Thursday, May 18, 2017

Mao's China and the Cold War

Chen Jian, Mao's China and the Cold War

The historical rivalry of the GMD and CCP and the autocratic nature of Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) and the start of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States to ensure that the Chinese Civil War was inevitable.  The efforts of American and Soviet diplomats and leaders served only to exacerbate the coming conflict between Nationalist and Communist forces. Chen Jian argues that the legacy of colonialism that led Communist leaders to develop a “Chinese victim mentality” combined with its leaders continued belief in China as the “Middle Kingdom” led not only to its long difficult relationship with the United States, but also to the Sino-Soviet Split and its war with Vietnam.

The GMD and CCP had a long and bloody history that was scarcely interrupted by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.  Despite the invasion, Jiang made it the mission of the GMD to destroy the CCP before turning aside to deal with the Japanese.  He stopped short of this goal only after two Nationalist generals kidnapped him in order to force him to unite China in resistance to the invaders.  Even then, Jiang’s forces attacked the CCP whenever the opportunity arose, notably in the 1941 “Wannan incident,” in which the GMD destroyed the CCP’s New Fourth Army as it moved its headquarters across the Yangtze River.  After Mao called for an immediate campaign against the GMD, the United States and Soviet Union intervened, which Chen asserts merely delayed the Civil War.

Diplomatic and military maneuvers by both sides indicate that they planned for war, not peace.  In 1943, Jiang broadcast his belief that the CCP should have no post-war role in governing China in a pamphlet.  Mao responded by telling his CCP brethren that they must prepare to take over China, and began dispatching military units to strategic areas of China to use as bases against the GMD.  The CCP also began trying to convince Americans that they were Nationalists that were interested in promoting “democratic reforms.”

By early 1945, it was clear that both the CCP and GMD were gearing up for war: the GMD blockaded CCP-controlled areas and Mao made plans to move CCP units into Japanese-controlled areas of Northeast China to prepare for combat, telling military commanders “to abandon any illusion of peace between the CCP and the GMD.”  In August 1945 the two sides were already fighting battles for control of Northeastern cities.  When the United States sent George C. Marshall to mediate, the GMD used the resulting armistice to further prepare for war against the CCP.

Jiang Jieshi’s refused any significant power-sharing arrangement with the CCP.  Chen argues that the dictator’s authoritarian streak made it impossible for peace negotiations to succeed as long as Jiang led the GMD.  Jiang insisted that rather than simply being included in a new government, the CCP would be required to “earn” a place by surrendering control of its armed forces.  Because a willingness to share power at some level was required to form a coalition government, it seems that even the basic requirements for peace were missing.

Both the United States and Soviet Union initially attempted to maintain the peace in China. Stalin acted to delay the Chinese Communist Revolution at the 1945 Yalta Conference by agreeing that the Soviet Union would not support the CCP against the GMD in exchange for restoration of Russian privileges in China that were lost in the 1904 Russo-Japanese War.  The Sino-Soviet Treaty followed in May 1945, recognizing the independence of Outer Mongolia, Soviet privileges in Manchuria, and the Soviet occupation of the naval base at Port Arthur in exchange for supporting the Nationalists.  The Soviet leader also advised the CCP that it should negotiate a peaceful resolution with the GMD.

By September 1945 Stalin’s peacemaking efforts gave way to support of the CCP.  Soviet forces began allowing the CCP to occupy all but the largest cities in Northeast China and declined to assist the GMD in occupying areas its forces left.  International developments contributed to Stalin’s change of heart: after the United States refused the Soviets any role in governing Japan, the Soviet Union began actively assisting the CCP to occupy the Northeast and blocked GMD forces from moving in.

