John K. Fairbank
CURRENT recrimination as to whether we gave Chiang Kai-shek too little military aid, or wasted what we did give him, obscures the lesson of his collapse. Not only our China policy but our whole Asian policy should profit by this lesson before it is too late.
Our policy failure in China has been due to our inadequate understanding, and even naivete, concerning the complex revolutionary process there. As a country with a dominant middle class, devoted to political freedom, we have failed to grasp the dynamics of revolution in a peasant society where food and civil order are more highly esteemed by the masses than political self-expression. China's low economic standard of living has gone hand in hand with a low political standard of freedom, yet China's masses have become increasingly susceptible to organization through economic, political, social, and ideological appeals and devices. This has made it possible for the Chinese Communists to establish themselves as the leaders and organizers of the Chinese revolution, even though the Communists' "democracy" is phony according to our American standards. To say that the resulting turmoil in China is not a genuine social revolution, in the proper sense of the term, is a refusal to face facts. The revolution may be unpalatable to us and ominous for China, but let us not deny its real vigor. To do so betrays the same wishful thinking as the argument, never yet advanced with solid evidence, that the Chinese Communists have defeated the demoralized Nationalist forces only because of superior armament. If this is so, let us have the proof. If there is no proof, let us not base a policy on a pleasurable supposition.
Our greatest danger lies in our underestimating the strength of Chinese communism and assuming that because we would not tolerate communism in our country, therefore the peasant masses of China, in their far different and less happy circumstances, cannot regard it as a "liberation."
It is quite true that the United States and Russia are unhappily locked in a power struggle, the evil features of which may be mitigated but cannot be side-stepped. This great power conflict, however, goes on in many local areas in which the American and Russian state systems find themselves ineluctably in competition. We should have learned by now that the one sure path to American defeat is to judge the local regime in each area not on its merits, but solely by its attitude toward us and the Russians. Mere anticommunism, in short, will not save us. This is especially true in Asia, where____________________