Back in the early 1970s when Chinese groups began visiting the United States, I was very fortunate to land a staff position with the China Committee of the National Academy of Sciences. My job was to plan and escort the visits of delegations of scientists from the People’s Republic of China around the United States. Chinese delegations were always on the alert for any intentional or perceived slights to their country, and they were prepared to, and did in fact, walk out of various venues in protest. These walkouts usually happened in the most embarrassing venues for the hapless Americans escorting them such as the Kennedy Center in Washington and the Lincoln Center in New York. Naturally all eyes were upon them as it was the first time for most Americans to see real live Communist Chinese.
So, how was one to accompany them out without appearing to be part of the protest? I devised the following THREE METHODS so that I would be ready at any time to demonstrate that I was not part of the walk-out. Oh, and by the way, I left it to the armed State Department Security Agents who accompanied us to figure out for themselves how they would have dealt with the situation.
METHOD 1. As they proceed to stage their exit, you stand up rather reluctantly, turn to the audience and, while grasping your lower stomach and grimacing, you silently but with exaggerated lip movements say, “I don’t know what they’re doing, but I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!.”
METHOD 2. You jump up quickly, slap your forehead with the palm of your hand and say, “Oh My God, I left my dog sitting in the back seat of the car with the windows shut and the engine running!”
METHOD 3: You stand up, turn to the audience, and, with your arms slightly bent at the elbows and the palms of your hands facing upward shrug your shoulders, shake your head back and forth with your eyes closed as if in disbelief and issue a sigh of resignation indicating that no matter how vexing and embarrassing it might be, you have a duty to perform for America and that is to stay with them no matter what.
AN EVENING AT “THE CLASSIC RED RESTAURANT” AND DINNER THEATER (Red Restaurant （红色经典), 266 Baijialou, 5th Ring Road East, Chaoyang District, Beijing
China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (无产阶级文化大革命 1966-1976) was no joke, or was it?
Sometime during my posting in the American Embassy in Beijing (2008-2010), I got wind of the existence of “Cultural Revolution” theme restaurants. One of my Chinese colleagues at the Embassy first mentioned them to me. My initial reaction was disbelief. How could anyone in China treat such a recent era of political madness, turmoil and suffering (1966-1976) as entertainment for restaurant goers? Disbelief then gave way to curiosity, so I called the “Classic Red Restaurant” in the eastern outskirts of Beijing and booked a table for dinner.
As we arrived at the restaurant we were greeted warmly by young girls in pigtails wearing baggy green People’s Liberation Army uniforms with red arm bands just like in the good old days. We were taken to our table and ordered our food consisting of the kind of things that people had to eat during the Cultural Revolution in order not only to survive but also to bring bourgeois intellectuals and city dwellers closer to the lives of the people. The foods were mainly vegetable-and-wheat based. They were not very tasty. However, it was part of the “authentic” experience. Nobody paid us much attention, thank goodness, even though we and a handful of others were the only waiguoren (foreigners) in the room.
The dining room was very large and was packed with people primarily between the ages of 40 and 60, the age group of the former Red Guards (红卫兵) with their families and friends.
The walls were decorated with revolutionary posters and slogans of the kind that were ubiquitous during the Cultural Revolution: slogans such as
Peoples of the World Unite and Defeat the American Aggressors and all their Running Dogs
Our Friends are Everywhere (我们的朋友遍天下 showing that China was not alone in the world.
Women Cover Half the Sky (妇女丁半边天), showing that women were equal to men in China
Friendship First, Competition Second (友谊第一, 比赛第 二),
Study Like Comrade Lei Feng (像 雷锋 同志学习), a model student of Mao Zedong Thought
Other posters were missing such as those proclaiming the great deeds of Jiang Qing, Mao’s wife and member of the Gang of Four, or of “The Number One Capitalist Roader,Liu Shaoqi”, or of those criticizing Deng Xiaoping as Liu Shaoqi’s fellow capitalist roader. Mao’s wife had been arrested and disgraced before she died under arrest, and Liu Shaoqi had been posthumously rehabilitated by the number two capitalist roader, Deng Xiaoping.
At one end of the room was a stage.
The show was what you would expect from a kitschy perspective of the Cultural Revolution. Men and women on tractors proclaimed bumper harvests under the guidance of the Communist Party, and girls and boys in army uniforms beamed happily as they sang paeans to Chairman Mao such as The East is Red (Dong Fang Hong 东方红), arguably the most popular revolutionary song of that time and even now. Some excerpts from the song will give you the flavor of what people were singing about back in the good old days.
The East is Red (Dongfang Hong 东方红)
The Sun Arises ( Taiyang sheng 太阳升)
China has brought forth a Mao Zedong (Zhongguo chule ge Mao Zedong 中国出了个毛泽东)
He strives for the happiness of the People (Ta wei renmin mou xingfu 他为人民谋幸福，)
Hurrah (Hu er hei yo 呼尔嗨哟)
He is the Great Saving Star of the People. (Ta shi renmin da Jiu Xing 他是人民大救星)
The Communist Party is like the sun (Gòngchǎndǎng, xiàng tàiyáng, 共产党，像太阳)
Wherever it shines there is light. (Zhàodào nǎlǐ nǎlǐ liàng, 照到哪里哪里亮)
Wherever there is the Communist Party (Nǎlǐ yǒu liǎo Gòngchǎndǎng, 哪里有了共产党)
Hurrah (Hu er hei yo 呼尔嗨哟)
That’s where the people become liberated. (Nǎlǐ rénmín dé jiěfàng! 哪里人民得解放！)
There are any number of websites that provide both descriptions and videos of the shows that are given in these Cultural Revolution theme restaurants.* The only thing that I can add to these is my own reactions.
I was appalled, baffled, angry, and once again I felt betrayed. I wondered what the performers and audience members were thinking. Many members of the audience seemed to genuinely enjoy singing the songs of their youth and watching scenes reminiscent of those days when they traveled around the country cost free on the rail system. The performers, mostly very young people who were born after the Cultural Revolution, seemed happy in their roles mimicking the stilted dancing and acting styles of the Cultural Revolution when everything was either black or white. But it was all fake and left a hollow feeling in my gut. I wondered how anyone in China could be so cavalier about the Cultural Revolution and the excesses of the Party. Estimates of people killed during the Cultural Revolution range from 750,000 to 1.5 million. People were paraded through the streets with dunce caps on. Children denounced their parents and teachers. The really unfortunate victims had signs hung around their necks with their names crossed out in red x’s. They were driven in open backed trucks through the streets, where every so often the truck would stop and someone would harangue against them. Then they were driven to stadiums and executed before crowds of onlookers. I happened across such a group of people standing with heads down on the back of a truck being driven through Canton. I decided that it was time for me to hasten back to the relative safety of the hotel reserved for guests of the state.
I felt betrayed. These people were making a joke of something that had been horrible. But why would I, a foreigner who grew up in a completely different world from that of the Cultural Revolution, feel betrayed? Isn’t that a strange feeling for an foreigner to have?
