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THE PANGOAL REPORT
Dec 17, 2016
Wang Jisi: Preface to Two Hundred Years of Sino-U.S. Relations
Wang Jisi: Preface to Two Hundred Years of Sino-U.S. Relations

Wang Jisi is a Senior Advisor at the Pangoal Institution and professor in the School of International Studies and president of the Institute of the International and Strategic Studies, Peking University


The United States of America is the nation that exerts the greatest influence on China in modern history. One must obtain a deeper comprehension of this reality after reading this volume. The 356 photographs and over 20000 words of captions and descriptions present panoramically the over 200 years of interaction between China and the United States.


The album divides China-U.S. relations into four stages: (1) 1784-1911, with more focus on China’s late-Qing period; (2) 1911-1949, the period of the Republic of China; (3) 1949-1978, the pre-reform period of the People’s Republic of China (PRC); and (4) from 1978 onwards, the period of reform and opening of the PRC. This division of history may not be very controversial among experts of China-U.S. relations. What is worth pondering is that this partition of China-U.S. history is almost identical with the turning points of China’s modern history. None of the epoch-making events in world history, such as World War I, World War II, and the end of the Cold War, became a watershed of China-U.S. relations. What does that tell us?


China As the Decisive Factor


Mr. Zhang Baijia, a renowned historian in China, remarks that China always influences the world by changing itself. To apply this view in judging China-U.S. ties, we may find that it is mainly the changes in China that have shaped the bilateral relationship. The most salient proof of this judgment is seen in the drastic transformation of China in 1949, when the Communist Party of China (CPC) overthrew the Guomindang regime by armed revolution. The CPC adopted the socialist system on the domestic front and leaned to the Soviet Union in foreign affairs. In turn, the U.S. supported the Guomindang in China’s civil war, and then carried out a policy toward the PRC by military containment, diplomatic isolation, and economic blockade. The over 150 years’ extensive ties between the two societies were thus cut completely and abruptly. Despite the thaw of China-U.S. relations in the early 1970s, it was not until China’s embarking on reform and opening after 1978 that the two nations began to establish comprehensive political, economic, and security cooperation and humanity exchanges. It can be predicted that the fourth stage of the relationship since 1978 will continue as long as China moves in the same direction of its current political path.


Under a full length of shot, the United States looks more of a constant, whereas China is more of a variable, in the bilateral intercourse. In other words, the major shifts of China’s domestic politics could make a direct impact on, or even turn the tide of, the China-U.S. relationship, but U.S. domestic politics has not played such a role. In the past 200 years or so, the political, socioeconomic, and value systems of the United States have not undergone drastic transformations. Measured comprehensively, the U.S. has been the world’s most powerful country in the past century. This country has been ruled by many generations of leadership, with the rotation of the Democrats and the Republicans in the White House and their majority rule in Congress. The economic depression and the New Deal in the early 1930s, the civil rights movement in the 1960s-1970s, the “war on terror” after September 11, 2001, and the financial crisis in 2007-2008 all dramatically shocked the American society, but none of these events reshaped U.S. relations with China. The incremental changes in America’s ethnic composition has brought with it multiculturalism and diversity of religion. These changes did not measurably influence U.S. policy toward China either.


In the past two centuries, China has twisted the direction of China-U.S. relations by changing itself, but the United States has influenced China much more than the other way round. It is a general consensus among observers that the United States has left deep imprints on China’s course of modernization. The most impressive record was the participation of American individuals in China’s major military and political affairs before 1949. They played important roles in a variety of domains, trying to “guide” China in America’s own image by introducing U.S. values and beliefs. This was a distinctive way of exerting U.S. influence on Chinese politics.


Contrast of Influence


This album illustrates a number of such cases. Frederick Townsend Ward helped the Qing Court suppress the Taiping rebellion. He recruited foreigners in China to organize the Foreign-Arms Corps, later renamed as the Ever Victorious Army. Ward married a local Chinese woman and was granted Chinese citizenship. In 1862, Ward died in a battle against Taiping.


