are not generally available to non-Chinese. (Library Journal)
A major contribution to our understanding of Chinese Cold War history. Chen Jian's unrivaled control of the new and plentiful Chinese source materials is evident throughout, as an inspiration to other scholars in the field. (Odd Arne Westad, London School of Economics)
The study of China's Cold War history has made significant progress since the late 1980s. There was a time when China scholars in the West had to travel to Hong Kong or Taiwan, relying upon contemporary newspapers and Western intelligence information, to study Beijing's policies. Since the mid-1980s, the flowering of the "reform and opening" era in China has resulted in a more flexible political and academic environment compared with Mao's times, leading to a relaxation of the extremely rigid criteria for releasing party documents. Consequently, a large quantity of fresh and meaningful historical materials, including party documents, former leaders' works and memoirs, and oral histories, have been made available to Cold War historians. To be sure, with a Communist regime remaining in Beijing (no matter how quasi it actually is today), China still has a long way to go before "free academic inquiry" becomes a reality, but the contribution of China's documentary opening to the study of the Chinese Cold War experience cannot be underestimated.
Since the early 1990s, I have traveled to China more than a dozen times to do research, conduct interviews, and attend scholarly conferences. This volume is the product of these trips. In writing this book, I have been directed by two primary purposes. The first is to make new inquiries about China's Cold War experience using the new documentation. Indeed, this is an everlasting process. If readers compare the five previously published chapters in this volume with their earlier versions, they will find that all have been substantially revised with the support of insights gained from documentation now available. While each chapter in this volume represents an independent case study, together they form a comprehensive narrative history about China and the Cold War.
My second purpose is to reinterpret a series of fundamental issues crucial to understanding the global Cold War in general and China's Cold War history in particular. My main objectives, concerning three interlocking themes, are to comprehend China's position in the Cold War; to (re)interpret the role ideology played during the period; and to assess Mao's revolution and to analyze Mao's China's patterns of external behavior. I outline these themes below and have tried to integrate them into the narrative of the chapters that follow.
China's Position in the Cold War
The Cold War was characterized by the tension between the two contending superpowers - the United States and the Soviet Union. Yet the position of Mao's China in the Cold War, in many key respects, was not peripheral but central. The observation made by political scientists Andrew J. Nathan and Robert S. Ross certainly makes good sense: "During the Cold War, China was the only major country that stood at the intersection of the two superpower camps, a target of influence and enmity for both."
China's leverage in the Cold War was primarily determined by its enormous size. With the largest population and occupying the third largest territory in the world, China was a factor that neither superpower could ignore. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, when Mao's China entered a strategic alliance with the Soviet Union, the United States immediately felt seriously threatened. Facing offensives by Communist states and revolutionary/radical nationalist forces in East Asia, Washington, with the creation and implementation of the NSC-68, responded with the most extensive peacetime mobilization of national resources in American history. In its efforts to "roll back" the Soviet/Communist threat, the United States became involved in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, overextending itself in a global confrontation with the Soviet/Communist camp. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the situation reversed completely following China's split with the Soviet Union and rapprochement with the United States. As a result of having to confront the West and China simultaneously, the Soviet Union overextended its strength, which contributed significantly to the final collapse of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
China's leverage in the Cold War, though, went far beyond changing the balance of power between the two superpowers. The emergence of Mao's China as a unique revolutionary country in the late 1940s (discussed more extensively below) also altered the orientation of the Cold War by shifting its actual focal point from Europe to East Asia. This shift, as it turned out, would make East Asia the main battlefield of the Cold War, while, at the same time, would help the Cold War to remain "cold."
When the Chinese Communist revolution achieved nationwide victory in 1949, the global Cold War was at a crucial juncture. Two important events - the 1948-49 Berlin blockade and the Soviet Union's first successful test of an atomic bomb in August 1949 - combined to pose a serious challenge to the two superpowers. If either tried to gain a strategic upper hand against the other - and if a showdown were to occur in Europe, where the dividing line between the two contending camps already had been drawn in a definitive manner - the Cold War could have evolved into a global catastrophe, one that might have involved the use of nuclear weapons. Against this backdrop, Moscow's vision turned to East Asia.
In June-August 1949, on the eve of the victory of the Chinese Communist revolution, the number two leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Liu Shaoqi, secretly visited Moscow to meet with Joseph Stalin. The two leaders concluded that a "revolutionary situation" now existed in East Asia. In an agreement on "division of labor" between the Chinese and Soviet Communists for waging the world revolution, they decided that while the Soviet Union would remain the center of international proletarian revolution, China's primary duty would be the promotion of the "Eastern revolution.".