How can I answer this question? It is how you would feel if a friend of yours came to you and said that he really wasn’t the person you thought he was but someone entirely different. My first encounters with the Chinese of Mao’s day made a very firm impression on my mind. There were smiles and warm handshakes for “friends” and grimaces and threatening words for “enemies.” Hadn’t Mao said “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends? This is a question of the first importance for the revolution.”** And hadn’t that set the Chinese on a mission to identify friend and foe in every encounter? Once again, everything was either black or white. Also, the Truth was always what the Party said it was and one had to show one’s inward grace – to borrow a precept from Catholicism – by manifesting an outward sign, not only by verbally expressing the Truth but by expressing it in exactly the same formulaic words coined by the Party. Thus, when the former President of the PRC and second only to Mao, Liu Shaoqi, fell from grace, he was always referred to as that “renegade, traitor and scab” (pantu, neijian, gongzei叛徒内奸工贼 ) . When you said those words, only one name could follow, that of Liu Shaoqi. Failure to utter those words might result in having to write self criticisms or worse. He was also called “the number one capitalist roader” (第一走资本主义道路的当权派).
During a visit to China, I recall an occasion at which the leader of the American scientific delegation with which I was traveling made some formal remarks to our dinner hosts. In his remarks he referred to something that usually was couched in formulaic phrases, but he neglected to use the formula. Of course, as a foreigner he wasn’t expected to know what to say. However, the translator, without thinking, automatically filled in the formula. After the dinner I approached the translator, a young man from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and told him what he had done. He was genuinely unaware that he had blurted out the formulaic language that usually accompanied that subject. In effect, these formulae were so closely linked with their subjects that together they became one linguistic unit of thought, such is the power of repetition. It reminded me of my early experiences in Catholic school learning to recite the Baltimore Catechism (revised edition, 1941) often without even knowing what the words meant:
1. Who made us? God made us.
2. Who is God? God is the Supreme Being, infinitely perfect, who made all things and keeps them in existence.
3. Why did God make us? God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.
Deng Xiaoping himself was purged twice under Mao Zedong. The first time was when Mao accused him of following the Capitalist Road. The second was when the Gang of Four had him removed from office. Each time the explanation that you would hear from people as to how he could be good, then bad, then good, then bad, then finally good again was “The facts have shown!” I remember asking a junior official of the Chinese Academy of Sciences about Deng after his second fall from grace. “How can you be so sure that this time you know the truth about Deng when previously you told a completely opposite story about him?” I asked. “Because this time the facts have shown the truth,” he replied without any hint that he understood how ridiculous it was to still believe that he had been told the truth.
My first visit to China in 1973, and several more visits between then and the late 70s, confirmed my impression and understanding of China. In those days Americans had to enter by way of Hong Kong. I was terribly excited about seeing this fabled country that had been closed off to us for a generation. I expected to be positively impressed by the egalitarianism and the state’s appreciation of the hard lives of the farmers and factory workers. In my mind Hong Kong was an example of the wrongs of imperialism. I traveled around China for three weeks with an American study team on early childhood education. Everywhere we stopped we heard the same things said in the same words. We drove past workers bent in two like draught animals pulling huge wagon loads of cement pilings over bridges while motorized traffic passed by. No one in this supposedly egalitarian paradise even thought of stopping to help them pull their loads. When people gave us “brief introductions” to their schools or factories, their sense of fear was palpable, fear that someone among the other Chinese in the room would report them if they said anything out of line with proper Party thought. By the time the three weeks was over, I was delighted to be back in Hong Kong which suddenly didn’t seem so bad.
Many trips to China and many trips around the United States with Chinese scientific delegations in the early and mid-seventies confirmed my understanding of modern China. I did not agree with it and certainly would not want to live under such a system, but it was their business and they strongly defended it as being the necessary way for China to prosper. Then suddenly they changed face. Deng initiated open door policies and economic reforms. The Cultural Revolution was condemned. Suddenly everyone avowed that they were victims of the Cultural Revolution and had suffered greatly because of it. You couldn’t find anyone who would praise the Cultural Revolution. Making money was glorious (paraphrasing a quote from Deng Xiaoping). Even Mao, dead by then, came under criticism. That’s when I started to feel that I had been betrayed, when people that I believed when they told me the way things were now told me the opposite. I recall visiting the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, with a Chinese delegation. There were demonstrations going on around campus. At one table several students were selling Mao’ Little Red Book and displaying posters condemning Deng Xiaoping. However, Deng had just been brought back to the graces of the Party. I pointed this out to the students. They were genuinely confused because they had devotedly followed the propaganda of the Chinese Communist Party that had just reversed itself again with regard to Deng, but the students still regarded him as a Capitalist Roader. In their idealism they had swallowed what the Party said when it condemned Deng but could not swing their heads around fast enough to espouse the new line.
Thirty four years later I found myself seated in the Classic Red Restaurant watching a parody of the Cultural Revolution. What once was treated as a holy icon was being fed to diners as entertainment. Many audience members seemed simply to enjoy the old songs of their youth. Some audience members probably regarded it as a kind of farce. Others may have thought that at least back in those days one knew what was good and what was bad. Perhaps they wished that the old days would come back. For me, as I said, it left a hollow feeling and a sense of betrayal, as when one loses faith in a religion that once meant so much in one’s life. I had just watched the Chinese themselves treating a terrible time in their history like a joke. “More power to them,” you might say. After all, who better than the Chinese themselves to make a joke of it, if they wish to, as they were the ones who had suffered. But I am afraid that it is symbolic of a dangerous collective amnesia in China to anything embarrassing from their past whereas they are constantly reminded of the sins of foreign aggressors. This refusal to admit the past when combined with the growing nationalism of China’s youth makes for a volatile cocktail.
The most famous non-event in China is the Tiananmen Massacre of June 4, 1989 when People’s Liberation Army troops under orders from Deng Xiaoping killed dozens of protesters in Tiananmen Square. Nobody talks about it because it is taboo and life is good, so why rock the boat? The Cultural Revolution, the Gang of Four, the Anti-Rightist Purges, the disastrous People’s Commune policy, the Great Leap Forward and the horrendous famine it caused, all of these are largely ignored.
That I felt betrayed doesn’t matter much in the big picture. However, what I learned from it and from many other experiences that I had while interacting with the Chinese is never to take anything at face value and to question everything. I also came to appreciate the resilience of the Chinese people in the face of immeasurable tragedy.
Close Encounters with the Chinese: Reflections through a Chinese Mirror
Alexander P. DeAngelis
May 7, 2015
As this is the first posting of my personal recollections from a lifetime of dealing with the Chinese, I would like to make a few comments to put things in context. Firstly, although I took notes about most of the Chinese and American groups that I accompanied in my duties as a Professional Associate of theCommittee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China, my notes were not always comprehensive. So, for some things I had to rely on “that notorious liar, memory.”
My second point is that I have tried as much as possible to tell the story as I saw it then without too much revision. This has made me very aware of my preconceptions then and of my limited knowledge then not only about China but also about the United States. Here I am thinking about how a deepknowledge of history and the experience of living with others provide the special understanding needed to interpret things as they happen. At the time that I started working directly with the both Chinese and American officials, politicians, scientists, businessmen, and common people both in China and in the United States, notwithstanding the facts that I knew how to speak and read Chinese and that I had someunderstanding of history and culture, I lacked both the experience and the in-depth knowledge needed to make sounder judgments and observations. Nevertheless, I think that by telling it as I saw it then I will succeed at least in showing how a person of my age at that time viewed what was happening. Ithink that this has some merit because I feel that I was somewhat representative of a naïve young American entering into the world of international relations. I have often thought that my experiences with the Chinese taught me as much about myself as a young American of the time as they did about the Chinese. For this reason, I have chosen the subtitle “Reflections through a Chinese Mirror.”
