Traveling Light

The Chinese Difference

by Joseph Kraft
Saturday Review Press, 113 pp., $6.95

Notes from China

by Barbara Tuchman
Collier, 112 pp., $1.25 (paper)

A China Passage

by John Kenneth Galbraith
Houghton Mifflin, 143 pp., $5.95

To Peking and Beyond: A Report on the New Asia

by Harrison Salisbury
Quadrangle, 308 pp., $7.95

With the exception of Joseph Kraft’s short work, all the books on China mentioned here have been padded. Barbara Tuchman includes a fascinating historical essay. Galbraith has animadversions on San Francisco, Paris, TWA, and many other matters, and Harrison Salisbury adds chapters on Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Salisbury has a great deal to say about China, but the others would have done better to follow Joseph Alsop’s example and content themselves with two or three magazine articles instead of writing one slight and anemic book. The books tend to reveal more about their authors than about China. This does not mean that they are worthless. The authors are all intelligent and skillful. What is more, some of them had seen China before 1949, and Harrison Salisbury and Barbara Tuchman were on the fringes of the group of Americans who between 1925 and 1950 established the closest and most useful personal relations foreigners have ever made in China.

Anna Louise Strong, Edgar Snow, Nym Wales, Agnes Smedley, Owen Lattimore, and Jack Belden were able to reach the center of the Chinese revolutionary movement. Many were reporters, but unlike most journalists in Vietnam they did not even try to maintain an impartial view of a monstrously unbalanced situation. They did not attempt to equate the Japanese invaders with the local resistance or the corrupt and brutal Kuomintang with the sometimes bureaucratic but efficient and overwhelmingly popular communists. As a consequence their writings were more lively at the time and can now be seen to have had far greater historical value than those of their more “objective” contemporaries.

There are several reasons why Americans, rather than people of other nationalities, were able to create such close rapport with the Chinese. First, although American imperialism was deeply concerned with China, its impact on it was indirect. Since the US had achieved “most favored nation” status in the 1840s, gaining all the political and commercial privileges given to other powers, there was no need to fight China for advantages that could be gained through British, French, or Japanese coercion, a situation well described as “hitch-hiking imperialism.” Furthermore American investment in China was far smaller than that of Britain and Japan. US commercial interest was always more potential than actual. Nevertheless the potential alone was sufficient to sustain the vague feeling that China was the “last frontier” after San Francisco, a country from which American business would some day draw huge profits.

However, the relationship cannot be explained simply as a matter of economics or politics. China possesses an ancient civilization to which Americans have equal or better access than Europeans. Mrs. Nixon is as well qualified to talk about Chinese cooking as Mme Pompidou. Far more important are the resemblances between Chinese and American cultures. To take a contrary example, there have been remarkably few American Arabophiles, notwithstanding the huge American economic interests in the Middle East. Unlike many upper-class Englishmen, Americans find it hard to accept the combination of aristocracy and homosexuality …

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