In 1867, as soon as Anson Burlingame’s appointment as U.S. envoy to China ended, he was appointed by the Qing Court as China’s “envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary.” Burlingame then led a Chinese government delegation on a diplomatic mission to the United States and European countries, which signified the start of China’s diplomacy in modern history.


Homer Lea, a handicapped American young man, was hired as a military advisor by Protect the Emperor Society (Baohuanghui) organized by Kang Youwei, Liang Qichao and some other Chinese reformers after the Reform Movement of 1898 failed. Lea trained an army in California funded by Baohuanghui. In 1912, Sun Yat-sen appointed Lea his chief military advisor on assuming the presidency of the new Republic of China.


In 1942-1944 General Joseph Stilwell served as the Commander of the U.S. Army Forces of the China-Burma-India Theater, and the Supreme Allied Commander of the China-Burma-India Theater in the war with Japan. Stilwell’s open conflict with Jiang Jieshi for control over the Chinese forces resulted in his removal from China.


At the end of 1945, General George Marshall was sent by the Truman Administration to mediate between the CPC and the Guomindang in order to avert a civil war. In American history, this was the first political mediation effort in a foreign country. Marshall was warmly entertained by Mao Zedong in Yanan, but his mission proved to be a debacle.


John Leighton Stuart, a missionary, created Yenching University and became its first president. He served as the last U.S. ambassador China before the PRC was founded. In 1949, Mao wrote a commentary entitled “Farewell, John Leighton Stuart,” which strongly censured him and made his name known later to almost every educated person on the Chinese mainland.


From Ambassador Stuart’s departure from China in 1949 to President Richard Nixon sent his special envoy Henry Kissinger to Beijing in 1971, few Americans of political weight landed on the Chinese mainland. However, America’s political penetration persisted stubbornly in various invisible ways. China’s political elites have been consistently reminded and warned that the American ideology would stage a comeback momentarily if the political indoctrination done by the CPC was slackened, and China would then abandon socialism and take an erroneous path toward capitalism. As soon as China participated in the Korean War in 1950, the CPC launched an “ideological reform movement” among the intellectuals against the tendencies of “pro-America,” “adoring America,” and “fearing America.” Thus the United States was viewed as the general representative of imperialism and of Western hostile forces. Anti-American propaganda became a mass movement until the mid-1970s.


This theme concerning the United States has persistently reasserted itself ever since the normalization of relations between the two countries despite their amplified ties. The Chinese leadership has tried to reveal the American scheme to encourage “peaceful evolution” toward capitalism, guarded against U.S.-waged “color revolution,” opposed U.S. efforts to “Westernize China and split China up,” and resisted “universal values” advocated by Americans. More vividly, a copy of the Statue of Liberty appeared in Tiananmen Square in early June 1989; Wang Lijun, the former police chief of the Municipality of Chongqing, betrayed the government by secretly escaping into the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu in early 2012. All these showed that the shadow of U.S. political influences was omnipresent after the Communist takeover in 1949. What this album could not illustrate - but should not be overlooked - is the fact that virtually all the political forces that are seen as hostile to the Chinese government have tried to establish their strongholds on U.S. soil and to make connections with some Americans.


On the other hand, despite the Chinese leadership’s sharp vigilance against what it sees as American political plots in China, U.S. political influences on this country remain the greatest as compared to those of any other foreign country. Books, moving pictures, and audiovisual products conveying American values are widely and popularly translated and distributed in China in the reform era. Those American statesmen and celebrities in various fields who have contributed to the improvement of China-U.S. relations, including notably former President Jimmy Carter, who writes a preface to this album, are well respected and highly recognized in China. Among the best known Americans in contemporary China is former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. His fame and personal connections in China, over a period of more than 45 years, cannot be approached by any contemporaries in the world. As such, he is the most illustrated person in this album.