I have learned two things from my experiences with the Chinese. One is that we develop different means of coping with reality depending on our basic principles and the weight of our history. The second is that things that first seem so strange or unthinkable turn out to seem not so strange or unthinkable at all.
Introduction: How I Entered the Picture
It was July 1971. I was vacationing on Lake Cayuga in New York State when an announcement came over the radio reporting that National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger had visited China and that President Richard M. Nixon would be going to China in early months of 1972. I was excited, but I could never have imagined the tremendous impact it would have on my life and that soon I would be involved in one of the greatest events of the twentieth century, the beginning of ties between the People’s Republic of China and the United States of America.
I was studying Chinese at Cornell University for no other reason than that I was curious about a culture so different from our own. That curiosity started in the most innocuous way. I was ten years old or so. My sister, who was seven, my father and I went on a boat ride up the Hudson River to Bear Mountain State Park, a popular get-away spot for New Yorkers. We were resting on a rock when an Asian man and woman passed by. Having never seen Asian people firsthand before, I immediately pointed at them and blurted out, “Look, who are those people?” My father quickly shushed me and told me that it was rude to point at people. He told me that they were Chinese. Then he said that their leader was Mao Zedong, which I heard as “Mousy Tongue.” What a strange name, I thought. He also said that the United States had a crazy policy not to recognize the government in “Peking”* (see note below) as legitimate.
My curiosity went dormant and remained so until I was in college majoring in biology at New York University where I made lasting friendships with many Asian exchange students, including many Japanese students, as well as students from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Thailand. I found their reserve and quietness refreshing. In my junior year, 1965, I went to Japan under the Douglas MacArthur Scholarship of the New York-Tokyo Sister City Affiliation. That experience changed my life. When I returned from Japan for my senior year in college, I wanted to continue studying Japanese, but the only Asian language course taught at NYU then was Chinese Professor James Hsien from Columbia University. I took his course, and from that point on, I was hooked and spent the rest of my career dealing with China and Japan.
Recounting this time in my life always brings to mind a poem by Tao Yuanming (陶淵明 365-427 A.D.), one of the few I attempted to memorize.
In this poem, “Returning to My Gardens and Fields” (歸園田居), Tao tells us that after spending a lifetime pursuing a career as an official, he finally returns home to live a simple life surrounded by nature. I thought about this poem often during my career because it represented a blissful withdrawal from the affairs of the world. It has always been my nature to alternate between being “out there” engaged in the world and to withdraw into silence to gain enough strength to go out there again.
When I was young I knew nothing of the ways of the world;
My very being was a love for the hills and mountains.
Regrettably I fell into the world’s dusty net;
And was caught there for thirty years.
I obtained a Masters in East Asian Studies from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, where, in addition to a diploma, I met my wife now of over 45 years. My wife, Ildiko, and I then moved to Ithaca, New York where I entered the doctoral studies program in Chinese language and literature at Cornell University. If I thought about going to China then, it was only to Taiwan. I didn’t even think about going to Mainland China. So, when the announcement came over the radio on July 15th, 1971, rather than thinking that I might go to China, I simply felt pleased by the fact that we were finally beginning to have direct contacts with the most populous country in the world.
In 1972, following my admission to doctoral candidacy at Cornell, my wife and I moved back into her parents’ home in South Orange, New Jersey, not sure of what our job prospects would be. Even then, however, I believe that I already knew that finishing a doctorate in Chinese literature and teaching in college were not in my future. Although I appreciated literature and felt then, as I do now, that is was a great way to understand a culture, I could never get close enough to Chinese literature in the way that I could to literature written in my native tongue, English. It was too difficult and too far removed both from my understanding and, very importantly to me, from my appreciation. Luckily for me, as well as for the field of Chinese literary studies, events removed me from the equation.
I had to get a job. So, on the advice of friends from Cornell, Ildi and I went down to Washington, DC for a week early in 1973 to see what prospects there might be for landing a job that would take advantage of my China background. The plan was quite rudimentary, and from hindsight, quite simple-minded. I would go from door to door visiting agencies and finding out if any jobs were available. It seems so naïve now that I am surprised even now that people took me seriously, or more likely had pity on me. I remember visiting the Library of Congress and asking to speak with someone involved with Chinese books. I was taken to see Dr. Wang Chi, the Chief Librarian of the China collection. Dr. Wang heard me out with patience and courtesy. Although there were no jobs available at the Library – and now I know that the way I had approached it was simply not the way things were done –, Dr. Wang encouraged me to keep on looking. I can’t recall whether he made any specific suggestions or not, but I left feeling encouraged.
Next I visited the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia where I met Hattie Colton, head of the Japanese language training section. Again, like Dr. Wang Chi, she was extremely kind and patient with me, but once again I was told that there were no jobs to be had. Even so, I left feeling happy that I had met her and that she had encouraged me to keep on trying. Next (or maybe it was before, as I really cannot recall the exact sequence of events) I called the State Department’s China Desk and explained my desire to get a job involving China. I think that the person with whom I spoke told me that the way to do this was to apply for admission into the Foreign Service. That sounded really good. I had considered that myself. It sounded really romantic – the Foreign Service, being a diplomat and all that- but I had not yet taken the necessary steps. I recall taking the Foreign Service Exam at some point and failing it. In any event, sometime during my visits with various persons in Washington, someone suggested that I should speak with Nancy Bateman in the State Department’s Bureau of “INR”. (I was too embarrassed to ask what “INR” stood for. I was beginning to get my first lessons in Washington’s love of acronyms. Later I learned that INR stood for Intelligence and Research, “I and R”.) I “cold-called” Ms. Bateman, as they say, and chatted with her for a while. Once again, the fact that I was able to talk with her as with others was astounding in retrospect. The kindness which people showed me seems so amazing to me now. It was like what happens when a stray puppy shows up on your doorstep and you stoop down to pet it and then invite it in to give it some food before sending it on. Whatever it was, I benefited greatly from the kindness of strangers. Ms. Bateman suggested that I go to see Anne Keatley at the National Academy of Sciences as Anne at that time was the head of an office that was gearing up to “facilitate” the exchanges of scientific delegations between the United States and China at the behest of the White House.
We did not yet have diplomatic relations with China and would not for seven more years. But seeing as how the Nixon-Kissinger visits to China had, among other things, resulted in agreements to begin exchanges in science, trade and culture, the Department of State and the White House were looking for non-governmental entities to “facilitate” the contacts. For science and technology the choice was the National Academy of Sciences, which, while having close ties with, and funding from, the United States government is not a government agency. The White House came very close to naming the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) as the official facilitator of exchanges until someone in the chain of decision-making steered it toward the intended institution. The principal goal of the FAS was to abolish atomic weapons. It’s Chief Executive Officer, Jeremy Stone, in 1973, became one of a select group of 150 members of President Nixon’s “Enemies List” for his opposition to Pentagon spending. In other words, it would not have been politically smart in the Executive Office of the President to have chosen the FAS.
