Mao's China and the Cold War

Mao's China and the Cold War

Mao's China and the Cold War

Mao's China and the Cold War


This comprehensive study of China's Cold War experience reveals the crucial role Beijing played in shaping the orientation of the global Cold War and the confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The success of China's Communist revolution in 1949 set the stage, Chen says. The Korean War, the Taiwan Strait crises, and the Vietnam War--all of which involved China as a central actor--represented the only major "hot" conflicts during the Cold War period, making East Asia the main battlefield of the Cold War, while creating conditions to prevent the two superpowers from engaging in a direct military showdown. Beijing's split with Moscow and rapprochement with Washington fundamentally transformed the international balance of power, argues Chen, eventually leading to the end of the Cold War with the collapse of the Soviet Empire and the decline of international communism.

Based on sources that include recently declassified Chinese documents, the book offers pathbreaking insights into the course and outcome of the Cold War.


The last decade of the twentieth century witnessed sensational developments in the study of the international history of the Cold War—one of the century’s most important events. With the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, for the first time scholars have been able to study the entire duration of the Cold War from the post–Cold War vantage point. In the meantime, new opportunities to access previously unavailable documents, especially from the Cold War’s “other side,” have allowed scholars to develop new theses and perspectives supported by multiarchival/multisource research. As a result, a “new” Cold War history—to borrow a term from historian John Lewis Gaddis—came into being.

The study of China’s Cold War history has made significant progress since the late 1980s. There was a time when China scholars in the West had to travel to Hong Kong or Taiwan, relying upon contemporary newspapers and Western intelligence information, to study Beijing’s policies. Since the mid-1980s, the flowering of the “reform and opening” era in China has resulted in a more flexible political and academic environment compared with Mao’s times, leading to a relaxation of the extremely rigid criteria for releasing party documents. Consequently, a large quantity of fresh and meaningful historical materials, including party documents, former leaders’ works and memoirs, and oral histories, have been made available to Cold War historians. To be sure, with a Communist regime remaining in Beijing (no matter how quasi it actually is today), China still has a long way to go before “free academic inquiry” becomes a reality, but the contribution of China’s documentary opening to the study of the Chinese Cold War experience cannot be underestimated.

Since the early 1990s, I have traveled to China more than a dozen times to do research, conduct interviews, and attend scholarly conferences. This volume is the product of these trips. In writing this book, I have been directed by two primary purposes. The first is to make new inquiries about China’s Cold War experience using the new documentation. Indeed, this is an everlasting process. If readers compare the five previously published chapters in this volume with their earlier versions, they will find that all have been substantially revised with the support of insights gained from documentation now available. While each chapter in this volume represents an independent case study . . .

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