On the other way round, China’s direct impact on American politics over the last two centuries has been comparatively insignificant. What is worth mentioning is the shock of the founding of the PRC to the U.S. political establishment. In 1950, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a campaign against what he accused as “pro-communist” Americans. Among them, several U.S. citizens who had interacted with the Chinese Communists were persecuted and scapegoated for the disaster of U.S. policy toward China.


As a matter of fact, there was an episode that should not be forgotten, which showed China’s interest in influencing American politics for strategic purposes. In 1963 and 1968 respectively, Mao Zedong, in the capacity of the Chairman of the CPC Central Committee, made two statements of “supporting the American Negroes in their just struggle against racial discrimination by U.S. imperialism.” In the 1963 statement, Mao emphasized that “in the final analysis, national struggle is a matter of class struggle.” However, there was no evidence that these statements took a strong effect in U.S. domestic politics or racial relations at that time.


The increase in China’s political influences on America has been realized, indirectly, by the rapid expansion of bilateral economic and social interactions since they established diplomatic relations in 1979. In recent years, the level of China’s holding of U.S. treasury bonds has been kept above $1.2 trillion, and the annual bilateral trade volume has reached over $500 billion. In 2015, China and the United States became each other’s largest trading partner. More than 2 million Chinese tourists go to the United States each year. More than 300,000 Chinese students are attending American schools and universities, taking the largest percentage of international students in America. In theory at least, such closeness of economic and societal ties should bring about greater and greater Chinese influence on U.S. politics. In reality, China’s position in U.S. global strategy and foreign policies has indeed been steadily ascending. But China’s influences on America’s partisan, electoral, and congressional politics and macroeconomic decisions have not been evidently enhanced. Each of the presidential elections after the end of the Cold War witnessed presidential candidates’ verbal attacks on China, but China-related topics never took a central place in the election campaigns.


Why the disparity?

What on earth makes such striking disparity between America’ political influence on China and China’s political influence on America? One may explain the phenomenon, naturally, by referring to the gap between the two countries’ material power and capacity. However, China’s power and capacity have been steadily approaching those of the United State in the last four decades, and meanwhile China has been investing immense human and material resources in the United States to promote its political image. Yet still, China today holds the unremitting fear of U.S. interference in its domestic politics, whereas American concerns about China’s influence are not intensely growing. In this case, the interpretability of realistic power gap is rather limited. Other factors on the historical background may be discerned as more fundamental.


In the early stage of China-U.S. ties, American merchants and missionaries were two major “armies” marching into China. Up to present-day America, commercial profit and religious zeal remain powerful motives to drive American society forward. A combination of the two motives has made an impact on China’s modernization that is unmatched by other Western nations. This album depicts in some detail the process of the well-known American Remission of the Boxer Indemnity. At the suggestions of the American missionary, Arthur Henderson Smith, and China’s Minister to the United States, Liang Cheng, among others, the Theodore Roosevelt administration decided to return half of the Boxer Indemnity to China and use it to fund schools and scholarships in China and to educate Chinese students in America. In 1906, Edmund J. James, the University of Illinois president, submitted a memorandum to President Roosevelt, recommending the use of the excess funds to support Chinese students to be sent to the United States: “The nation which succeeds in educating the young Chinese of the present generation will be the nation which for a given expenditure of effort will reap the largest possible returns in moral, intellectual and commercial influence.” President Roosevelt endorsed the idea. “Americans must feel a genuine sense of pleasure,” he wrote in 1908, “in this Nation’s having returned the major part of the indemnity fund to China. The Christian educational schools in China must for the present take the leading part in the work for the uplifting of the Chinese character.”