The National Academy of Sciences garnered the White House’s approval not only because of its close working relationship with the government, but also because it had in place a committee of scientists and scholars focused on establishing contacts with counterparts in China. The Committee, which represented the National Academy of Sciences, the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies, was aptly named the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China. As that was quite a mouthful, even for Washingtonians, we called it either the “CSCPRC”, pronouncing each letter separately, or the “China Committee”. (I recall when Anne Keatley, Director of the Committee Staff, once commented to us that the CSCPRC represents not only the NAS, but also the SSRC and the ACLS, and then laughing when she realized that it was quite a mouthful of acronyms, even for Washington.)
In the event, the mid-60s, when the China Committee was created, was not a very auspicious time to think of initiating scientific and scholarly ties with China. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution and its “Little Red Guards” were beginning their sweep through the country waving “The Little Red Book” of Chairman Mao’s pithy sayings and laying ruin both to lives and to cultural treasures in its path. Nevertheless, the China Committee continued its efforts to initiate scholarly contacts. One such attempt resulted in a remarkable response. Frederick Burckhardt, President of the American Council of Learned Societies, had sent a letter to China on behalf of the China Committee hoping that it would elicit an encouraging reply. There certainly was a reply, but not the kind that was hoped for. The China Committee received a response in which not only was Dr. Burkhardt’s overture rebuffed but he was referred to as “your dog’s head” (你的狗頭). In China, likening anyone to any part of a dog’s anatomy is extremely insulting. For example, during those days of sloganeering in China, there was one slogan that stood out for its punchy imagery: “Running Dog of American Imperialism”
(美國帝國主義的走狗). Thus it was very funny both to us and to the Chinese in the People’s Republic of China Liaison Office in Washington (prior to diplomatic relations) that Anne Keatley named her Golden Retriever Zougou, i.e., Running Dog.
I followed Ms. Bateman’s advice and called the China Committee and requested an interview, which I was given. The China Committee’s offices were located in the Joseph Henry Building at the southwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 21st Street. I was surprised to find that there was no sign indicating the Office’s existence. Could this be a secret organization of some kind, I wondered. I took the elevator up to the second floor and soon found the China Committee’s offices at the end of the corridor, opposite the Committee on Soviet Relations. “Humm,” I thought to myself, “another suspicious cue perhaps?” (I learned later that my suspicions were unfounded.)
The Office door was open. I walked in and announced myself to the receptionist, a young lady named Ophelia who informed the Office Director’s Assistant, Denise Emery, that I had arrived. Denise came out to greet me and then ushered me in to meet Anne Keatley, Director of the Office. Anne was seated behind her desk. I walked over and shook her hand and she bid me to sit down. She asked me about my background in Chinese studies and about my career goals. I do not recall precisely what I replied, but I do remember wondering, “What were my goals?” The interview ended on a positive note, I felt, and Anne said that she would get in touch with me. So, Ildi and I packed up our bags and went back to South Orange to the home of her parents.
Perhaps a week later I received a telephone call from Anne saying that they wished to interview me a second time. I took the train down to Washington and a cab to the Joseph Henry Building where I met Anne and Murray Todd, Executive Director of the Office of International Affairs of the National Academy of Sciences. Murray asked me how much I wanted for my salary. This totally surprised me because I thought that any job would have a predetermined salary level. I thought back to what my father had made when he started out as a high school English teacher in the 50s and decided to ask for seven thousand dollars. Murray looked at Anne and Anne at Murray. They asked me if I knew how expensive Washington was. Obviously I did not, so taking pity on me Anne offered me $16,000 per year. Two things happened. First, I was stunned at the possibility of making so much money. Second, it only then began to dawn on me that the conversation was not just another interview but actually an offer. Just to make sure, however, on the way out I asked if they in fact were offering me the job. Looking back on this event, I am filled with wonder that they didn’t try to take back the offer because of my obvious naiveté. I started work, appropriately, on April 1, 1973.
Chapter: My First Delegation – Hydrotechnical
April 20, 1973, 11:50 a.m., JFK International Airport: The plane arrived 25 minutes early because of a strong tailwind. It was already on the ground and pulled up to the hangar when we arrived. Anne Keatley and I, accompanied by several armed State Department Security Agents (more on this later), stood on the covered gangway attached to the plane that had just brought China’s Hydrotechnical Study Group to the United States. We entered the plane to meet the delegation. As a security measure, all other passengers had been disembarked first so that now only the ten members of the delegation were present along with airline personnel and us. Before us were ten men dressed alike in pale gray “Mao” suits buttoned up to their necks and wearing cloth caps pulled down tight over their ears. Whether I was wide-eyed or not I do not know, but I looked at them and thought about all of the newsreels I had seen of Mao and his cohorts atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) reviewing the troops and of the angry Red Guards shouting slogans. There they were, “Red Chinese”! They seemed timid and hesitant rather than threatening. Of course, I did not expect them to charge out of the plane chanting slogans or wielding axe handles. (The latter a reference to a famous picture of Chinese diplomats in Sweden venturing forth from their Embassy to attack a crowd of demonstrators with axe handles. It just so happened that one of those very officials, Mr. Xie Qimei, was currently posted in the Liaison Office in Washington.) It’s just that our images of them had for so long been shaped by the antagonisms of the Cold War: the Yellow Peril, the Asian Hordes, and the Red Menace.
We introduced ourselves and, in turn, Professor Yan Kai, (front row, third from right)Chairman of the Delegation, returned our greeting in good English and with a smile. We sat with them for a while waiting for Mr. Al Harding from the State Department to clear Customs and Immigration for them. In the meanwhile, several members of China’s Mission to the United Nations arrived. Then the State Department Agents ushered us all into the bus waiting on the tarmac beneath and to the side of the plane. When the delegation’s bags had been completely loaded onto the bus, we drove off toward the Biltmore Hotel in the heart of Manhattan.
Along we drove toward New York City, I was curious to see how they would react to the famous New York skyline and to all of the roads and cars. So, I looked at their faces, as much as I could without staring. For many decades my memory of this moment told me that they blankly stared forward or down and that I was very surprised and puzzled by this unexpected reaction. After all, who wouldn’t marvel at seeing the skyline of New York for the first time! I wondered whether they were afraid of showing too much interest. However, years later, when I checked my diary of the event, I could not find any such account, but rather the following:
Since they were early, and since not all the rooms had been cleared of other guests yet, we took the long way around Manhattan up past La Guardia and Shea Stadium. I noticed that several of the Chinese were quite interested in the various structures such as bridges and whatnot surrounding Manhattan. When we got a good panoramic view of the city, they all looked eagerly at it. I heard Mr. Tan, one of the interpreters, ask Mr. Liu of the Mission if the Empire State Building was the one he was watching and if it was the tallest building. Either that or he was asking about the World Trade Center. Mr. Liu replied that there was one even bigger; I guess referring to the Sears building in Chicago.
Now, I would have sworn that it happened not as described in my diary, but as I remembered it. So, either I had created a myth based on what I imagined should have happened – that is, that a group of visiting engineers would not want to display too much interest in anything American outside their focused discipline for fear of political reprisals upon their return home -, or I saw it happen, but with a different delegation. If I had not kept notes, I would have had to depend on that notorious liar, my memory.”
