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Journal of Cold War Studies 6.2 (2004) 80-82



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Robert S. Ross and Jiang Changbin, Re-examining the Cold War: U.S.-China Diplomacy, 1954-1973. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. 504 pp. $25.00.

This is a big, ambitious collection of papers from conferences organized by Robert S. Ross in 1996 and 1998 that brought leading Chinese and Western specialists on U.S.-China relations together to examine the tense years from the end of the Korean War in 1953 to the U.S.-Chinese rapprochement in the early 1970s. Constant near-wars, as in the Taiwan Straits and actual hostilities in Vietnam and along the Soviet-Chinese border, punctuated these two decades. Exaggerated and inflamed rhetoric from both sides often overshadowed attempts at diplomacy between China and the United States.

Since the resumption of academic exchanges between the two countries in the 1980s, Western and Chinese scholars have cooperated with one another to make sense of those years of confrontation. Historians have eagerly awaited the opening of archives to understand the "inner" stories of decisionmaking. Much U.S. material is now available for the period under study, and the Chinese authorities have released tantalizing amounts of information in the form of collected documents and memoirs. [End Page 80] The result is that specialists are now able to gain a much fuller picture of the relationship than was hitherto possible.

Taken together, the twelve essays in this volume offer a picture at variance with previous accounts that emphasized the blinding power of political ideology over decision makers. The earlier studies argued that rigid Chinese revolutionary principle and intransigent American anti-Communism fundamentally shaped interactions and precluded any alternative outcomes. The more nuanced analyses one finds in Re-examining the Cold War can now supplement and challenge established conclusions. The contributors suggest that although the leaders of both the United States and China were deeply antagonistic toward one another, each side also shrewdly estimated its own national capabilities and interests, carefully monitored its opponent, and pursued policies that often sought more limited and restrained ends than the heated public rhetoric (and later some scholarship) seemed to indicate.

Comprehensive in conception, the book addresses many of the issues that have been raised in previous discussions of U.S.-China relations: the place of ideology in decision making; the influence of domestic economics and politics on policy; the effect of other regional and third-party relationships on the bilateral interaction; crisis management in the offshore island confrontations in the 1950s; experiences in the Geneva and Warsaw talks that were initiated after the 1955 offshore island crisis; the move toward rapprochement in the late 1960s; the trip by Richard Nixon to Beijing in 1972; and general "lessons" for today's leaders. Ross, William C. Kirby, Zhang Baijia, Ronald W. Pruessen, Robert Accinelli, Gong Li, Jia Qingguo, Steven M. Goldstein, Robert D. Schulzinger, and Michael Schaller provide useful essays in these areas. Chapters by Rosemary Foot, Li Jie, and Gong Li offer interesting new material and perspectives on domestic opinion and internal policy discussion in China, permitting a more textured understanding of the world of the top decision makers. All the essays are substantive and are based on archival evidence to varying degrees. They reflect a spirit of engagement and dialogue among scholars from different political and academic backgrounds. The Western scholars are all senior specialists who have published on U.S.-China relations in the past. The Chinese authors are leading authorities in China and are associated with the Central Party School of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) or other leading research units in Beijing.

No great revelations or grand surprises emerge from this volume, although it is full of insights and interesting details. About the U.S. side, for example, one finds new perspectives on a number of issues: the complex U.S.-Taiwanese relationship of the 1950s and 1960s; the soundness (or lack thereof) of American political leadership under Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy; and proposals for alternative policies toward China during...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-3298
Print ISSN
1520-3972
Pages
pp. 80-82
Launched on MUSE
2004-03-22
Open Access
No
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