A number of prominent Chinese citizens and Chinese Americans were beneficiaries of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program, including scholars like Hu Shih (Hu Shi), Mei Yi-chi (Mei Yiqi), Yuen Ren Chao (Zhao Yuanren), and Coching Chu (Zhu Kezhen). They made great contributions to the advancement of China’s modern thought and scholarship. Meanwhile, Americans used the Indemnity funds in China to found missionary universities, including notably Tsinghua University and Yenching University, as well as missionary hospitals, such as the Yale Mission Hospital (later known as Hsiang-Ya Hospital). The classic architectures on Peking University campus (originally Yeching University campus) was designed and accomplished by Henry Murphy, an American architect, who was invited by John Leighton Stuart. Americans’ cultural and educational activities in China, together with the precept and example of the Chinese students and scholars in the United States, have influenced generations of Chinese social elites.


As Professor Tao Wenzhao, the distinguished expert on China-U.S. relations, summarizes, in the past 200 and more years, “U.S. policy toward China has always pursued these two objectives: free interflow of commodities and capital, and free interflow of information and values.” American merchants and missionaries in China in modern history, and American entrepreneurs, teachers, scientists, and professionals of various walks of life in contemporary times, consciously or unconsciously have always served these objectives of U.S. China policy. And they have become incarnations of America’s soft power.


Turning to China’s pursuit in America, the picture is rather different. In the over 150 years before 1949, China witnessed a combination of external invasions and internal turbulence, and nothing could be said of China carrying out a consistent policy or taking any initiative toward the United States.


If contemporary China has pursued any consistent goals in its policy toward America, these goals may have included safeguarding sovereignty and political stability at home and preventing U.S. value system from penetrating into China, in addition to economic interests. In the history of the 200 years, whatever happened in China, it has never been China’s goal to introduce its value system into, or to implant any spiritual influence on, American society. Chinese people living in America have ranged from laborers who built railways in the late 19th century to students, scholars, entrepreneurs, and news reporters who are frequently flying across the Pacific. The Chinese community in America today is composed of over 2 million citizens who were born in China but reside permanently in the United States (who are called “new immigrants). All of these people have helped to shape China’s image in America and deepen American understanding of China. However, it is hard to believe that they are consciously carrying on and promoting the “core values” which the Chinese government would want them to uphold, or that they as a whole serve China’s policy toward the United States. Moreover, the majority of the “new immigrants” and their descendants will, after all, choose to hold “green cards” or become naturalized in the United States. The contrast between the roles of U.S. citizens in China and Chinese immigrants in America may well explain the gap of political influence between the two bodies politic.


Communication and Strategic Distrust


To what extent can the colorful cultural and educational exchanges and people-to-people friendship between China and America promote the political connection and strategic trust between the two nations? Different people may have different answers. It sounds common sense that the more communication between nations, the easier they should establish mutual understanding and mutual trust. The history of China-U.S. relations, however, has not provided enough evidence to this anticipation.


China and America are the two nations in the contemporary world that have the largest amount of communication and share the greatest common economic interests. This can be easily proven. For example, there are over ten thousand passengers taking direct flies between Chinese and America cities every day. The frequency of personal meetings and telephone conversations between the two heads of state, the scale and profile of the eight rounds of Strategic and Economic Dialogue since 2009, the number of sister cities and sister provinces/states in the two countries, the familiarity and depth of exchanges between Chinese and American officials, scholars, and professionals all exceed those of any other two countries in the world. Notwithstanding, policy-makers, practitioners, and researchers concerned about China-U.S. relations are discussing ways to avoid the so-called “Thucydides’ Trap,” which refers to a possible conflict between an emerging power and a status quo power. Indeed, the military forces of the two countries are making preparations and scenarios on daily basis for warfare against each other, which only reflects deep-rooted, long-term distrust and enmity.