Chapter: Arrangements and Reactions
My job at the China Committee was both simple and complicated. I was responsible for making all arrangements for visiting scientific delegations from China that were assigned to me and, similarly, to do the same for American delegations going to visit China. I also had to accompany these delegations to handle any problems that might occur. There were several of us in the Office at that time who did the same things with their assigned delegations including Patricia Jones Tsuchitani, Anne Fitzgerald, and Denise Emery. So, for nearly three weeks before the scheduled arrival of the delegation of hydro-technical engineers, I was on the phone at least 8 hours every day talking to everyone associated with the visit including Department of State contacts, the Army Corps of Engineers, hosts at National Laboratories, universities, and private companies, hotel reservation staff, airline and bus companies, and so on. Quite a dizzying job for someone as disorganized as me! Most days I went home with my left ear swollen and red from pressing the phone to it with my shoulder while I jotted down notes. To cushion the phone, my sister bought me a curved plastic piece with a soft pad on it to attach to the phone handle.
One of our greatest frustrations in those days was that communications were so poor between China and us. I mean this both technically and culturally. There was as yet no Internet. No one had personal computers on their desks. We thought we had it made when we got IBM Selectric typewriters for the few years before they were sent to the Smithsonian. Phone calls between the United States and China, while technically possible, were seldom if ever used for a variety of reasons. The phone system in China was antiquated and of poor voice quality. It was a common occurrence in those days to walk into the Beijing Hotel and to hear someone shouting loud enough into the phone that everyone in the lobby could hear the conversation. Furthermore, there were in fact very few phones. Most of the phones that existed were either in government offices or in hotels, factories and schools. The quality of reception on the lines between the United States and China was unreliable. In addition, Beijing, time-wise, was either 12 or 13 hours ahead of Washington, D.C. depending on Daylight Savings Time. So, we relied primarily on telexes to send information back and forth including specific interests of the delegation, itineraries, and the names of the delegation members and their professional backgrounds. These facts were necessary in order to arrange suitable activities and visits for them.
Because of the frustration and tension caused by such poor communications, we were prone to forget about the underlying realities and to see everything in cultural terms. “Oh, why can’t the Chinese communicate with us on time? Is it because of their group mentality? Are they careful about what they say so as not to cross any political lines? Are they afraid of someone in the delegation who may be there to report on member’s behavior? Is it because Chinese are known to be reticent in public and that they expect their hosts to figure everything out?” Underlying all of these questions was an often-unconscious assumption: “Why can’t they be more like us?”
When the needed information finally arrived by telex, the printouts on continuous paper were often over ten feet long. Moreover, they almost always contained previously unmentioned requests that meant that we would have to make significant changes in the already planned activities. We were frustrated at the time because, without any word from them as to their specific interests, we nevertheless had to proceed to make plans on the basis of what our professional consultants imagined the Chinese scientists and engineers would or should want to see. It was our standard practice to gather experts together in Washington from around the country to plan appropriate itineraries and to suggest contact persons.
I mentioned earlier that armed State Department Security Officers accompanied us to meet the plane in New York. This was standard practice in the first few years of exchanges. The background to this decision was that someone on the Chinese side made it clear to the State Department that it was responsible for protecting the members of the delegations. The Director of State Department Security, or SY as it was referred to in the 70s, was Bill (Big Bill) DeCourcy. He was a physically and verbally imposing man who looked and acted like he would brook no nonsense. Anne and I went to his office in State prior to various arrivals of the various groups under my charge. Mr. DeCourcy would outline the protocols of security to be followed. The State Department Security Agents were naturally best suited to take care of safety issues, while we were in general charge of the overall arrangements. There was some ambiguity as to who was in charge when these responsibilities overlapped. Then, prior to each group’s arrival, the head of the security detail would visit our office and introduce himself. I remember John Swafford coming into my office and showing me his badge and credentials before sitting down to talk. These arrangements lasted for several years, and they generally went quite smoothly.
Fortunately, during the eight years that I worked at the Committee, not one serious security incident occurred that I was aware of. Despite many years of antagonism directed between the U.S. and Chinese governments, I am proud to say that the American people we met along the way as we traveled throughout the country were friendly and welcoming. Some semi-embarrassing things would occur now and then, but by and large they were themselves evidence of the warm welcome of the American people. One such incident occurred when I took a Chinese delegation to a rodeo. Before we decided to bring them to the rodeo, our head of the security detail had held a discussion with the managers of the rodeo to let them know of the special guests that would be there and to stress that it was important for us that no threatening incidents would occur. He suggested that it might be best if nothing were said about their presence. So, we get to the rodeo where we have the best seats in the house, right up beside the arena. The rodeo announcer takes the microphone and after a few comments about the event, he informs the crowd that there are special guests from China in the audience that night and that they were most welcome, and that “we all hope that someday they will enjoy as much freedom in their country as we do in the United States.”
What concerned me most at the time was not any negative reaction from the crowd, which there wasn’t, but rather what the Chinese might do. Chinese groups had been known to walk out of various venues when they felt that someone had intentionally maligned their country. Fortunately the group at the rodeo did not take any negative action, possibly because they were not able to hear the announcer’s exact words. However, groups normally were compelled into objecting not necessarily because they felt it personally, but rather because at that time in China there were still various factions fighting for control, such as the infamous Gang of Four headed by no other than Mao Zedong’s wife, Zhang Qing. There was always the danger that someone in the delegation would report back to the Chinese authorities if they felt that the group had not acted appropriately to a perceived slight to the PRC or the Communist Party. Such slights might include something as seemingly innocuous to us, at the time, as mistakenly referring to China as the Republic of China (i.e., ROC, the Nationalists on Taiwan) rather than the People’s Republic of China. I remember several times telling Chinese delegations that it was more likely that the person who mentioned the Republic of China, especially in obviously friendly situations, did not know the difference between the terms PRC and ROC because we were mostly used to referring to the mainland as Red China or Mainland China and to the ROC as Taiwan, but that never sufficed. A correction was always demanded and always given.
* “Peking” is the name that was used throughout the United States and in many other countries until the opening of ties with the United States. It is an approximation of the Chinese pronunciation which is Beijing (Northern Capital). Nowadays we officially use Beijing as the spelling.
Crossing the street in Beijing can be hazardous to your health. It takes experience and a certain amount of fatalism. One could even think of it as a minor sport with its own rules and training regimens. You as an outsider, you may think that all you need to do is to wait for the traffic light to turn red for the cars and for the green “Walk” light (actually a green light in the shape a person walking) to come on, and that’s all there is to it. But you would be well advised to hold back and to watch what the native Beijingers do. You see, when the green “Walk” light turns on it does not mean “Start Walking.” It really means, “Cross at your own risk.” Turning cars always act as if they have the right-of-way, even though they don’t under law. But who wants to argue with a ton of steel? In Beijing, the operative rules are like this:
cars have the right of way over motor scooters, bicycles, and pedestrians;
motor scooters have the right of way over bicycles and pedestrians; and
bicycles have the right of way over pedestrians.