Under these conditions, Chen argues that a positive relationship between the CCP and the United States was simply not possible, and that assumptions that the CCP desired quick recognition from the West in order to enhance China’s economic recovery, and that the Sino-Soviet partnership was vulnerable to outside influences were patently false. Chen contends that in contrast to being a desirable result, normal relations with the United States would be counter-productive for Mao. The Ward incident in Shenyang demonstrates Mao’s unwillingness to pursue diplomatic relations with the United States in 1949-50.  In order to push foreign diplomats out of Shenyang after its capture by the CCP, Mao ordered all radios in foreign possession confiscated.  This order was specifically targeted at the consulates of Great Britain, France, and the United States, which the CCP did not recognize due to their ties to the GMD.  When American consul Angus Ward refused the order, he and his staff were arrested and held until December 1949. Chen argues that CCP pressure on Western diplomats was due to Mao’s determination to make a “fresh start” in China’s external relations, but also had roots in his “lean to one side” policy toward the Soviet Union.  Soviet influence dictated the type of pressure brought to bear on the diplomats; Stalin suggested confiscating their radios in order to keep them from communicating with the GMD.

There were also other indicators that Mao was not particularly interested in establishing relations with the United States.  In March 1949, CCP leaders formally decide not to pursue relations with the west “for a fairly long period after nationwide victory,” although it is doubtful Americans knew of the decision.  Chen dismisses Mao’s April 1949 offer to normalize relations with the United States if it severed all ties with the GMD, treated China as an equal, and apologized for past American unfairness toward China as a red herring because Mao knew that it was unlikely that the United States could repudiate the model of its past relations with China and other nations.  This was followed in July of 1949 by Mao’s declaration that the United States was the most dangerous enemy of the Chinese people and the Chinese Revolution.

In Chen’s model, the source of Mao’s animosity toward the United States is more complicated that simple support for the GMD.  Chen believes that the true source of conflict lay in a Chinese inferiority complex, which emphasized China’s victimization by Western powers.  This model is based on the Mao generation’s obsession with China as the “Central Kingdom”, the sole source of civilization surrounded by barbarian hordes.  This conception of China was challenged when Western military power forced China to open its borders to the rest of the world.  Chen argues that irritation with Western arrogance toward China, combined with a Nationalist philosophy determined to make China the center of civilization again, led Chinese leaders to adopt a universal Marxist-Leninist model that aimed to reform China and the international system.

Promoting this vision of returning China to glory and re-civilizing the world became Mao’s preoccupation, and caused him to develop the concept of continuous revolution as a tool for maintaining movement toward his goal.  This concept required a constant and viable external threat, which the United States provided through its support of the GMD and its anti-Communist rhetoric.  To Chen, this means that there was no chance of good relations between China and the United States in 1949-1950. This is a stark contrast to Gordon Chang’s argument in Friends and Enemies that the causes of Sino-American tension were the insistence of the United States in maintaining political ties to the GMD on Taiwan and the offshore islands, and its requirement that China have good relations with either the Soviet Union or the United States.

Despite Mao’s policy of favoring the Soviet Union, Chen contends that Sino-Soviet “relations were bound to be rocky” based on the design of the 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty, in which the Chinese allowed to the Soviet Union to keep its traditional privileges in Northeast China in exchange for an increase in military and economic support.  The alliance provided China with the military and economic resources that Mao needed to secure China from external threats and to promote China’s development into the model nation he envisioned.  However, it also created the basis for future conflict between the PRC and USSR.  This is particularly true in light of Chen’s interpretation of Mao’s goal of re-creating the “Central Kingdom”, with China playing the dominant role in global politics, and his sensitivity to being treated as the junior partner in the alliance.

The Korean War also contributed to tensions between the Soviet Union and China when Mao interpreted Stalin’s refusal to send troops as him acting only in the USSR’s narrow interests rather than the global proletarian revolution. Mao believed that sending Chinese “volunteers” to Korea reflected his own “moral superiority” over Stalin. Although the war in Korea served to strengthen practical cooperation between China and the Soviets Union as they managed the crisis, Soviet insistence that China pay for most of the military aid the Soviets provided further enhanced Chinese leader’s “sense of moral superiority in relation to their Soviet comrades.”

