Debates over the post-Second World War origins of Sino-American relations continue to inform – and daunt — policymakers and foreign policy experts in their effort to figure out a viable strategy to deal with Beijing. Writing in Foreign Affairs in 2018, Kurt M. Campbell and Ely Ratner – Biden’s National Security Council Indo-Pacific Affairs Coordinator and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs respectively – branded the Truman Administrations’ various efforts to shape China’s behaviour as a failure. However, in commenting on the article James Curran – an Australian scholar on U.S. foreign policy – noticed that both this piece and the several respondents to it collectively failed “to acknowledge … the pervasive influence of American nationalist mythology on U.S.-China policy over the last seventy years.” In conclusion, Curran noted that “a critical but to date sadly neglected part of that process must surely involve taking a good, hard look at how the myths of American nationalism have influenced the course of U.S.-China policy since 1949.”
My newly published open-access article in The International History Review takes a fresh perspective and contributes to these debates. In it, I argue that between late 1948 and early 1949 Communist China and the United States might have been able to strike a more collaborative relationship had Truman applied more restraint to his nationalist colony image of China – a concept developed in-depth in the article – and been more willing to listen to Dean Acheson and advisors in the Division of Chinese Affairs, who promoted the “Chinese Titoism” strategy.
On the 22nd November 2003, an electrical power worker from the Chinese province of Henan, Wang Letian, walked around his home city of Zhengzhou wearing a traditional Chinese costume called the Hanfu. Wang intended to promote traditional Chinese culture by generating interest in traditional Chinese garb. At the time, Wang’s actions were unusual, with the Hanfu being largely confined to film sets and tourist attractions. Nevertheless, Wang received significant attention in China, and has often been cited as the originator of the current Hanfu craze sweeping China today.
Wang’s goal of promoting Chinese traditional culture appears to have been fulfilled in recent years, with the costume becoming a mainstay of social media platforms popular with Chinese millennials. The popularity of the costume coincides with a wider discussion over the state of China’s identity, which marks a break from the previous focus on China’s economic development. This has often sought to emphasise the uniqueness of China’s identity as well as presenting China as a civilisation state rather than a nation-state in the Westphalian sense. By delving into China’s past, the rise of the Hanfu movement and the debate over China’s identity thus symbolises the contradictory nature of the legacies of China’s imperial dynasties, most notably the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as the role that these have played in shaping the present Chinese perception of China.
The Pierre du Bois Annual Conference, organised by the Graduate Institute in partnership with the Pierre du Bois Foundation and with support from the Swiss National Science Foundation, will take place at Maison de la paix.
Michael Goebel, Professor of International History and Politics and Pierre du Bois Chair Europe and the World, is organising the Conference.
A keynote lecture titled “Being in Time: The Experience of Nationhood” will be given by Bernard Yack, the Lerman Neubauer Professor of Democracy and Public Policy at Brandeis University.
The background note can be found here and the biographies of participants here.