No matter how you put it, pedestrians always come last. I have even coined an eight syllable slogan consisting of two four syllable lines, so popular among the Chinese, summarizing the situation. I patterned it after one of the most famous contemporary slogans “Youyi diyi, bisai di-er” (友谊 第一, 比赛 第二) – that is, “Friendship First, Competition Second.” Here is my slogan and also one of my first compositions in Chinese: “Qiche diyi, xingren di-er” ( 汽车第一, 行人第二) – “Cars First, Pedestrians Second.”
The other day I decided that I would follow the Beijingers and cross the busy thoroughfare on my way to work not at the regular crosswalk but at a more convenient place in terms of my destination. It doesn’t seem to make any difference in the behavior of the motorists whether one crosses there or at the designated crosswalk. The road altogether has six lanes, three in each direction. The two side lanes are for bicycles. The four middle lanes are for motorized vehicles. A thin strip of greenery separates the bicycle lanes from the traffic lanes on each side. I watched what the locals were doing. They first crossed the bicycle lane and stood on or near the narrow strip of greenery. Then they cautiously looked in both directions and took advantage of an ever-so-slight break in traffic to cross to the center of the six lanes. They stood there on the thin white line separating them from the passing traffic until they were able to repeat their artful skills and cross the remaining three lanes. So I thought, “Okay. I’ll do the same, but I will make sure that I follow a group.” It worked. I was proud of myself for figuring this out, and I began to think of myself not as an outsider but rather as one of the people-in-the-know. I repeated this feat on my way home and became even more sanguine about my road-crossing prowess..
The next morning I did the same thing, but this time there was much more traffic. I made it to the middle of the six lanes and found myself stuck there on the thin white line between cars rushing in both directions. Then a number of very large passenger buses passed by me going fast enough to rearrange my hair. From one perspective, they were not going all that fast, and yet, one step in either direction and, as Mercutio said to Romeo as he lay dying of a stab wound, “ ‘Tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door, but ’tis enough, ‘twill serve…,” I would have been a goner. Finally, I made it to the last lane, the one primarily occupied by bicycles and small motor scooters – oh, and also by the tricycles that serve as mini-haulers of everything. I was greatly relieved that I had made it so far. So, while looking to my right to insure that no one was pedaling fast upon me, I stepped out into the lane. Big mistake! Just as my foot touched the pavement, a bicyclist coming from the left swooped past me at a hair’s distance swerving to avoid colliding with me and just avoiding spilling himself into the road as he muttered something that I didn’t catch but that I immediately understood as akin to “Watch out you crazy foreigner!” Had he hit me, I probably would have been blamed for not being sufficiently aware of my surroundings, although he might have gotten in more trouble hitting me because I am a “waiguoren”, i.e., foreigner – than he would have if he had hit a native, such is the special treatment that foreigners receive here. Foreigners, like old people, can also simply raise their arm up horizontally with palm outward in the universal “Stop” gesture, and most cars will stop. I’ve thought about this, but I would be too embarrassed to attempt it. I did see one young foreign guy use it while crossing a major thoroughfare in downtown Beijing, but rather than being emboldened by his chutzpah, I found myself wishing that someone would run him down – of course, not so as to seriously injure him but to give him pause the next time the thought entered his mind.
On another occasion, I followed my newly established rule when crossing the street: “Follow the locals.” Whether I chose a group that was composed largely of people not native to Beijing or whether I simply chose a more foolhardy and inexperienced group than usual, we all got as far as the middle of the six lanes when cars began rushing down upon us from the right, and then it was each man or women for themselves, me included. So, at that moment I revised my rule into “Follow the locals, but not always!”
I do not know why cars have the right of way in Beijing. I considered that perhaps it’s because there are so many people that cars would never get anywhere if they actually were to stop for pedestrians. Yet, upon reflection, that doesn’t seem to hold water because there really aren’t that many more people on any given corner in Beijing than there are in any major city around the world. Tokyo, for example, has just as many, if not more, people crossing at every major crossway, and this kind of driving behavior doesn’t happen in Tokyo – which brings me to an important point that I should have mentioned earlier. In Beijing, if a car toots its horn to let you know that you are in its way or that you may potentially be in its way, as happens all the time, then all is permitted. It is your responsibility, Mr. or Mrs. Pedestrian, to yield; and it is the right of the car to forge ahead even if it should hit you. After all, you were given fair warning.
My previous posts were quite heavy, but my experiences in China and with the Chinese also contained many happy and amusing moments. I would like to interject a few light-hearted notes about life in Beijing. I originally wrote the following vignette while I was serving in Beijing in 2008. I believe that it is still true today. In a subsequent post, I intend to include another vignette written at the same time, “Crossing the Street in Beijing.”
BEIJING NOTE – THE ENDLESS CARD GAME
For anyone who knew the old Beijing, things now are almost unrecognizable. They say that one year in China is like ten years anywhere else in terms of change. Everything in Beijing is stainless steel and glass, and the architecture is fantastic, as you saw during the Olympics games. I am looking out from my office now at one of those buildings. It looks like a big wave in the sky.
I keep looking for signs of the old Beijing, but they are hard to spot. There is the perpetual card game that goes on not far from where I live. Every day I pass through a shortcut that takes me through the staging area for the construction of the building across from our residence. Two guards in baggy gray uniforms stand at either entrance to the staging area keeping away anyone who is obviously not supposed to be there, such as the local people. When I reach the end of the staging area and turn the corner, there is the same group of “workers” everyday and at every hour playing cards on top of a dirty old tricycle with a flat bed made of scarred and cracked planks serving as the card table. These tricycles are heavily geared and reinforced so as to carry very heavy loads. My guess is that they could carry close to 1000 lbs. I saw one carrying what seemed like a whole tree that had been cut into sections. They were plentiful in old Beijing and are still plentiful.
The members of the card gang are very intent on what they are doing as they slam down the cards and shout the equivalent of “Take that!” One guy is particularly striking. He’s in his fifties or maybe even his sixties; or he could be in his forties and just looks old. He is skinny and has dark brown cracked skin from being out in the weather all the time. His beard is unshaven and, this is the key point, he wears a pair of huge women’s sunglasses that are square shaped with faux tortoise rims. His teeth are stained from lots and lots of tea drinking and tobacco smoking, and he is always dressed in the same dark blue cotton pants and dark blue cotton “Mao” jacket unbuttoned at the neck. Needless to say, the gang is prodigious and vocal at throat clearing and such associated things. I have often thought of taking a picture of them, but I have decided that I would not do so for fear that it would put an end to their enjoyment.
I have learned that these men more than likely are part of the 5.4 million migrant workers or so-called “floating population” from the countryside, out of a total population of 17.4 million, who live in Beijing doing all of the jobs that the Beijingers themselves would be loath to do, much like our migrant workers in the United States. To draw the analogy even closer, most of Beijing’s migrant workers are illegal in that they do not have permission to be in residence in Beijing. By the way, there is an endless Chinese chess game that goes on at the opposite corner on a dusty patch of dirt between the busy street and the brick wall keeping what’s inside from seeing what’s outside and keeping the outside from getting inside.
BLOGPOST 3: Unrestricted Warfare(In Blogpost 2, I promised to devote a subsequent blogpost to the book discussed below. The reasons why I want to comment on this book include 1) because it was referenced many times in Michael Pillsbury’s book about China’s plan to overtake us by 2049, 2) because it was written from the Chinese point of view by two Senior Chinese Air Force Colonels, 4) because it was published by the PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House suggesting that at least some leaders of the PLA endorse the book, and 5) because it makes good companion reading for Pillsbury’s book as each sheds light on the other.
