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The United States and China

by John King Fairbank

Other authors: Sumner Welles (Introduction)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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This is a very interesting survey of China through the Cultural Revolution, but the title is misleading. Rather than being an overview of Sino-U.S. relations, it discusses Chinese society and politics from the Qing Dynasty throught the 1970's and then mixes in U.S. reactions here and there. It was originally written shortly after the Chinese Communist Victory and was subsequently updated three times. This edition is from 1983, but the fingerprints of the 1950's interpretation are still present.

The book has two themes. The first is exploring the connections between Imperial China and Communist China. Fairbank spends about a third of the book discussing Chinese society, including the Confucian system, economics and the family structure. Fairbank does not draw outright linkages in most cases but suggests that things such as emphasis on family, morality and foreign policy in modern China were not destroyed by the CCP revolution but were adapted.

Morality was one of the more interesting aspects. Fairbank uses the Confucian mentality that errors are manifestation of shortcomings in a persons character. Alleviating errors is not a matter of learning. Rather it is a matter of correcting character flaws. He argues that this attitude is manifested in the CCP in the form of self-criticism. Making a mistake in policy must lead to a fundamental change in a person if they are to avoid further mistakes. It also demonstrates why Mao was unable to admit a mistake once a policy was implemented. Rather than admit a failing and scrap the policy, he would rather adjust the policy to limit the damage or slowing wind it down.

In foreign policy, Fairbank suggests that the tributary system of Imperial China was manifested in CCP foreign policy. He goes no further than to suggest the connection, but it is an interesting suggestion. He does something similar for Confucian relations, although he develops it a bit more. He argues that the CCP has adapted a similar type of philosophy, but instead of being loyal to the family, Chinese should be loyal to the Party. He also suggests that the CCP has adopted a form of the Mandate of Heaven to justify their rule, although they would never use that term.

Although Sino-American relations should be the emphasis of the book, based on the title, it gets relatively little play. His main point is that the U.S. and China are working off of opposing perceptions of their relationship. Whereas the U.S. sees itself as a protector of China when European powers encroached on her sovereignty, China see the U.S. as another imperialist. The fact that the U.S. was less agressive in the 19th century does not mean it was a friend of China. It's support for the KMT in the civil war and subsequent support for Taiwan and South Korean have cemented it in the Chinese mind as an imperialist aggressor. So when the two sides meet, they are essentially working off of different histories. Fairbank argues that both sides, but particularly the United States, should drop ideological preconceptions and focus on objective matters of potential cooperation and friendship.

His analysis of the differing perceptions is compelling, but his recommendations for improving relations seems fanciful. He outlines very vague principles which would be difficult to implement. Of course, since he prescriptions are 25 years old, it would be hard to take them too seriously today. The value of this book is in Fairbank's analysis of historical connections. The reader, however, must come to his own conclusions, bringing more recent developments into the equation. ( )
1 vote Scapegoats | May 17, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John King Fairbankprimary authorall editionscalculated
Welles, SumnerIntroductionsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McKay, Donald C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 067492438X, Paperback)

For two generations scholars and general readers have looked to John King Fairbank’s The United States and China for knowledge and insights about China. In this fourth edition, enlarged, he includes a new preface and an epilogue that brings the book up to date through the events of 1982. He has also updated the vast bibliography and both indexes. This book stands almost alone as a history of China, an analysis of Chinese society, and an account of Sino–American relations, all in brief compass.

The older portions of the book still sparkle, and they have been refined by the latest scholarship and the author’s own observations in the People’s Republic of China. And many photographs, especially chosen by John and Wilma Fairbank, show a changing land and its inhabitants.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:49 -0400)

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