Our new approach to China (we still need one) must be made in the context of our non-victory in Vietnam, where the old assumptions of gunboat diplomacy have notably ceased to work. In order to accept our Vietnamese non-victory, we need perspective first on our gunboat tradition and then on Chairman Mao—What does he represent for the future?

From the Opium War of 1840 down through the Korean War of 1950. Western governments could assume that their superior firepower would be able to validate the just cause of Western civilization. The first achievement of gunboat diplomacy was to “open” East Asia by requiring the local rulers in China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea to permit trade and contact with the modern international world. This was all accomplished in the nineteenth century by superior Western (or in the case of Korea, Japanese) firepower. This firepower was subsequently used to punish and deter regimes that broke the rules of modern international law, as at Peking in 1900, and particularly when they committed aggression.

This was the policy basis on which we successfully chastised Japan’s aggression in East Asia in the 1930s and ’40s and North Korea’s aggression against South Korea in 1950, and our Kennedy and Johnson administrations resolutely set out to do the same in defense of the Saigon regime in the 1960s. But it has not worked out as we expected, and we have to rethink the American approach to East Asia. The force of our firepower has not been less than it was before. What happened?

The gunboat approach had three components: first, invincible ignorance. The conviction of righteousness, that the Western powers (or Japan) represented progress and modernity, was unalloyed by doubts caused by an appreciative knowledge of how the East Asian societies had met their own distinctive problems. Second, compliant local rulers to deal with. Members of the old East Asian ruling class usually found it expedient to keep the forms of power by giving the invader his special treaty privileges or even (in Vietnam) sovereignty over the land. Third, a passive peasantry. The common people, being still out of the political process, offered little resistance in the absence of ruling class leadership. These factors made feasible a short, sharp use of force to bring East Asia into international trade and contact so that they could gradually learn how to be like us. To this, in the nineteenth century, there was no visible alternative: we knew we had a lot to offer.

The efficacy of the gunboat approach was undone in two stages. In the first stage, the local rulers became nationalists motivated by genuine patriotism and backed up by like-minded supporters. A Chiang Kai-shek could be dealt with, but he proved to be basically uncompliant because he was patriotically determined to maintain his own power structure. As a matter of principle, he preferred to sink with it rather than introduce changes that would progressively remove him from the scene. A similar self-identification of the leader with his nation made our ally Ngo Dinh Diem also uncompliant, and we may expect the same of Thieu. But the recalcitrance of nationalists who want to be like us in their own way and in their own good time is mild compared with the hostility of social revolutionaries who think we are models of iniquity and disaster, fit only to be object lessons.

Mao Tse-tung symbolizes this second stage of East Asian political development. His main instinct has been to wipe out the old ruling class system and its “imperialist” supporters and in the name of equality mobilize the Chinese peasantry to make them citizens and exclude foreigners. This politicizing and militarizing of the common people under banners not of our device has made it no longer feasible for the foreigner’s superior firepower to dictate the terms of our relations with China. In North Vietnam we confront another part of the Chinese culture area with a similar fusion of nationalism and social revolution, Communist-style, for Vietnam has traditionally followed the Chinese example, whether in imperial administration or reform or revolution. It is not proving easy for the nationalism of Saigon to compete with the nationalism-cum-social-revolution of Hanoi.

In short, the Chinese in the 1940s, the Vietnamese in the 1960s, have been telling us that they don’t see their salvation in gunboat era efforts to be like us. We may still feel that our expanding world of trade and contact monopolizes their future, but superior firepower will no longer prove it. Can we accept the novel thought that our present is not their future? Current publications give us mixed answers.

John Robinson Beal, an experienced journalist from Time’s Washington office, but unacquainted with Asia, was lent by Henry Luce to advise the Nationalist government on its American press relations during the period of General Marshall’s mediation. Beal reached Nanking in April, 1946, and stayed till mid-1947. He saw much of Nanking’s top leadership including Chiang Kai-shek and in fact conducted extensive negotiations in his own sector of press relations. His full day-to-day journal makes his book a valuable historical source. At the time he was writing, he perceived the Nationalist incapacity to compete with the Communists, partly because of their fatal reliance on foreign-granted firepower, but in his retrospective comments of today he remains thoroughly culture-bound, manfully lined up in a Cold War struggle against “communism,” which can only be resisted with super-gunboat force even when it covers a social transformation in an alien culture which can never Americanize in any case and shows no capacity to cross the water and get us.