How would a militarily inferior country, such as China, defeat a militarily superior country, even a superpower, such as the United States, possibly without even firing a shot?
Know the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses well and take advantage of its blind spot
Use all means to wage war, not just military means but most importantly those means that we do not traditionally regard as military means; and
Hide you true intentions.
In 1999, two Senior Chinese Air Force Colonels, Qiao Liang (桥良) and Wang Xianghui (王湘穗), wrote a book that has since drawn much attention including four symposia sponsored annually from 2006 through 2009 by the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and the Applied Physics Laboratory. The book is Unrestricted Warfare: War and Strategy in the Globalization Era (超限战:全球化时代限争与限法). This book answers the following questions:
What is unrestricted warfare?
How does it differ from conventional warfare? and
Against whom is it intended?
To engage in unrestricted warfare is to use all possible means, including military and non-military, to force the enemy to serve one’s own interests. It is the civilianization of war. Unrestricted warfare can be waged in many ways:
Trade war: accusing another country of dumping products into one’s market; accusing another country of using non-tariff trade barriers counter international agreements
Ecological war: using technology to influence the natural state of rivers, oceans, the crust of the earth, the polar ice sheets, the air circulating in the atmosphere, and the ozone layer
Financial war: attacking another country’s currency, creating rival international currencies, creating havoc in international markets
Psychological warfare: spreading rumors to Intimidate the enemy and break down its will
Smuggling warfare: throwing markets into confusion and attacking economic order
Media warfare: manipulating what people see and hear in order to lead public opinion along
Drug warfare: obtaining sudden and huge illicit profits by spreading disaster in other countries
Standards warfare: creating monopolies by setting standards independently
Cyber warfare: using telecommunications to crash computers, hacking into government and private computer systems to create havoc or to steal funds and/or technology
Many American military experts, economists, political scientists and others have written about and reviewed this book. Their comments are available online. My interest was focused on what they said about us and on their frequent reference to ancient Chinese war strategems. I have already commented on ancient strategems in Blogpost 2. Therefore, I will concentrate here on what the authors say about us. However, before proceeding, I would like to add just one more comment on the authors’ frequent references to China’s ancient war strategems. Edward Luttwak, a respected military strategist, political scientist and historian, has pointed out that all of China’s revered historical strategies for waging war, including Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and the Stratagems of the Warring States, were products of rivalries between and among rival Chinese states that shared common culture, language and mentality and that therefore that the Chinese might be unwise to rely on using such strategies against those outside the Chinese sphere.
What does this book say about us Americans? There are many things about America’s military prowess that the authors admire, especially our war fighting technology and our command and control systems.
The authors even find things to praise in how we handle our mistakes even as they ridicule us as being “supercilious”:
The supercilious Americans often engage in actions which cause them to reflect on their mistakes, and this disposition, which would seem to be a contradiction, time and again amazes those who want to witness the presumptuous Americans suffering. At the same time it also enables the Americans to time and again reap considerable benefits. It truly seems as if the Americans are always able to find the key to open the door of the next military action among the lessons of each military action.
The authors praise the attack on Pearl Harbor, and its mastermind, Admiral Yamamoto, for his innovative use of aircraft carriers in the attack and for his great victory. I can understand their admiration for this innovation in warfare. However, as an American, I regard their praise for such a horrific act of deception perpetrated against the United States as clearly demonstrating the animosity they bear against us:
Isoroku Yamamoto was doubtless the most innovative and “extraordinarily talented” military man of his age, and the use of aircraft carriers in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the great victory he achieved represent the stroke of genius he left on the history of naval combat.
The authors’ main criticism of us is that we are addicted to technology and that we think of warfare only in terms of developing new weapons:
Technology is like “magic shoes” on the feet of mankind, and after the spring has been wound tightly by commercial interests, people can only dance along with the shoes, whirling rapidly in time to the beat that they set,
….proposing a new concept of weapons does not require relying on the springboard of new technology, it just demands lucid and incisive thinking. However, this is not a strong point of the Americans, who are slaves to technology in their thinking.
Self confidence such as this has made them forget one simple fact – it is not so much that war follows the fixed race course of rivalry of technology and weaponry as it is a game field with continually changing direction and many irregular factors. Whether you wear Adidas or Nike cannot guarantee you will become the winner.
The authors believe that our effectiveness is weakened by inter-service rivalries and that these rivalries expose one of our blind spots:
Because the nationalistic instincts of the Americans I especially admire are particularly prominent in the long-standing sectarianism that exists among the military services, theoretical blind spots and thought errors are bound to occur in the research, to the extent that a grand warfare investigation [referring to the U.S. military’s investigation of the Gulf War] has been turned into a blind person trying to size up an elephant.
The authors regard our concern about American battlefield deaths as a weakness and claim that we have never been willing to pay the price in human lives:
What you must know is that this is a nationality that has never been willing to pay the price of life and, moreover, has always vied for victory at all costs.All of the opponents who have engaged in battle with the American military have probably mastered the secret of success – if you have no way of defeating this force, you should kill its rank and file soldiers.
What might an inferior military nation do to win?
….if the attacking side secretly musters large amounts of capital without the enemy nation being aware of this at all and launches a sneak attack against its financial markets, then after causing a financial crisis, buries a computer virus and hacker detachment in the opponent’s computersystem in advance, while at the same time carrying out a network attack against the enemy so that the civilian electricity network, traffic dispatching network, financial transaction network, telephone communications network, and mass media network are completely paralyzed, this will cause the enemy nation to fall into social panic, street riots, and a political crisis. There is finally the forceful bearing downby the army, and military means are utilized in gradual stages until the enemy is forced to sign a dishonorable peace treaty.
The authors have thoroughly researched our military strategies. This should not surprise us. We are doing the same regarding their military strategies. In my experience, the Chinese are always well-prepared. I know a number of American scientists who were invited to lecture in China who were astounded at how thoroughly informed the Chinese audiences were about things that they, the Americans, had written which even they had forgotten.
I wrote this blogpost because I want us all to know the level of sophistication and thoroughness that Chinese military strategists have brought to bear on the issue of unrestricted warfare. Seen together with Michael Pillsbury’s book (ref. Blogpost 2), it may appear that an irresistible juggernaut is bearing down upon us determined to subject us to its will. It may be so, but there are respected American scholars who hold different, even opposite views about the level of threat from China. You might wish to look at recent books by Edward Luttwak and David Shambaugh for less scary prognoses.
Sixteen years have passed since this book was written. How much have we learned from it? Are we better prepared now than we were then? I was heartened to see that many American military researchers and China experts have paid attention to this book and to the issues it raises. The fact that the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies held four major symposia on the topic of unrestricted warfare and that many strategists have written about it is cause for hope that we are dealing with the challenge.
Beyond the book’s revelations on the thinking of China’s military hawks, it astounds me that they made the book available to the public. Somehow it doesn’t seem very Chinese. Should we view this as a feint to throw us of guard? Or should we take it at its word. I vote for the latter. Despite their reputation for concealment, I have been surprised at how willing Chinese officials at all levels are to state what they want and how they feel about the United States. Perhaps we should all thank the two colonels and the PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House for making this book available to the us.
