Journal of Cold War Studies 6.2 (2004) 78-80
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Chen Jian, Mao's China and the Cold War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001. xi 1 400 pp. $19.95.
This book belongs on the desk of every student of the Cold War. It offers one of thedeepest and most richly documented analyses of China's role in world affairs from the Communist victory on mainland China in 1949 to visits by Henry Kissinger andRichard Nixon to Beijing in the early 1970s. Chen Jian, the C. K. Yen Professor of Chinese-American Relations at the University of Virginia and the Zijian Visiting Professor at East China Normal University, taps a wide range of Chinese documents, many of them recently released, as well as U.S. and translated Soviet documents. [End Page 78]
Some of the book's virtues, however, also engender some shortcomings. Rather than a chronology, Professor Jian offers nine case studies spanning just over two decades: the Chinese civil war and its role in the rise of the Cold War; the myth of America's "lost chance" in China; Mao's continuous revolution and the rise and fall of the Sino-Soviet alliance; China's strategies to end the Korean War; China and the first Indochina war of 1950-1954; Beijing and the Polish and Hungarian crises of 1956; the Taiwan Straits crisis of 1958; the Vietnam war from 1964 to 1969; the Sino-U.S. rapprochement in the early 1970s; and a brief analysis of the legacies of China's Cold War experiences.
The case-study approach has the merit of plumbing important questions—for example, whether there was a chance in 1949 for normal relations to develop between Washington and the Chinese Communists. The drawback is that the reader does not get a clear view of the big picture. Most of the case studies are derived from chapters or articles published elsewhere, then somewhat edited and rewritten for this book.
Furthermore, some of the case studies take in so much that the author cannot treat many details with the attention they deserve. This problem is made more acute by the fact that the author seeks to deliver a strong thesis. Chen Jian's leitmotif is Mao Zedong's determination to keep his revolution alive after the Communist victory over the Nationalists in 1949. This determination, Chen Jian argues, made reconciliation with Washington nearly impossible. It also meant that Mao Zedong was prepared to put up with a great deal of disdain and even ill treatment by Josif Stalin and his regime to seal an alliance in 1950. Chen Jian's emphasis on Mao's Innenpolitik may have lead him to exaggerate the obstacles to U.S.-Chinese cooperation and to overstate the inevitability of a Soviet-Chinese alliance.
Such difficulties could have been mitigated by more attention to what J. David Singer, drawing on Kenneth Waltz, calls the level-of-analysis problem. To analyze any international problem, one must consider the major levels of action: the key individual actors, their societies and states, and the international-transnational setting. Chen Jian's focus on the second level may have lead him at times to neglect the roles of the first and the third levels. Despite the book's extensive references to Mao Zedong, Chen Jian tells us little about the man himself or his personality—its origins, evolution, and emotional as well as calculating components. As a result, the book underestimates Mao's resentment toward Stalin during and after the early 1950 negotiations and Mao's disdain for the boorish Nikita Khrushchev as early as 1954 (topics that are illuminated in the memoirs of both Andrei Gromyko and Khrushchev himself). Nor does Chen Jian tell us much about Mao's suspicions toward colleagues who pursued their own agendas or differed with the Great Helmsman. What could possibly have been Mao's thoughts as some 30 million of his subjects died of starvation during the Great Leap Forward? From this book we also learn little about the inner thoughts of Zhou Enlai, who...