China and Ourselves, edited by Bruce Douglass and Ross Terrill, comes from an opposite source, a group of new China hands, including three Australians and a Canadian who have visited the People’s Republic in recent years. These young men of the Vietnam generation, burdened by no recollections of the “loss” of China, are generally sympathetic to the strivings of social revolution. They speak with no single voice and can be read more profitably than they can be reviewed. Ross Terrill recounts one story of the Cold War, the attack of Joe McCarthy and his ilk upon the director of the Office of Far Eastern Affairs, John Carter Vincent. Stephen Fitzgerald, a visitor to the People’s Republic in 1968 during the latter phase of the Cultural Revolution, ran into a comparable McCarthyite nativism, insecure young Red Guards who competed in attacking disrespectful foreigners to prove their loyalty to the Chairman. For all his sympathy, Fitzgerald finds that the Cultural Revolution damaged the economy and led to “the shrinkage of culture and the paralysis of education.” Others in this volume decry America’s imperialism or see in Mao’s movement some counterpart to their own religious faith: to one the Long March is an Exodus. It is still hard to avoid the old syndrome of finding in China what one seeks.

Mao’s significance emerges more clearly from Party Leadership and Revolutionary Power in China, a product of library research and Hong Kong interviews and the first publication of the new Contemporary China Institute at London University, headed by an American, Stuart Schram. These papers, first prepared for a July, 1968, conference and skillfully edited by John Wilson Lewis, view Mao and the party both comparatively and historically and analyze the stages in their joint rise and eventual struggle. The creation of the Chinese Communist Party began in 1920 under Comintern guidance. By early 1925 it had only a thousand members, but this leadership was able to organize labor unions and farmers’ associations with considerable success until Chiang Kai-shek turned against it in 1927. C. M. Wilbur describes how those who survived into the Yenan period had acquired a variety of skills in journalism, clandestine work, village organization, and the use of violence. By the end of the Japanese war the party had a cohesion and sophistication and a record of success in spite of hardship which enhanced its image as the savior of the Chinese people. Mao had emerged as the recognized leader but was only primus inter pares amid long-time organization men like Liu Shao-ch’i.

Yet now in retrospect one can see that Mao did not rise through the party ranks as an organization man himself but rather as a minor prophet and iconoclast. Comrades had criticized him for collaborating too closely with the Kuomintang in the mid-Twenties, for example, as head of the KMT’s Peasant Movement Training Institute at Canton. His unorthodox assertion that the peasantry, not the city proletariat, were the main base for revolution and his struggle against the doctrinaire “28 Bolsheviks” (returned students from Moscow) who tried to control the party from Shanghai are parts of the Mao legend. His rise to undisputed leadership is usually dated from the Tsunyi conference during the Long March in 1935, but now W.F. Dorrill suggests that Mao’s ascendancy began earlier and is probably postdated to 1935 in the records subsequently written in order to absolve him of responsibility for the disaster in Kiangsi before that date. At Yenan Mao and Liu worked together building the party and training cadres, but Mao’s number one position was unique, not under the full burden of party discipline.

The relationship of “the monolithic party” and “the totalitarian leader” is next explored by Leonard Schapiro and J.W. Lewis. They distinguish between a Bolshevik type of party that stresses the discipline and mission of the organization, and the single-leader (or “führerist“) type of party that functions as a mere state apparatus. Mussolini and Hitler, they note, imposed their party dictatorships on the existing state whereas Lenin and Mao both had to create the new state structure from the ground up. Both Stalin and Mao eventually developed their personality cults and as dictators launched purges of the party, but Stalin did it from the inside through party channels, whereas when Mao came to attack the party he had to do it from the outside through newly created agencies like the Red Guards.


This retrospect shows how Liu and others had been developing a Leninist type of party structure in the cities in the Japanese or KMT areas of China, while Mao had been building in the CCP base areas a party to function under an all-powerful leader. After the takeover in 1949 the Lui faction, really a majority of the party leadership, stressed the use of Soviet methods in industrialization, the professionalizing of the elite, including the army officer corps, and the general growth of bureaucratic mechanisms in preference to Mao’s recurrent efforts through political indoctrination and struggle to change the Chinese personality and achieve its all-out moral renovation.

