In July 1946, still reeling from World War II, President Truman appointed Stuart. He was considered by many to be the best hope for peaceful relations between the two nations. Stuart was the rarest of diplomats, a native son of China. Read more.
Seventy years ago, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) invaded the Republic of Korea to its south and unleashed one of the most brutal wars in world history. Begun as a regional dispute, it quickly exploded into a proxy war with the U.S. and China wading into the conflict over the spread of communism and the sanctity of borders. Read more.
In less than 15 years in the mid-20th century, two wars defined the Cold War in Asia and determined the relationship between the United States and China. The Vietnam War was the second conflict of the two, following on the Korean War but distinctly different in its tone and dimension. Read more.
On the eve of China’s economic opening in 1978, the country was near bankruptcy. Some 800 million people were living in abject poverty. Few placed any hope in the economic reawakening Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping would usher in when he took power as China’s paramount leader in late 1978. See below.
Western imperial powers such as Great Britain, France, and the United States were aggressively expanding their influence in the mid-19th century, pressing for dominance around the globe. A toxic combination of military force, free trade, and religion allowed them to advance their cultures and press their wills on weaker nations, including China. Coming soon.
When the People's Republic of China joined the WTO in December 2001, it was a sign of great compromise and promise, as it agreed to stricter conditions than other developing countries had submitted to in the past. It became a remarkable story of economic rebirth. Coming soon.
For a brief time, it appeared that little would change in the wake of Mao’s death as Hua Guofeng, a conservative leader who sought to follow Mao’s economic and social policies, emerged as his successor. In October 1976, the now infamous “Gang of Four”—Jiang Qing, Wang Hongwen, Yao Wenyuan, and Zhang Chunqiao, the radical leaders of the Cultural Revolution—were arrested on Hua Guofeng’s orders. They were blamed for the excesses of the Cultural Revolution, and Hua Guofeng was named to succeed Mao.
A wily and thoughtful leader, Deng had sought refuge in Canton, where he was protected by a powerful military leader, Xu Shiyou, who despised Hua Guofeng, associating him with the Gang of Four. In 1977, Xu began pressuring the party to rehabilitate Deng, and in July of that year, Deng was reappointed to his position of vice premier. While Hua continued to champion the reforms of central planning and a more cautious version of the notions that Mao had articulated in pushing the Great Leap Forward, Deng had a different economic orientation. A pragmatist, Deng believed that economic reform was necessary and developed his political power through advocating reform. He saw central planning in industry and collectivization in agriculture as inflexible and unable to deal with the economic problems China was facing.
Once Deng wrested power from the conservative factions of the party, to unleash the broader forces and trends, his specific challenges included:
• transforming incentives in the agricultural economy;
• forcing the central government to give local bureaucrats some measure of economic control over the localities they govern;
• creating a system that kept in place the planned economy while at the same time giving autonomy over to the local enterprises;
• beginning a process that would address the economic burden that the social security system posed for Chinese enterprises;
• facilitating the development of a private economy;
• attracting foreign direct investment.
By 1978, a 10-year economic plan – fashioned in 1976 to get the nation back on track after the Cultural Revolution – was already falling far below projected goals. In response to these challenges, Deng was prepared to lead China in a radically different direction economically and would introduce a set of controlled modifications into the structure of the socialist system.
When Deng unveiled his vision of economic reform to the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party in December 1978, China’s economy was faltering. Deng saw as his task the unraveling of the interdependence created under Mao. However, he would remake the economy slowly, experimenting widely with many policies that would gradually rationalize and cede governmental control over the economy and society. Wisely he also advocated the implementation of a modernization plan that would incorporate foreign investment and technology.
Following his political breakthrough in 1978, Deng symbolically signaled these changes with a crucial visit to the United States in January 1979. During this trip, Deng officially normalized relations with the United States, which in turn officially ended formal U.S. diplomatic relations with Taiwan and explicitly conceded China’s position on the “one-China” policy. Many nations in the international community would follow by normalizing relations with China. During that trip, Deng also visited Atlanta, Houston, and Seattle to see the facilities of the first two companies with which agreements would be signed—Coca-Cola and Boeing.
Economists and institutional advisors from the West advocated the rapid transition to market institutions as the necessary medicine for transforming communist societies. Deng believed in a more gradual philosophy, describing it as “feeling for stones to cross the river.” (摸着石头过河) Because of that, the Chinese path has been very different from the shock-therapy approach.
While countries like Russia have followed Western advice – constructing market institutions at a rapid pace, immediately removing the state from control over the economy, and rapidly privatizing property – China has taken its time in implementing institutional change, following Deng's guidance of gradualism.
Deng Xiaoping attending a rodeo in Texas during his trip to the United States in 1978.