"Fascinating, shrewd . . . The book deftly traces the rhythms and patterns of Chinese history." —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
In this sweeping and insightful history, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book length to a country he has known intimately for decades and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. On China illuminates the inner workings of Chinese diplomacy during such pivotal events as the initial encounters between China and tight line modern European powers, the formation and breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the Korean War, and Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing. With a new final chapter on the emerging superpower’s twenty-first-century role in global politics and economics, On China provides historical perspective on Chinese foreign affairs from one of the premier statesmen of our time.
In October 1962, China’s revolutionary leader Mao Zedong summoned his top military and political commanders to meet with him in Beijing. Two thousand miles to the west, in the forbidding and sparsely populated terrain of the Himalayas, Chinese and Indian troops were locked in a standoff over the two countries’ disputed border. The dispute arose over different versions of history: India claimed the frontier demarcated during British rule, China the limits of imperial China. India had deployed its outposts to the edge of its conception of the border; China had surrounded the Indian positions. Attempts to negotiate a territorial settlement had foundered.
Mao had decided to break the stalemate. He reached far back into the classical Chinese tradition that he was otherwise in the process of dismantling. China and India, Mao told his commanders, had previously fought “one and a half” wars. Beijing could draw operational lessons from each. The first war had occurred over 1,300 years earlier, during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), when China dispatched troops to support an Indian kingdom against an illegitimate and aggressive rival. After China’s intervention, the two countries had enjoyed centuries of flourishing religious and economic exchange. The lesson learned from the ancient campaign, as Mao described it, was that China and India were not doomed to perpetual enmity. They could enjoy a long period of peace again, but to do so, China had to use force to “knock” India back “to the negotiating table.” The “half war,” in Mao’s mind, had taken place seven hundred years later, when the Mongol ruler Timurlane sacked Delhi. (Mao reasoned that since Mongolia and China were then part of the same political entity, this was a “half” Sino-Indian war.) Timurlane had won a significant victory, but once in India his army had killed over 100,000 prisoners. This time, Mao enjoined his Chinese forces to be “restrained and principled.”
No one in Mao’s audience—the Communist Party leadership of a revolutionary “New China” proclaiming its intent to remake the international order and abolish China’s own feudal past—seems to have questioned the relevance of these ancient precedents to China’s current strategic imperatives. Planning for an attack continued on the basis of the principles Mao had outlined. Weeks later the offensive proceeded much as he described: China executed a sudden, devastating blow on the Indian positions and then retreated to the previous line of control, even going so far as to return the captured Indian heavy weaponry. In no other country is it conceivable that a modern leader would initiate a major national undertaking by invoking strategic principles from a millennium-old event—nor that he could confidently expect his colleagues to understand the significance of his allusions. Yet China is singular. No other country can claim so long a continuous civilization, or such an intimate link to its ancient past and classical principles of strategy and statesmanship.
Other societies, the United States included, have claimed universal applicability for their values and institutions. Still, none equals China in persisting—and persuading its neighbors to acquiesce—in such an elevated conception of its world role for so long, and in the face of so many historical vicissitudes. From the emergence of China as a unified state in the third century B.C. until the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, China stood at the center of an East Asian international system of remarkable durability. The Chinese Emperor was conceived of (and recognized by most neighboring states) as the pinnacle of a universal political hierarchy, with all other states’ rulers theoretically serving as vassals. Chinese language, culture, and political institutions were the hallmarks of civilization, such that even regional rivals and foreign conquerors adopted them to varying degrees as a sign of their own legitimacy (often as a first step to being subsumed within China).
The traditional cosmology endured despite catastrophes and centuries- long periods of political decay. Even when China was weak or divided, its centrality remained the touchstone of regional legitimacy; aspirants, both Chinese and foreign, vied to unify or conquer it, then ruled from the Chinese capital without challenging the basic premise that it was the center of the universe. While other countries were named after ethnic groups or geographical landmarks, China called itself zhongguo—the “Middle Kingdom” or the “Central Country.” Any attempt to understand China’s twentieth-century diplomacy or its twenty-first-century world role must begin—even at the cost of some potential oversimplification—with a basic appreciation of the traditional context.
NOTE ON CHINESE SPELLINGS
CHAPTER 1: The Singularity of China
CHAPTER 2: The Kowtow Question and the Opium War
CHAPTER 3: From Preeminence to Decline
CHAPTER 4: Mao's Continuous Revolution
CHAPTER 5: Triangular Diplomacy and the Korean War
CHAPTER 6: China Confronts Both Superpowers
CHAPTER 7: A Decade of Crises
CHAPTER 8: The Road to Reconciliation
CHAPTER 9: Resumption of Relations: First Encounters with Mao and Zhou
CHAPTER 10: The Quasi-Alliance: Conversations with Mao
CHAPTER 11: The End of the Mao Era
CHAPTER 12: The Indestructible Deng
CHAPTER 13: "Touching the Tiger's Buttocks": The Third Vietnam War
CHAPTER 14: Reagan and the Advent of Normalcy
CHAPTER 15: Tiananmen
CHAPTER 16: What Kind of Reform? Deng's Southern Tour
CHAPTER 17: A Roller Coaster Ride Toward Another Reconciliation: The Jiang Zemin Era
CHAPTER 18: The New Millennium
Epilogue: Does History Repeat Itself?
Afterword to the Paperback Edition
-The Wall Street Journal
"Fascinating, shrewd... [The book's] portrait of China is informed by Mr. Kissinger's intimate firsthand knowledge of several generations of Chinese leaders. The book deftly traces the rhythms and patterns in Chinese history...even as it explicates the philosophical differences that separate it from the United States."
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Henry Kissinger was not only the first official American emissary to Communist China, he persisted in his brokerage with more than 50 trips over four decades, spanning the careers of seven leaders on both sides. Diplomatically speaking, he owns the franchise; and with On China, as he approaches 88, he reflects on his remarkable run. To the degree that Washington and Beijing now know each other, it is in good measure because Kissinger has been assiduously translating for both sides."
-Max Frankel, The New York Times Book Review
"Fascinating... In On China, statesman Henry Kissinger draws on historical records and 40 years of direct interaction with four generations of Chinese leaders to analyze the link between China's ancient past and its present day trajectory. In doing so, the man who helped shape modern East-West relations presents an often unsettling, occasionally hopeful and always compelling accounting of what we're up against."
-The Chicago Sun-Times
"From the eminent elder statesman, an astute appraisal on Chinese diplomacy from ancient times to the fraught present "strategic trust" with the United States. Former Secretary of State Kissinger brings his considerable scholarly knowledge and professional expertise to this chronicle of the complicated evolution and precarious future of Chinese diplomacy with the West. ... Sage words and critical perspective lent by a significant participant in historical events."
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
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