Chen’s view of the Sino-Soviet Split takes a radically different direction from those of Gaddis or Chang. Gaddis argues that the primary source of the Sino-Soviet split was disagreement over aggressively promoting world revolution and challenging the United States, even in the face of significant risks, while Chen interprets the divide as a result of Mao’s psychology. Mao’s mistaken belief that the Soviet Union held military superiority over the West exacerbated their disagreement over goals and methods, and Khrushchev was unable to admit that the Soviet Union was militarily outclassed. Gaddis also attributes conflict between China and the Soviet Union over proper models of internal economic debate.  The unifying thread to Gaddis’s argument is that conflicts between China and the Soviet Union were traditional national security arguments.

Chen believes that Chinese cultural memories of the Central Kingdom, China’s modern humiliation at the hands of foreign powers, and Mao’s belief in his own moral superiority in promoting justice and revolution were the root cause of the Split when the Soviet Union did not meet his expectations in its treatment of China or its promotion of the global proletarian revolution. The differences in interpretation extend to their analysis of why the Korean War ended. While Gaddis argues that Stalin’s death, combined with allied forces advancing back to the 38th parallel allowed an end to the conflict, Chen focuses on China’s changing domestic and international aims in the face of the stalemate on the battlefield and lack of Soviet military support.  Mao hoped to use the external stress on Chinese society brought by war in Korea as a tool to “strengthen the CCP’s control of China’s state and society and serve to promote an Eastern revolution following the Chinese model.”  Mao also hoped to increase China’s international prestige by defeating the United States in combat.  Chen claims that Chinese negotiators expected to settle on a peace agreement quickly when talks began in July 1951, but failed to anticipate the difficulty involved at each stage of the process.  Part of this was the result of Mao’s continuing belief that PRC and North Korean forces held favorable positions on the battlefield.

Another difficulty in the negotiations was the Chinese insistence on including a Taiwan settlement in the North Korea peace, as well as withdrawal of all foreign troops from Korea.  For its part, the UN insisted that only items directly related to a military armistice be included in the peace settlement.  Repatriation of prisoners of war also presented a difficulty, as the PRC insisted on the return of all POWs, even those that the US claimed did not wish to return.  Finally, both sides were intractable at the bargaining table, which caused both negotiations and combat to drag on.

Ultimately, Chen seems to believe that the final agreement on the Korean armistice came after long negotiations because Chinese leaders determined that they would be able to portray their accomplishments as a great victory because the PRC was able to save North Korea from the United States.  Once it became obvious that complete military victory was impossible, and they concluded that they had achieved enough in Korea to enhance their international prestige, CCP leaders worked to resolve the problems at the negotiation table.

Chen argues that the 1954 and 1958 Taiwan Straits crises show a focus on domestic agenda, rather than a geopolitical one. While Gaddis and Chang contend that the Chinese aim in 1954 and 1958 was to either show the United States that China was willing to stand up it or, to break the stalemate in negotiations with Jiang Jieshi’s GMD on Taiwan, Chen argues that both crises fulfilled domestic political needs for Chinese leaders: in both 1954 and 1958, Mao sought to use the offshore islands crises to “stir up our people’s revolutionary enthusiasm, thus promoting our nation’s socialist reconstruction.” Mao believed that external threats were the best motivator for the masses, and Taiwan and the offshore islands presented the easiest target because they were unlikely to lead to a large-scale conflict.

Late 1957 and early 1958 witnessed a new revolutionary outburst from Mao after four years of relative peace and consolidation, in which Mao endeavored to improve China’s international image and root out reactionary or “revisionist” elements within China. The period of relative peace between the 1954 and 1958 Taiwan Straits crises saw China attempt to mediate Soviet-Polish and Soviet-Hungarian disputes, which Mao believed established China as the moral center of international Communism.  After the 1956 crisis Mao used the Hundred Flowers Campaign to identify elements of Chinese society that were critical of the PRC and mark them for re-education, imprisonment, or execution.  Finally, the PRC used peace negotiations with Jiang to show the world that China was a mature and responsible actor on the international stage.