The implementation of this agreement resulted in China's support for Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh and, in October 1950, massive intervention in the Korean War, making Mao's China a "front-line soldier" fighting against the U.S. imperialists. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, East Asia continued to be a main focus of the Cold War. While China was playing a central role in the two Taiwan Strait crises and the Vietnam War - the longest "hot" war during the Cold War period - the strategic attention of the United States, following the assumption that China was a more daring enemy than the Soviet Union, became increasingly fixed on East Asia. Ironically, though, the active role China played in East Asia turned this main Cold War battlefield into a strange "buffer" between Washington and Moscow: with China and East Asia in the middle, it was less likely that the United States and the Soviet Union would become involved in a direct military confrontation. The situation would remain like this until the early 1970s, when détente began to redefine the rules of the U.S.-Soviet confrontation, decisively reducing the possibility of a nuclear showdown between the two superpowers.
In terms of its impact on the essence of the Cold War, China's emergence as a revolutionary country dramatically enhanced the perception of the Cold War as a battle between "good" and "evil" on both sides, making the conflict more explicitly and extensively framed by ideological perceptions. This was particularly true because, as shall be made clear by a brief comparison of the two Communist countries, Mao's China was more revolutionary in its behavior than the Soviet Union by the late 1940s.
Taking Marxism-Leninism as the guideline for its state policies, Soviet Russia/the Soviet Union had been a revolutionary country from the time of its establishment. While persistently working to establish a socialist society in Russia, the leaders in Moscow made promoting the proletarian world revolution and overthrowing capitalism's global reign the Soviet Union's sacred state mission. However, the situation had changed subtly by the late 1940s. If the dissolution of the Comintern in 1943 symbolized Moscow's retreat from pursuing world proletarian revolution as a state-policy goal, the Soviet-American agreement at Yalta in February 1945 represented the completion of a crucial step in the Soviet Union's "socialization" process. Although Moscow continued to profess its belief in the Marxist-Leninist theory of international class struggle, the Soviet Union was no longer the same kind of revolutionary country it used to be - isolated and excluded from the existing international system; rather, as a main patron of the postwar world order created at Yalta, Stalin's Soviet Union was changing into an insider of the big-power club, assuming the identity of a quasi-revolutionary country and a status quo power at the same time. Consequently, as Vojtech Mastny points out, "despite Stalin's ideological dedication, revolution was for him a means to power rather than a goal in itself."
Mao's China was different. As I will discuss in Chapter 1, the Chinese Communist regime was established by breaking up the Yalta system. When the "new China" was born, Mao and the CCP leadership were determined to break with the legacies of the "old" China, to "make a fresh start" in China's foreign affairs, and to lean to the side of the Soviet-led socialist camp. From its birth date, Mao's China challenged the Western powers in general and the United States in particular by questioning and, consequently, negating the legitimacy of the "norms of international relations," which, as Mao and his comrades viewed them, were of Western origins and inimical to revolutionary China. Thus Mao's China had its own language and theories, its own values and codes of behavior in regard to external policies. The revolutionary features of Chinese foreign policy, combined with the reality that the Cold War's actual emphasis was then shifting from Europe to East Asia, inevitably caused the global Cold War to entail a more ideological form of warfare as a whole.
China's emergence as a revolutionary country also created an important connection between the global Cold War and the decolonization process in non-Western countries, linking the two historical phenomena in ways that would not have been possible without China's input. Different from the Soviet Union, which was established on the ruins of the czarist Russia, China was a country whose modern history was said to have suffered from the aggression and incursion of Western imperialism/colonialism. Throughout the course of the Chinese revolution, the CCP always viewed China's national independence and national liberation as the revolution's key mission. In the late 1940s, Mao introduced his "intermediate zone" theory, claiming that between the United States and the Soviet Union existed a vast "intermediate zone" mainly composed of "oppressed" non-Western countries, including China. Before U.S. imperialists could attack the Soviet Union, according to Mao, they first had to control the intermediate zone, thus making Asia the central arena of the Cold War. When Mao and the CCP seized political power in China, they immediately proclaimed that revolutionary China, as a natural ally of the "oppressed peoples" in the intermediate zone, would hold high the banner of anti-imperialism and anticolonialism, challenging the United States and other Western imperialist/colonial powers. Mao and his comrades regarded this stance as important both for defending the socialist camp and for promoting Communist/radical nationalist revolutions in non-Western countries. Thus Mao's China dramatically enhanced the theme of decolonization in the Communist Cold War discourse that had been overwhelmingly dominated by class-struggle-centered language. As a result, the emerging anti-imperialist/anticolonialist movements in non-Western countries became more tightly connected with the "proletarian world revolution."
