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A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth…

A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949

by Kevin Peraino

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A political history of US-China relations in 1949, including what became the Republic of China (Taiwan) though the principals don’t get mentioned in the subhead. I ended up with a better sense of just how much the world looked like whack-a-mole to US policymakers in the aftermath of WWII, with Britain’s power definitively broken, and how Mao both respected and rejected Soviet Communism. ( )
  rivkat | Aug 30, 2018 |
Summary: A study of how the Truman adminstration, under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, framed America's response to the rise of Mao as the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek fell to Communist forces in 1949.

The role of the People's Republic of China as a world power is an accepted reality in today's global landscape. Threats to Taiwan, seizure of coastal islands, influence throughout east and southeast Asia, and economic growth and trading relationships with the U.S. regularly are subjects of the evening news. What is often less understood are the events nearly 70 years ago that helped shape current realities.

In 1949 the world was recovering from war. China invaded by Japan in World War II, nominally was under control of a Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek. Beginning in the spring of 1949, Communist forces under Mao Zedong rapidly conquered Nationalist controlled territories, leading to a situation where the fate of Chiang's government, which had enjoyed American support, was increasingly in doubt.

Kevin Peraino, using recently declassified information as well as Russian and Chinese sources, studies the U.S. response to what many viewed as a cataclysmic event. China under Chiang had been an object of American mission efforts as well as trade and a wartime alliance, all of which was in jeopardy. For that reason, the Truman administration faced significant factions who pressed for continued efforts to prop up the failing regime, led by one-time Truman ally, Warren Judd. These efforts were also fostered by Madame Chiang, who took up residence in the U.S., probably the most effective ambassador Chiang could have employed.

Louis Johnson, Truman's Secretary of Defense favored efforts to support Chiang while Dean Acheson, as Secretary of State was much more doubtful of Chiang's ability to survive, even on Taiwan. Acheson also recognized that China and Russia may not have had as much in common as was projected. There were even reasons to support rather than resist this new government. In the end, it wasn't to be, even though there was good reason for the suspicions that the relationship between Russia and Communist China was an uneasy alliance at best. Instead, the U.S. extended its policy of containment, withholding recognition to the People's Republic of China until the late 1970's, and becoming involved in conflicts first in Korea and then in Indochina, leading to our Vietnam ordeal.

Peraino's book explores how foreign policy is often constrained by the politically possible at home as well as by other global actors. Fears of Communism, of atomic war, and the concern not to be the administration that "lost" China placed great pressures on the Truman administration, which resulted in a compromise between acceptance of the new reality and the effort to project a strong response shaping events for at least a generation, and perhaps down to the present day. One wonders what might have happened if early American recognition and support of Mao had been possible. Would China have gone through the ordeals of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution? Would we have been embroiled in Korea and Vietnam? At the same time, would the vibrant, indigenous Chinese Christian movement have arisen, now estimated to number more than 100 million adherents?

It is not given to us to know "what if." But Peraino helps us understand what happened and what resulted and how that has shaped the international landscape down to our own day. We see both the necessity of intelligent foreign policy in the careers of people like Acheson and George Kennen, and the limits even very bright people face. We see both the pressures and the folly involved in backing failing governments. And we see how Truman's ideals of achieving the "federation of the world" of Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" come smack up against the realities of the Cold War, one that really hasn't ended to this very day.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  BobonBooks | Mar 28, 2018 |
This is an intriguing account of two nations on the precipice: China and the United States.

It’s 1949 and China, ruled by Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, is losing ground to Mao Zedong and the Communists. And Truman weighs his options.

The United States’ response, or lack of it, goes a long way to establishing the future of the Asian continent, China’s relationship with the Soviet Union, future Communist uprisings in Southeast Asia and the eventual mires of Korea and Vietnam.

It’s story of an administration missing its moment and paying dearly for it.

Among the most interesting parts of this book are the interpersonal relationships, none more intriguing than between Madame Chiang and the U.S. public. She was an exotic, well-spoken, glamourous character, pleading her case for American help, while sending notes back home to the Generalissimo, attempting to keep him in line and his spirits up.

The legacy of this time continues to be felt, and in this is a cautionary tale of what happens when an administration is unprepared for the changing world.

I received this book from Blogging For Books.

For more of my reviews, go to Ralphsbooks. ( )
  ralphz | Jan 31, 2018 |
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In a very short time, several hundred million peasants in China's central, southern, and northern provinces will rise like a fierce wind or tempest, a force so swift and violent that no power, however great, will be able to suppress it. -- Mao Zedong
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Bodies jostled, elbow to elbow, angling all morning for a spot in the square.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307887235, Hardcover)

A gripping narrative of the Truman Administration's response to the fall of Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949--an extraordinary political revolution that continues to shape East Asian politics to this day.
In the opening months of 1949, U.S. President Harry S. Truman found himself faced with a looming diplomatic catastrophe--"perhaps the greatest that this country has ever suffered," as the journalist Walter Lippmann put it. Throughout the spring and summer, Mao Zedong's Communist armies fanned out across mainland China, annihilating the rival troops of America's one-time ally Chiang Kai-shek and taking control of Beijing, Shanghai, and other major cities. As Truman and his aides--including his shrewd, ruthless secretary of state, Dean Acheson--scrambled to formulate a response, they were forced to contend not only with Mao, but also with unrelenting political enemies at home, in Congress and even within the administration. Over the course of this tumultuous year, Mao fashioned a new revolutionary government in Beijing, laying the foundation for the creation of modern China, while Chiang Kai-shek fled to the island sanctuary of Taiwan. These events transformed American foreign policy--leading, ultimately, to decades of friction with Communist China, a long-standing U.S. commitment to Taiwan, and the subsequent wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Drawing on Chinese and Russian sources, as well as recently declassified CIA documents, Kevin Peraino tells the story of this remarkable year through the eyes of the key players, including Mao Zedong, President Truman, Secretary of State Acheson, Minnesota congressman Walter Judd, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the influential first lady of the Republic of China. Truman and his administration struggled to navigate a disorienting new political landscape that was being reshaped daily by the emerging technology of television, the rising tensions of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and growing fears of spying, infiltration, and Russia’s acquisition of the atomic bomb. 
Today, the legacy of 1949 is more relevant than ever to the relationships between China, the United States, and the rest of the world, as Beijing asserts its claims in the South China Sea and tensions endure between Taiwan and the mainland. Yet at the heart of the book is a story for any season--a thoughtful and moving examination of the fierce determination of the human will.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:34:50 -0400)

"A compelling year-long narrative of America's response to the fall of Chiang Kai-shek and Nationalist China in 1949, and Mao Zedong and the Communist Party's rise to power, forever altering the world's geopolitical map."--Provided by publisher.

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