Pursuing this contrast further, Benjamin Schwartz points out that the Chinese revolution and the CCP have inherited from the European origins of Marxism-Leninism two views of revolution: one stems from Rousseau and views history as a moral drama and revolution as a moral crusade to achieve the reign of virtue. The other stems from the physiocrats and sees the progress of the arts, especially technological development in material terms, as the agent of revolution enabling new forces of production to create new classes to lead the way. Pursuing these cognate themes, Mao could stress the cause of voluntarism and the moral pursuit of justice and virtue while Liu Shao-ch’i could stress the need of planning and material progress. Mao got sustenance from a certain degree of convergence between Rousseauism and the moral self-cultivation urged in the Chinese classics, particularly in the Mencius—the idea that all men are potentially good and only need teaching to realize their potentialities, and that leadership must be taken by an ethical elite whose moral superiority can transcend their environment and transform the populace. This residual strain in Confucianism fostered the supreme role of a sage hero, whereas Liu Shao-ch’i and his colleagues tended to play down the “thought of Mao” as well as Mao’s cult of personality.

As the communist movement developed, Stuart Schram notes how in Mao’s experience party activities had remained subordinate to armed struggle. The party line was important but it represented the ideology more than the party, and the correct ideology of course, came from the leader. Comrade Liu, writing on the party and stressing its equal discipline for all, could declare that “Comrade Mao Tse-tung is the leader of the whole Party but he, too, obeys the Party,” whereas in contrast Mao could ask quite early in praising Stalin, “If we did not have a Stalin, who would give the orders?” Mao is even capable of contemplating the withering away of the party after it has served its usefulness. Consequently Mao, in his empirical way, just as he had declared the peasantry to be a “rural proletariat” and the base of the party in Kiangsi, could turn in the mid-1950s against Soviet methods of planned economy and strike out on his own again in the Great Leap Forward of 1958.

As eventually appeared in the Cultural Revolution, the real struggle was a policy difference, a “struggle between two lines.” Mao stressed the spontaneous action of the masses as opposed to party organization and leadership, the role of the peasantry as on a par with that of the industrial working class, the common worker’s ingenuity and devotion as capable of unlocking new sources of energy, as opposed to the technology and system of a managerial elite—in sum, moral factors as opposed to material ones.

As part of his deviation from the general trend of Marxist-Leninist leadership, Mao turned against the “technocratic bias” displayed by Lenin and particularly Stalin in their building of socialism in the Soviet Union. Their aim was to change material conditions first so as to modify human behavior. In contrast, Mao was ready to proceed with an upsurge among the peasantry to achieve collectivization through moral exhortation and the teaching of the “Mass Line” before the mechanization of agriculture was achieved.

Thus, by 1955, he had begun to move “from a Leninist reliance on the elite to a populist reliance on the masses.” Schram suggests that if Mao had gone along with the idea that the CCP should provide the technical know-how and organizing ability to transform the society and make the Chinese peasantry into a true collectivized class, this long and arduous process would inevitably have created a privileged bureaucratic stratum. Mao’s fear of the party builders therefore became similar to his distaste for revisionism in the Soviet Union. He “sought to prevent all organizations, including the party, from becoming ends in themselves.” His Mass Line, to have policy flow from the masses and back to the masses, was a device to keep the party organization responsive to popular demands.

In this effort, Mao Tse-tung became the leader of a minority faction within the party councils. Philip Bridgham, in his study of “Factionalism in the Central Committee,” reminds us of the first case in 1953-55, the “anti-party alliance” led by the heads of the regional party administrations in the Northeast and in East China (Kao Kang and Jao Shu-shih). This first split was suppressed quickly and receded into history. But after Mao had urged China forward in the Great Leap of 1958, which so resoundingly fell on its face, he found himself distinctly in the minority and the second case of factionalism arose when the chief military commander, General P’eng Te-huai, in the summer of 1959 spoke frankly about the mistakes of the Great Leap, castigating its economic methods and particularly its reliance on mass movements to achieve economic goals by a would-be miraculous release of the people’s powers of production. This P’eng termed “petty bourgeois fanaticism” and a misuse of the idea of “putting politics in command” over proper economic administration.

P’eng received considerable support but Mao counterattacked specifically against his having pushed for professionalization: trying to put army before party, one-man leadership before collective leadership, and technology before proletarian revolution. Mao was able to win partly because P’eng had been in touch with the Soviets and the full force of Chinese nationalism could be turned against him.

By 1961-62 thinly veiled attacks on Mao had begun to emanate from areas of the party structure. The post-1958 distress among the peasantry led to outspoken criticism, Chinese style—for example, when the scholar-administrator Wu Han wrote a play on a Ming dynasty hero who had been dismissed like General P’eng because he had scolded the Emperor, who had lost touch with reality. As others joined in this game of criticism by indirection, the lines became drawn. Merle Goldman notes how a number of intellectuals for the first time were now actively in league with the Peking party committee and other sectors of the apparatus against Mao’s utopian romanticism.