In my opinion, the reason for the lack of true strategic trust between the two countries does not lie in inadequate communication or mutual understanding. Neither does it lie in cultural differences. Instead, the fundamental reason is the incompatibility between their political systems and mainstream ideologies. There were certain elements of insufficient direct correspondence between Beijing and Washington in the early stages of the Cold War when the two countries engaged each other in conflicts in Korea, the Taiwan Strait, and Indochina. However, it was the discrepancy between their ideologies and political interests that accounted for the deadly confrontation. Around the time of the establishment of China-U.S. diplomatic relations, common interests to deter the Soviet threat prompted their mutual strategic understanding and temporarily eclipsed their political contradictions.


Following the end of the Cold War, the political rivalry between Beijing and Washington began to surface, as they held totally different attitudes toward the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the dramatic changes in the satellite countries around it. More than ten years ago, when the power gap between China and the U.S. was large enough, the Chinese could still insist on the principle of “keeping a low profile” called for by Deng Xiaoping in response to U.S. pressure, while the Americans could deal with China more or less calmly and tolerantly in anticipation of political liberalization in that country stimulated by forces of market economy. In recent years, however, with China’s rapidly boosted capacity and more strident rejection to Western values, the United States increasingly suspects that this China will undermine the international order and the leadership role the Americans try to maintain in the world. The Chinese leadership, on its end, has not lessened its apprehensions of what it views as U.S. intentions to sabotage China’s domestic stability and economic prosperity. The tripartite contradictions – incompatibility of each other’s domestic politics, clashes of economic and financial interests, and geo-strategic competition – combine to intricate the China-U.S. relationship.


Under these circumstances, it is increasingly difficult for those in the two countries who are knowledgeable about each other to clearly explain to their domestic audiences that the other side does not necessarily harbor “evil” strategic intentions, and that cooperation with the other side may get exchange for reconciliation or compromise. The narratives in this album may tell us the rationale that “cooperation benefits both sides while confrontation results in harms,” but they may fail to convince us that more mutual understanding and communication can refrain the two countries from strategic confrontation.


Another element that may push the two countries toward animosity is the fact that there are people of political weight in both China and America who look at the bilateral relationship as a zero-sum game. These people contend that the other side undoubtedly sees their country as the archenemy and that the only way to maintain a good relationship with the other side would be to satiate it’s appetite at the expense of their own country’s vital interests. They reason that safeguarding their country’s vital interests and principles requires not a better China-U.S. relationship but a confrontational one. Furthermore, there are people in both countries who believe that the depiction of the other country as a principal adversary as well as security threat might serve the purpose of solidifying domestic cohesion and national unity. As a result, Americans who advocate reconciliation and cooperation with China run the risk of being attacked as “panda huggers” in the American press. More nasty allegations could be directed to those Chinese who openly propose deeper understanding and partnership with the United States.


Fortunately, the successive leaders in both countries since the normalization of China-U.S. relations have all been unwavering in strengthening cooperation and avoid conflict. In the wake of the political storm at Tiananmen in 1989 when the relationship had fallen to the lowest ebb since the establishment of diplomatic relations, Deng Xiaoping told Brent Scowcroft, the special envoy of President George Bush, in Beijing in December that “Sino-U.S. relations must be improved.” In recent years when the relationship was once again faced with a possible downward spiral, both President Xi Jinping and President Barack Obama expressed their opposition to the Thucydides’ Trap metaphor, and emphasized the need to increase China-U.S. strategic trust and refrain from confrontation.


A Broader Perspective


Another revelation we may find in the narratives this album relates is that the larger backgrounds, major events, and megatrends in world politics have made significant, sometimes even decisive, impacts on China, America, and their bilateral relationship. Our understanding will be deepened by watching each stage of the relationship from a broader historical perspective


In the first stage (pre-1911), Europe occupied the center of the global arena. Major Western powers, joined by Japan as a rising expansionist power, vied for colonies and spheres of influence. The United States enjoyed a smooth transition when it emerged as the largest economy in the world toward the end of the 19th century. In contrast, China suffered from poverty and weakness, and was encumbered with internal turmoil and foreign invasions. The Qing Dynasty was doomed to collapse at the mercy of Western aggression. The U.S. was one of those aggressors but was not the “main culprit.”