In 1957 Mao began instructing the PLA to move aircraft and artillery units to the coast opposite Jinmen and Mazu, which many scholars interpret as a plan to intimidate the Nationalists on Taiwan into serious effort in peace negotiations.  However, Chen argues that this approach ignores Mao’s preparation for the Great Leap Forward and his use of military conflict to mobilize the Chinese people for internal revolutionary purposes.  This tendency of Mao’s is amply illustrated by his comment that “a tense [international] situation can mobilize the population, can particularly mobilize the backward people, can mobilize the people in the middle, and can therefore promote the Great Leap Forward in economic construction.“ Mao supported this idea with Lenin’s teaching that war is a useful motivation factor, assuming that a lesser military confrontation could produce the same effect.  Even without using war as a mechanism to promote political orthodoxy, Mao believed that it could create a significant increase in domestic steel and grain production.

Chen and Chang again disagree on the beginning and outcome of the 1958 crisis, which Chang views in strictly geopolitical terms.  Chang argues that Mao initiated the 1958 crisis to break the Sino-American stalemate in the Taiwan Straits and break the American alliance with the Nationalists.  In contrast, Chen insists that China’s external behavior was primarily due to domestic policies. The end to the crisis appears to support Chen as China later claimed that it ended the crisis to prevent the United States from forcing Jiang to abandon Jinmen and Mazu.  Even Chang acknowledges that Mao decided that it was to the PRC’s advantage for the Nationalists to keep the offshore islands because it provided a ready-made crisis any time Mao needed to promote patriotic mobilization, and it made it more difficult for the United States to adopt a true Two-China policy.

Chen’s unique contribution to the historiography of the Sino-American rapprochement is the addition of ideological change within the CCP as an element that allowed Chinese leaders to attempt establishing relations with the United States.  Rather than the traditional argument that political leaders will always choose to sacrifice ideology in the face of national security concerns, Chen promotes the idea that Mao and the CCP required a change in ideology before they could address the security issues presented by clashes with the Soviet Union and India.  Chen further argues that if Mao desired better relations with the United States, he first had to counter the two-decade long propaganda campaign that claimed that the United States was the main enemy of the people and the source of China’s humiliation in the modern era.

Mao’s designation of the Soviet Union as the main enemy of the people in the late 1960s provided him a way to partially rehabilitate the United States.  In order to focus the Chinese populace on the Soviet Union, Mao invented a new type of imperialist state: the “social-imperialist” country by claiming that Soviet capitalism was restored in the form of a privileged bureaucracy.  Where it would be easy to argue that this was simply the mechanism Mao chose to focus Chinese society on a new enemy, Chen argues that it was “determined by the essence of the Cultural Revolution,” which Mao launched to prevent a capitalist restoration along Soviet lines from occurring in China.  Identifying the Soviet Union as the main imperialist threat allowed Mao to ally with the United States as the lesser of the two evils.

Chen believes that this development was fully in line with the “Central Kingdom” philosophy that Mao pursued throughout his career.  In this model, it was perfectly reasonable for China as the central power of the world to ally with lesser barbarian states in the face of a greater enemy.  He also argues that these logical circumlocutions were necessary because the Cultural Revolution failed to produce a new type of state in the PRC, although it was sufficient to tear down the old structures.

Chen identifies the failure of the Cultural Revolution as the end of Mao’s theory of continuous revolution and the end of China “as a revolutionary state” due to the decreasing frequency of Mao’s pronouncements on the role of tension in creating revolutionary fervor, and an increase in declarations that it was time to consolidate the achievements of the Cultural Revolution.  Chen identifies two important results of the end of the ideology of continuous revolution: Mao was able to increase his personal position as a socialist dictator, and it indicates a willingness to live at peace with the rest of the world. 

This leads Chen to the conclusion those ideological and psychological issues unique to China led to rapprochement with the United States, not mere national security issues.  He does not deny that China faced important security problems on its coast, and on multiple borders; instead, he believes that Mao found a way to deal with those threats through changes in his ideology.  Mere pragmatism does not fully explain China’s new relationship with the United States. In this context, the Chinese “victim mentality” continues to work as a tool for the CCP to justify its continued domination of China.  The CCP argument is that without the revolution China would still be the “weak, corrupt, divided country with no status on the world scene,” that it was in the 18th and 19th centuries.  This allows the CCP to claim that it is uniquely positioned to maintain China’s sovereignty.  Chen writes that the “victim mentality” will remain a core attitude in China until a strong middle class emerges and adopts a political system that includes checks and balances on political power.