The Cultural Revolution of 1966 burst upon the Chinese scene as an explosion evidently detonated by Mao. Where did he find his social dynamite? The forces that might have exploded in Mao’s face if he had not thrown them at the party are indicated in Michel Oksenberg’s study, “Getting Ahead and Along in Communist China: The Ladder of Success on the Eve of the Cultural Revolution.” Oksenberg defines four stages in an ambitious young person’s career. The first came early—should one display enthusiasm and participate in political activities or not? If by age eighteen one had held back, this significantly “reduced his chances of obtaining an advanced education, joining the army, or entering the Communist Youth League.” Once one elected to become an activist, however, it was not easy to opt out of the category, and if one had begun by choosing to be passive, that label might also stick. One had few “second chances.”

Between ages fifteen and twenty-five, an activist next faced choices as to his education and occupation. Whatever university or other employment he applied for, he needed recommendations and these in turn depended partly on his record of performance accumulated in his personnel file. Every act affected his promotion. For example, to marry a girl of questionable class background might damage his party career. So might a refusal to join in the denunciation of innocent people when they were used as exemplary targets in campaigns.

In the third stage of a career, between the ages of twenty-five and forty, one’s promotion depended not only upon personal performance, but on the record of one’s unit. A still ambitious activist at this point would sacrifice himself for the good of his unit and continue to show exemplary qualities of assiduity and selflessness. His alternative would be to seek to build himself a secure position less subject to political demands. This could be done by becoming indispensable in a niche protected by mutual obligations with coworkers, and avoiding the limelight of campaigns and leadership.

Mr. Oksenberg delineates how even the main engine of social change, the campaign or movement, could lose its effectiveness. Cadres learned how to go through the proper forms—in criticism sessions an ambitious activist would speak early but not go beyond the limits set by the leader. A trouble avoider would speak in the middle of the session, offering the minimum expected comments. A friend determined to be a “sympathetic critic” of the person under fire would probably speak toward the end of the session and mix in some favorable comments.

But one learned to avoid close friendships lest they involve subsequent denunciations in intimate detail. In addition to coping with small-group criticism, an activist learned how to ride out campaigns, feigning a progressive enthusiasm in the mobilization phase, anticipating the campaign’s next stage, and becoming properly prudent and self-critical in the consolidation phase. By the 1960s, with Long March, Yenan, and Civil War veterans entrenched in their posts, campaigns now offered ambitious youth less chance to rise in the world. The party establishment, in short, had learned how to protect itself against Mao’s methods of “permanent revolution,” but was thereby losing its capacity really to mobilize the people. Yet every year some twelve million more teen-agers entered the Chinese scene and the pressures against bureaucratism built up even as bureaucratism itself increased.

By 1962, it appears that Mao had decided he must make the break with Liu and the rest of the establishment within the party. From then until the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in mid-1966, Mao was preparing his counterattack, partly by staging a campaign for socialist education which reasserted the major Maoist themes and partly by cementing his position in the armed forces through an indoctrination program under their commander, Lin Piao. When Mao finally put his own big-character poster on a wall in August, 1966, calling upon youth to “bombard the headquarters,” he had secured his power base in the army and was able to mobilize the Red Guards as extra-party attack forces to turn upon, humiliate, and even assault bureaucrats and party functionaries. Those theatened of course invoked Mao’s principles and fielded their own Red Guards. Feuds erupted as to who was more genuinely serving the great leader. The result was many months of semiorganized chaos such as few countries have ever experienced. The Revolutionary Committees which now are reasserting control over provincial and local administrations have an admixture of military men, ex-party bureaucrats, and ex-attackers or “revolutionary rebels,” and it is still uncertain how far Mao has been obliged to settle for a stalemate. But there can be no doubt that the Chinese Communist Party, even when rebuilt, will never be the same again.

The monograph by Peter Van Ness studies Peking’s use of revolution in its foreign relations but finds that targets for revolution have been selected abroad on a rather pragmatic basis to help national aims rather than to support ideology. This fits the general picture that Peking seeks to foster trouble wherever it may best be fostered against the established powers of the world.

We are left with a question that many in China may also be pondering: can any remaker of the Chinese body politic, which invented bureaucracy 2,000 years ago, really tame it today? How many more revolutions, cultural or otherwise, must erupt before the new China is adequately refashioned? Another question: can we understand China’s self-concerned pride for the stay-at-home tradition that it is, and recognize that Mao for all his militancy is no Bonaparte, much less a Hitler bent on conquest? The London volume edited by Mr. Lewis suggests, I think that Maoism must be left to achieve its own metamorphosis, and the gunboats firepower approach to it can get us nowhere but into trouble.

This Issue

September 3, 1970