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  • The Study of Cold War International History in China:A Review of the Last Twenty Years
  • Yafeng Xia (bio)

The Cold War dominated the latter half of the twentieth century. In the post–Cold War era, scholars in many countries have been using newly available sources to scrutinize and reassess the history of the Cold War. The concept of "Cold War international history" has become widely accepted since the establishment of the Cold War International History Project (CWIHP) at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in 1991. In 1997 the historian John Lewis Gaddis coined a different term: the "'new' Cold War history," which he characterized as multi-archival and aiming "to draw upon the records of all major participants in the conflict."1

The study of Cold War history in the People's Republic of China (PRC) has developed significantly over the past twenty years and has added an important dimension to the new Cold War history. This article offers a review and appraisal of the field in China, including the availability of new Chinese sources, the research interests of Chinese scholars, and their main contributions to the wider field. The article explores the impact of Chinese scholarship on Chinese society and on Cold War studies outside China and concludes by pointing out the challenges and opportunities for this field of study in China.

The article is based in part on two months of research and interviews I did in China in the summer of 2006. In Beijing, I interviewed a number of leading Chinese Cold War historians, including Shen Zhihua, Zhang Baijia, Niu Jun, Li Danhui, Xu Lan, and others. In March 2007, while revising the [End Page 81] article, I traveled to Shanghai and interviewed a number of other prominent Chinese scholars, notably Yang Kuisong, Cui Pi, and Dai Chaowu. The primary focus here is on Cold War studies in the PRC, but I also discuss Chinese historians based overseas (mainly in the United States) who have published their studies in Chinese or English or both.

State of the Field

Until the 1980s, Chinese historians rarely conducted specialized research on Cold War history.2 The earliest instance of such an effort was the multivolume series Zhanhou shijie lishi changbian (A Full-Length Series of World History since World War II), which began publication in 1975. As of 2007, eleven volumes had appeared. The series consists mainly of rather elementary introductory articles and reference essays, but it has played a crucial role in initiating the study of Cold War history in China.3 In the 1980s, the study of Sino-American relations during the Cold War showed marked progress with the publication of works by Zi Zhongyun and Yuan Ming, who were among the first group of scholars trained in the United States and who then returned to China.4 In October 1986, scholars from China and the United States met in Beijing for the first time to discuss Sino-American relations from 1945 to 1955. Among the topics discussed were U.S. relations with both the Chinese Nationalists (the Guomindang) and the Chinese Communists during the war against Japan, as well as such sensitive issues as Sino-American relations in the early days of the PRC, the Korean War, and the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1954.5 [End Page 82]

The 1990s witnessed substantial progress in the study of Cold War history in China. Specialists with training in the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and scholars with background in world history produced studies of the Cold War.6 Researchers in China have published important works that make use of Chinese, Russian, and East European archival sources to study Chinese foreign policy under Mao. Conferences on aspects of Cold War history have been held in China annually since the early 1990s. As a result, a core group of Chinese specialists have emerged and become internationally known.

Two research centers have been established in China that focus on Cold War history: Beijing Daxue Xiandai Shiliao Yanjiu Zhongxin (Modern History Research and Archives Center, Beijing University) in the north, and Huadong Shifan Daxue Guoji Lengzhanshi Yanjiu Zhongxin (Center for Cold War International History Studies, East China Normal...


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