In the second stage (1911-1949), the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia shocked the world, sent Marxism-Leninism to China, and inspired the formation of the CPC. This period witnessed the rise and fall of Nazi Germany and militarized Japan. In the interim, the United States and the Soviet Union began to move to the center stage of world politics. Although politically divided, China was able to march to the international arena as an independent player. The United States became the most influential foreign country in China during these years when it assisted China in the anti-Japanese war and involved itself in the civil war between Guomindang and the CPC for fear that a “communist China” would be allied with the Soviet Union, which proved to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.


The third stage (1949-1978) was overshadowed by the Cold War and the national liberation movement (referred to as “decolonization” in Western literatures) worldwide. China and America were embroiled into the Korean War and fought indirectly in a “proxy war” in Vietnam. The two major wars cost a huge number of casualties and immeasurable resources for both countries. Soon after, however, they dramatically turned to be quasi-allies in deterring a common security threat – the Soviet Union. The PRC’s international statue ascended, but it lagged further behind America in terms of economy, education, and technology.


Globalization features the fourth stage of China-U.S. ties since 1978. Especially after the end of the Cold War, the international order tends to be stable, and legitimate international rules are widely accepted. When the danger of war between major powers fades away, the common threats they face turn out to be such global issues as the gulf between rich and poor, terrorism, political disorder, financial turbulence, and environmental degradation. In this period, China is a beneficiary of the world order and also makes contributions to world peace and global economic growth. China is a rising power, whereas the U.S. remains the only superpower in the world while its comparative advantages are strengthened vis-à-vis other major countries except for China.


The account of history above should illustrate that while the China-U.S. relationship no doubt is increasingly important in the contemporary world, the two countries and their interaction are circumscribed by global and external environments. Both of them have other domestic and international imperatives to take care of, and their leaderships should determine how the China-U.S. agenda should serve, rather than disrupt, other domestic and international priorities. If one only looks at the “tree” of China-U.S. relations and neglects the “forest” of the whole world, one-sided and wrong observations would follow, such as the “inevitability of a China-U.S. war” or “G-2 to rule the world.” The surest way to avoid confrontation between the two countries is for them to concentrate attention on domestic progress and join each other in coping with imbalances and disorder worldwide.


The Chinese people have good reasons to be proud of their nation when they look back on the grand spectacle of its history over the last two hundred years. The “one hundred years of humiliation” ended once and for all. Measured by global status and comprehensive national strength, today’s China has surpassed those of any single European country and Japan. And yet the United States still occupies a unique position in China’s national development and foreign relations. It is hopeful that China’s economic size may be larger than that of America in the not-too-distant future, but the gap between the two countries in terms of institutional innovation, technological innovation, higher education, and soft power is not evidently narrowed, and in some areas might even be enlarged. The two countries should surely learn from each other, but there is more for China to learn from America than the other way round. Will China be the most influential country to America? What kind of influences will there be? What will be the things that the U.S. should learn from China? Answers to all these questions lie mainly and ultimately on the part of China.


Finally, we should give our great respect and sincere gratitude to Mr. He Di, chief editor of this volume, and all those who have made its publication possible. They entrusted their expectations of long-term China-U.S. friendship and world peace into this volume, and the painstaking efforts they have made were incredible. When I accepted Mr. He Di’s invitation to write this preface, I could not help but recall vividly the scenes when we joined other Chinese and American scholars in a seminar on the history of Sino-American relations held in Beijing in 1986. We belonged to the “younger generation” of scholars at that time, but are all aging today. Some of us have had our grandchildren. Researching and participating in the bilateral ties have been an integral part of our life-long pursuit since that time. With no political weight, we nonetheless continue to work strenuously for the friendship between our two peoples and for the happiness of future generations, as we firmly believe that “Sino-U.S. relations must be improved.”





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