By emphasizing the importance of the role played by Mao's China in the Cold War, I do not mean to argue that China's overall position was more important than that of the Soviet Union or the United States. Although China was a major Cold War actor, its capacity and will to influence global issues and international affairs were inevitably compromised by the fact that it was backward in technology and economic development. In addition, its foreign behavior was profoundly restricted by a Chinese ethnocentrism, which was deeply rooted in its history and culture. Therefore, in the Cold War's global framework, China played an important role only in certain dimensions (especially those with close connections to East Asia or in China itself), and it was the Soviet Union and the United States that occupied the indisputable central position. Yet, as John Gaddis points out, "The diversification of power did more to shape the course of the Cold War than did the balancing of power." Indeed, the complexity and singularity of the Cold War were determined by its multipolarity and multidimensionality, which came into being with each and every actor leaving its stamp on them. In this sense, China's position in the Cold War is clearly important.
Ideology Matters The Cold War was from the beginning a confrontation between two contending ideologies - communism and liberal capitalism. The compositions of the two Cold War camps were defined along ideological lines, and the conflict between them, at its core, represented not only a contest to determine which side was stronger but also, and more importantly, a competition to demonstrate which side was superior. The Cold War did not end as the result of the Soviet empire suffering economic collapse or military defeat at the hands of Western countries; rather, it happened in the wake of the "inner surrender" by the people in the Soviet Union and East European Communist countries to the superiority of liberal capitalism and Western democracy.
However, throughout the Cold War period, a majority of political scientists and diplomatic historians played down ideology as an essential agent in determining the basic orientation of a nation's foreign policy. From "traditionalists/realists" to "postrevisionists," theorists and diplomatic historians differed on many issues, but they had one thing in common: by defining "power" basically in material terms, they did not take the power of ideas seriously. A prevailing assumption among scholars was that although the two contending camps used strong ideological language to attack each other and defend themselves, they did so more to justify already existing policies than to shape decisions yet to be made. Scholars also believe that what mattered was state leaders' concerns over, as well as calculations about, their nation's "vital security interests," rather than their "superficial" ideological commitments.
Within this context, a "China under threat" approach dominated the study of China's Cold War history, until recently. Many scholars assumed that the key to understanding China's external policy lay in a comprehension of Beijing's "security concerns," which, as in any other country, could be defined in terms of its physical safety, its economic development, and its political and societal stability, as well as its perception of external threats.
All of these assumptions are now being challenged. Indeed, one of the most important revelations of the "new" Cold War history is that ideology mattered. To make this assertion more accurate, I will further argue that ideology not only played a decisive role in bringing Communist countries together but also contributed to driving them apart.
During the early phase of the Cold War, a shared belief in Marxist-Leninist ideology served as a central force to unite Communist states and parties in the world. After World War II, when national identity consciousness was stronger than ever before, this force did not produce a monolithic international Communist movement with Moscow as its supreme headquarters; but it did create, and in turn was enhanced by, a profound conviction among Communists all over the world that "history is on our side," thus allowing them to pose a serious challenge to international capitalism, while, at the same time, constructing the moral foundation on which the "socialist camp" was established. It should also be pointed out that, forty years later, the final collapse of this conviction led to the dismantling of the socialist camp and, in the wake of that, the end of the Cold War.
Excerpted from Mao's China and the Cold War by Chen Jian Copyright © 2001 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
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|Ch. 1||The Chinese Civil War and the Rise of the Cold War in East Asia, 1945-1946||17|
|Ch. 2||The Myth of America's Lost Chance in China||38|
|Ch. 3||Mao's Continuous Revolution and the Rise and Demise of the Sino-Soviet Alliance, 1949-1963||49|
|Ch. 4||China's Strategies to End the Korean War, 1950-1953||85|
|Ch. 5||China and the First Indochina War, 1950-1954||118|
|Ch. 6||Beijing and the Polish and Hungarian Crises of 1956||145|
|Ch. 7||Beijing and the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1958||163|
|Ch. 8||China's Involvement in the Vietnam War, 1964-1969||205|
|Ch. 9||The Sino-American Rapprochement, 1969-1972||238|
|Epilogue: The Legacies of China's Cold War Experience||277|