Getting to Know You

The New York Times Report from Red China

by Tillman Durdin and James Reston and Seymour Topping, with photographs and additional articles by Audrey Topping, edited with an Introduction by Frank Ching
Quadrangle Books, 367 pp., $6.95

China Returns

by Klaus Mehnert
Dutton, 322 pp., $10.00

The Revenge of Heaven: Journal of a Young Chinese

based on the journal of Ken Ling, with interviews by Dr. Ivan London and Miriam London
Putnam, 413 pp., $8.95

Hammer and Paddle
Hammer and Paddle; drawing by David Levine

The Nixon-Chou summit cannot fail because both parties are in trouble. The fact that Chairman Mao has had to get rid of his number-two man twice in succession—Liu Shao-chi’i in 1968 and Lin Piao in 1971—suggests the opposite of calm omnipotence at the top in Peking. Mr. Nixon’s troubles at home and abroad seem commensurate. They all suggest a Sino-American detente, perhaps an entente, at least an increase of contact such as a hot line and news exchanges.

As we try to break out of cold-war attitudes, what is to be our image of revolutionary China? Mr. Nixon’s drift toward a Sino-American accord has been based on a revised picture of China as not dangerously expansionist after all, only a weak rival of Moscow absorbed in its domestic problems. Since our images of distant realities change so much faster than the realities could possibly change themselves, we are left with simple logical alternatives: either we are stupid about China now or we were stupid during those long years of cold war when our allies Britain and France were less so. Mr. Nixon’s inconsistency is not unlike Mao Tse-tung’s: either Mao was naïve to trust Liu and Lin for forty years or else he is rather silly to invoke the old Chinese idea that their policy deviation could only have been due to moral depravity. Nixon and Mao were once vociferous ideological opponents so that their meeting gives us a healthy skepticism about ideology in general.

Now comes a highly skilled team of three New York Times reporters who visited China in succession between last April and August. They report in effect that the Chinese Communist revolution seems to have been a success, a good thing on balance for the long-suffering Chinese people and no particular harm to us. While our two decades of suspicion and hostility toward China will wear off only slowly, those years seem from these reports to have been still another wasted investment in the take-no-chances kind of security policy, the hyperactive defense, which our technology makes so feasible. As James Reston wrote from Shanghai in August, “The Chinese attitudes and approach to life make one wonder why Washington was so worried about an aggressive and expansionist China. They are…more inward-looking than any major nation on earth…. Long before the United States tried to ‘contain’ China, they were self-contained, quite satisfied that they had enough land, resources, and people.”

The first Report from Red China (Holt, 1945) was written by Harrison Forman, one of the war correspondents allowed to visit Yenan in 1944. Forman felt then that Mao and his colleagues had a promising future. Twenty-six years later The New York Times Report from Red China confirms the idea. “Red China” is still in red on the dust jacket, for the benefit of oldsters who haven’t caught up with the Times’s foreign policy, but the People’s…

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