Chen develops five points of advice for Western nations dealing with China based on his analysis of Chinese history and psychology in dealing with outsiders, especially the concepts of Chinese “victim mentality” and Chinese leaders’ continued acceptance of China as the “Middle Kingdom.”  However, following the ideas represented in Chen’s five points amount to a policy of appeasement, particularly after he states that “Chinese leaders have consistently claimed that under no circumstances will the Chinese government allow foreign powers to impose their values on China’s external behavior, or to use their norms to interfere with China’s internal affairs.” At their core, Chen’s five points amount to simply addressing China’s needs and perspectives in world forums, promoting economic and cultural exchange with China, acknowledging China’s global and regional contributions, and developing long-term strategies for international dealings with China.  What this comes down to is avoiding the kind of paternalistic attitudes toward China that Chen believes caused the Sino-Soviet split.  Avoiding giving China the impression that it is a junior partner in any endeavor is further enshrined in Chen’s second point, which states, “the Chinese ‘victim mentality’ should be handled with deep sensitivity.”  Because Chen attributes many Chinese actions to the belief that foreign powers humiliated China in the modern era by forcing unfair treaties on it, not taking this attitude into account could have seriously negative consequences.

Most of Chen’s five points address either China’s “victim mentality” or the old leadership’s belief that it is a central actor in the world.  Chen’s third point: “China’s contributions to regional and global peace and stability should be adequately acknowledged and properly encouraged,” suggests that the West use the Chinese concept of the Central Kingdom to keep it involved in global and regional affairs.  If this belief truly contributed to Chinese actions during the 1956 Polish and Hungarian Crises, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and its promotion of global revolution as Chen suggests, then properly channeling it will save the world much conflict.

The problem with Chen’s five points of advice to properly integrate China into the international community is that it leaves no mechanism for other nations to voice their displeasure with China.  How are Western nations supposed to deal with issues like copyright infringement, unfair labor and trade practices, or human rights issues, if they follow Chen’s recommendations?  How are disputes with China supposed to be resolved if the West is pandering to the Chinese “victim mentality” or its belief that it plays the central role in the world?

Chen uses a variety of new Chinese primary and secondary sources as the basis for much of the work in Mao’s China.  His sources are Chinese Communist Party documents, memoirs, and oral histories; Chinese scholarly articles and monographs; and Chinese publications that sometimes use classified documents as sources.  He also uses documents from regional archives in what he calls “a limited scale.”  Chen attributes the availability of these sources to “the flowering of the ‘reform and opening’ era in China,” during the 1980s.

In his discussion Sino-American rapprochement, Chen relies on Chinese and American sources to support his arguments in this chapter of Mao’s China.  Sources include Renmin ribao (People’s Daily), which calls the most influential daily newspaper in China, minutes and transcripts of conversations between Zhou Enlai and Alexander Haig, memos between Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong, Nixon’s memoirs, and The Kissinger Transcript.  Chen also includes Chinese historical studies from both individual scholars and official CCP archives, as well as official reports from the PLA leadership to the Central committee on the progress of the Vietnam War.  Finally, Chen uses Luo Yisu’s My Years in Poland, which contains telegrams and reports regarding the Sino-American ambassadorial talks in Warsaw.

However, as tempting as this cascade of Cold War data from inside China might be, Chen acknowledges that relying on them poses certain risks: the collections of documents provided may not be complete or accurate.  Chen attributes this problem to the fact that the government of China remains a Communist one that continues to restrict academic inquiry into sensitive areas.  Selective release of documents that might obscure the truth, or present decisions or people in a favorable light is a major concern.  What this means for Chen and other researchers is that despite the opportunity for research presented by newly available Chinese sources, each one must be carefully scrutinized in order to verify its authenticity.  In the case of Mao’s China, Chen has used endnotes to identify sources that are questionable or seem to contradict other documents.  He has also endeavored to cross-reference his sources to verify their accuracy.  These issues are indicative of the problems of inquiry under repressive regimes, or into subjects that ordinarily open governments find embarrassing.  

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