Behind the Bamboo Curtain: China, Vietnam, and the World beyond Asia

By Thayer, Carlyle A. | The China Journal, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Behind the Bamboo Curtain: China, Vietnam, and the World beyond Asia


Thayer, Carlyle A., The China Journal


Behind the Bamboo Curtain: China, Vietnam, and the World beyond Asia, edited by Priscilla Roberts. Washington; Palo Alto: Woodrow Wilson Center Press; Stanford University Press, 2006. xx + 559 pp. US$65.00 (hardcover).

Behind the Bamboo Curtain is a mammoth collection of papers that were first delivered to a conference on "New Evidence on China, Southeast Asia, and the Vietnam War" held at Hong Kong University in January 2000. This edited collection contains thirteen substantive chapters written by fourteen authors. It opens with a 52-page introduction by the editor, Priscilla Roberts, which is longer than all but one of the chapters that follow. Roberts not only summarizes the important findings of each contributor but also discusses several papers that were not included. Her editorial hand is evident throughout the volume, as she links discussions of topics across chapters.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1 contains five chapters covering the period from the late colonial period to the escalation of the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s. Most of these chapters are narrowly focused. For example, Mari Olsen provides an assessment of Soviet-Vietnamese relations in the pivotal year of 1955. Noam Kochavi assesses the Kennedy Administration's policies towards China and Vietnam, while Fredrik Logevall writes about the impact of French diplomatic recognition of China on the Vietnam War. Li Xiangqian assesses the political and economic impact of the Vietnam War on China in 1964. Yang Kuisong writes more broadly on Mao Zedong's changing policy views over the course of the Indochina wars.

Part 2 covers the widening of the war through escalation in 1964, peace negotiations, and unification in 1975. James Hershberg and Chen Jian provide an excellent analysis of Sino-American signaling in 1965. The other chapters are broader in scope. Shu Guang Zhang provides an authoritative assessment of China's aid to Vietnam over the period 1964-68. Le Danhui traces Sino-Soviet disagreements over aid to Vietnam from 1965 to 1972.

Niu Jun discusses the background factors driving China's policy shift towards the United States in the late 1960s, while Shen Zhihua analyzes the impact of China's improved relations with the United States on China's policy towards Vietnam. Zhai Quang reviews China's policy towards Cambodia (1970-75), and Stephen Morris provides a Moscow-centric view of the triangular relationship between China, the Soviet Union and Vietnam. Vietnamese scholar-diplomat Luu Doan Huynh rounds out Part 2 with a hard-hitting critical assessment of the Big Powers through Vietnamese eyes.

Part 3 contains a translation of remarks made in 1979 by Le Duan, first secretary of the Vietnam Workers' Party, on Vietnam's relations with China, followed by fourteen extracts of selected conversations by key Asian Communist leaders on the war in Indochina from 1964 to 1975. The Le Duan document is translated from the Vietnamese by Christopher Goscha and introduced by historian Stein Tonnesson. All of the extracts of conversations previously appeared in 77 Conversations between Chinese and Foreign Leaders on the Wars in Indochina, 1964-1977, published by the Cold War International History Project.

Both the strength and weakness of this collection lie in the diversity of its contributors. Eight of the authors are either Chinese or Chinese-educated scholars, including three who are based at universities in the United States. The six remaining contributors include two Americans and one scholar each from Australia, Israel, Norway and Vietnam.

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