- The Political Meaning of Friendship:Reviewing the Life and Times of Two of China's American Friends
Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution.Mao Zedong 1
In the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) "friendship" is a word with highly political connotations. Friendship, youyi, is a term that has come to be closely associated with foreigners and the CCP's system of structures and strategies for dealing with foreign-related matters in China—the foreign affairs system, waishi xitong. Friendship under these terms has the meaning of a strategic relationship; it does not have the meaning of good or intimate personal relations. In this review article, I will utilize the biographies of two well-known but very different American "friends of China" to discuss changes in the role of "friendship" and "foreign friends" in China's foreign policy, especially toward the Western world. Internationalist rhetoric aside, the West has long been, and continues to be, the main preoccupation in China's foreign policy, and the continuing emphasis on Western foreign friends in China's external and internal propaganda is symbolic of that.2
China's Political "Friendship"
The CCP's friendship terminology is used as a means to psychologically neutralize opposition and to re-order reality. The CCP leadership adopted the notion of political [End Page 307] friendship from the Soviets, but have made it their own, adding on distinctly Chinese characteristics to the original concept. Notions of political friendship and talk of foreign friends have been a part of the vocabulary of CCP cadres from the Party's earliest days, reflecting the influence of the Soviet Communist Party on the CCP's worldview and method of operation. Even in the current period, Beijing makes a point of describing positive diplomatic relations between itself and other countries in "friendship" terms. Foreign politicians who visit China more than once are described as "old friends of the Chinese people" (George Bush, Sr., Jacques Chirac, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and Tanaka Takao are, or were, all members of this select group). Foreigners of influence and/or power who assist China's interests are known as "foreign friends," as are those who stay on to work for the Chinese government. The PRC's officially "nonofficial" (fei guanfang) diplomacy is conducted by organizations such as the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the Chinese People's Association for Friendly Contact. In the past China has constructed Friendship Bridges for its poorer neighbors, and some border points are still known as Friendship Passes. Foreigners can shop in the Friendship Store and stay in the Friendship Hotel. Chinese citizens can buy Friendship-brand cigarettes or soothe their skin with Friendship-brand moisturizer. While other countries form sister-city relationships, China calls such relations "friendship cities."3
And corresponding to Mao's binary worldview, foreign leaders or prominent individuals who dare to criticize China are classed as "unfriendly," and nations that act against China's interests are lambasted as hegemonist, imperialist, "revisionist," and even "the enemy."
The CCP's earliest foreign friends were those who were helpful to the Party in the years of the Sino-Japanese War and in the first phase of the Chinese Civil War. They were journalists such as Edgar Snow, foreign officials such as Jack Service and Solomon Adler, and aid workers like Rewi Alley. The CCP's foreign friends were small in number relative to the actual number of foreigners in China in this period, but they were still extremely useful to the Party in a historical moment when it was much in need of support. Not...