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Reviewed by:
  • George C. Marshall's Mediation Mission to China: December 1945-January 1947
  • Akira Iriye (bio)
Larry Bland , editor. George C. Marshall's Mediation Mission to China: December 1945-January 1947. Lexington, Virginia: George C. Marshall Foundation, 1998. Hardcover $60.00, ISBN 0-935524-04-5.

This book contains twenty-four essays, examining various aspects of the Marshall mission to China in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. The writers, who come from the United States, Canada, China, Taiwan, Japan, Russia, and Norway, have all published works dealing with Chinese (or, broadly, Asian) international relations. In a brief review, it would be impossible to do justice to all of these essays. Suffice it to note at the outset that these contributions are all characterized by the use of primary sources (some of which have been unavailable until recently), well-balanced analysis, and clarity of style. The editor is to be commended for having ensured that such standards apply uniformly.

Because the Marshall mission is one of those topics on which a large body of scholarly literature already exists, the inevitable question arises: to paraphrase Steven Levine (p. 528), is there "really anything left to explain about the failure of the Marshall mission"? That the mission was a failure and that this was fundamentally because of the deep distrust between the Communists and the Nationalists in China are textbook clichés, and none of the twenty-four authors in this volume challenges these generalizations. Nor do they question the view, which has also been accepted by most scholars, that the decision by the Nationalists, backed by the United States, to try to dislodge Communist forces from the Northeast (Manchuria) in the spring of 1946 triggered the series of developments that doomed the fragile cease-fire that Marshall had managed to arrange before he returned to Washington. Moreover, the geopolitical perspective, namely that the increasing hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union, was from the start a factor in the Chinese civil strife, and that the former's determination to prevent the latter from entrenching itself in the Northeast made the United States an interested party in the dispute from the very beginning, is also accepted by the authors. For those familiar with the existing literature on the Marshall mission, therefore, very little in this volume will come as a surprise.

Some of the essays nevertheless add substantially to our knowledge. That is because they go beyond both the decision-making approach and the geopolitical framework, the two most commonly adopted strategies for interpreting these events. Many of the essays are decision-making studies in that they focus on a small number of key leaders, while others deal with the great-power relations as they bore on the Chinese scene. A small number, however, adopt a different approach and for that reason contain data and observations that are refreshingly original. For instance, Mark Wilkinson's essay takes a close look at the city of [End Page 399] Shanghai and examines how the populace in that city responded to Marshall's mediation efforts. Likewise, Joseph Yick offers a close study of the student movement in Beijing during the period 1945-1947. Both of these essays succeed in depicting what was happening in China beyond the level of political leaders and offer a good corrective to the "great men" perspective on the Marshall mission that still abounds in the literature.

In Wilkinson's and Yick's essays, in contrast, what we see are students, teachers, merchants, journalists, and other "ordinary" Chinese in the wake of the nation's victory over Japan. They were clearly tired of the war and were fearful of the consequences of an all-too-likely long civil war. But they were not able to come together to forge a mass movement against such a development. Why? These essays suggest that political movements tended to be fragmented. There were numerous small groups and associations, but they did not succeed in developing a unified organization. This failure was only partially due to the attempts by the local Communist and Nationalist party headquarters to control such groups. Wilkinson and Yick show that in most instances such political influence...


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