In my first few visits to China in the early 1970s, I quickly realized that I would never want to live under a system of relations between the government and the people such as the one in China. I am not saying that their system is right or wrong for them, as it is not my business. But I know that it would not be right for me.
Recently I read a book that caused me to focus on things that have been troubling me about our policies toward China. I discuss that book below. In a following blogpost, I will discuss another book, this one written by two Senior Colonels in the People’s Liberation Army (PLO). It makes good companion reading for the book discussed below:
Michael Pillsbury, a well-known China expert, recently published a book entitled China’s Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower (New York, Henry Holt and Company, February 2015). This book echoes some of my own concerns about China. So, I’d like both to tell you a bit about this book and also to add some thoughts of my own.
From the reestablishment of contacts between the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the early 1970s, a majority of American China experts have supported broader and deeper ties with China. Many reasons are given for this from benefitting from increased trade, to the belief that through multiple avenues of interaction China would become more sympathetic to America’s interests and perhaps even adopt a democratic form of government, to partnering with China against common problems and adversaries (e.g., the former Soviet Union and more recently Islamic terrorists), to feeling guilty over the West’s historic aggression against China. We opened our universities and research laboratories; we granted China most-favored-nation status; we encouraged China’s participation in the World Trade Organization; we engaged China in military cooperation; we brought China into a global, high-speed network for sharing scientific data; we opened our markets to the point where now nearly every consumer product sold in America is made in China, and so on. Recently, however, some experts have begun to doubt the wisdom of having been so open with China fearing that the yingpai (硬派) – that is, the hawks/hardliners in China – are not the out-of-touch fringe element that we thought they were, but rather the ones who best represent Chinese thinking about the United States.
Over the past forty years, Michael Pillsbury enjoyed unusually good access to China’s military and civilian leaders. For most of that time, he says that he, like most American experts, strongly supported broad contacts with China believing that they were in the best interests of both countries. However, more recently, he and others have begun to deeply question the motives of China’s civilian and military leaders with regard to relations with the United States. I too am concerned about our relationship with China, even though I also supported broader and deeper scientific cooperation with China in the false hope that such cooperation would engender greater mutual understanding that would in turn lead to mutual respect and friendship. I naively thought that cooperating in the discovery of new knowledge based on the objective approach of science would play a leading role in drawing us away from antagonisms and clashes in other areas.
Pillsbury’s basic thesis is that China’s goal is to become the leading country in world affairs and that it is following a hundred year secret plan to overtake the United States which began in1949 with the establishment of the PRC. Furthermore, Pillsbury believes that this plan involves the clever use of a panoply of non-military weapons. Such weapons could include the economy, trade, foreign aid, science and technology, cyber hacking and sabotage, stealing technology, non-tariff trade barriers, the World Trade Organization, the United Nations, and anything else that can be used as a weapon, to overcome and subjugate the militarily superior United States. He also notes that cunning and deceit throughout history have always played a substantial role in China’s stratagems for defeating the enemy. The Chinese people proudly regard these stratagems as examples of Chinese wisdom and intelligence, and why not? China has survived for three thousand years, longer than any other nation. So, when I point out that these stratagems involve cunning and deceit, I am not making a moral judgment but simply stating the facts. Unless we recognize these facts and understand the influence that they have on Chinese thinking, we will be poorly prepared to perpetuate our own values and freedom.
As a former student of Chinese literature and history, I was very impressed that Pillsbury used anecdotes from Chinese literature and history, most notably the Spring and AutumnPeriod (春秋時代), roughly 772-479 B.C.) and the the Warring States Period (戰國時代), roughly covering the period from 479-221 B.C. when the Qin Dynasty united all of China. This was a period of great turmoil in China when various hegemons/tyrants (ba* 霸) struggled against one another for control of China. The stratagems took shape during those times and have been codified and passed down through the generations in book entitled Zhanguo Ce (Strategems of the Warring States).
*The title “ba” is currently translated into English as hegemon but carries the strong implication of a “tyrant” who holds power by force of might rather than by legitimate means. In contrast, the emperors of the successive dynasties of China were regarded as legitimate rulers possessing the Mandate of Heaven.
You may wonder how stories from two or three thousand years ago can possibly have anything to do with today’s geopolitical conflicts, yet I can assure you that they certainly can. The Chinese language is replete with sayings from Chinese history and literature, sayings that guide and channel the thinking of the Chinese people and their leaders even today. These sayings, proverbs and stories are as alive today as they were then, and they often encapsulate ideas of cunning and deception in which a weaker enemy gains power over a stronger force. The Stratagems are stories of cunning that contain a trap or ruse for the enemy. They focus on policy, diplomacy and espionage rather than on outright military conflict. Their purpose is to cause havoc in the enemy camp and to sap the will of the enemy to fight. (These descriptions of the Stratagems were borrowed from Douglas S. Tung and Kenneth Tung, More than Thirty Six Stratagems: A Systematic Classification Based on Basic Behaviors, Trafford Publishing, 2003)
Steal the beams and replace the pillars 偷梁換柱 Remove the supporting pillar, the common link that makes a group of men an effective fighting force.
Deceive heaven to cross the ocean 瞞天過海 Mask your real goal by pretending to seek another.
Hide a dagger in a smile 笑裏藏刀 Charm your enemy, then attack
Remove the fire from under the pot 釜底抽薪 Destroy an enemy’s ability to make war by taking away his source of power.
Wait at ease while the enemy labors 以逸待勞 Let the enemy exhaust himself and then attack
Kill with a borrowed knife 借刀殺人 Attack using the strength of another
Decorate the tree with bogus blossoms 樹上開花 Use artifice and disguise to make something of no value seem valuable. Make yourself appear well-intentioned
Because I do not possess Pillsbury’s knowledge of China’s political and military affairs, I cannot confirm or deny his conclusion that China has a “secret strategy” to replace America as the greatest global superpower. To me, the concept “secret strategy” seems a bit too concrete. However, whether it is a “secret atrategy” or not may be a distinction without difference if the answer to the following questions is yes:
Does China want to exceed the United States as the world’s greatest power? Yes
Is China set on a path to achieving this goal? Based on my knowledge of Chinese history and culture, as well as my interactions with the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) government officials, the answer is yes.
Does China look upon the United States as an enemy bent on keeping China from achieving its grand destiny? Yes.
Does China disbelieve us when we say that we do not intend to keep China down? Yes.
More fundamentally, is it the Chinese way to look at things not in terms of intentions but rather in terms of historical trajectories and determinant forces? Yes.
Because of their long history of surviving through the direst of circumstances, have the Chinese people developed an innate calculus of assessing who has the advantage and disadvantage in every situation and relationship? Yes.
Are the Chinese beset by a victim mentality and by super nationalism? Yes.
If the answer to all these questions is yes, how much does it matter whether China has a clearly defined “secret strategy” to replace the United States as the next greatest superpower and thereby assume the role of agenda-setter and controlling force in world affairs? Isn’t the calculus leading exactly in that direction anway? Moreover, is it not human nature, whether you are Chinese or American, to use your wits and power to gain advantage in all situations? Finally, when a country proclaims loudly and often that it will “never seek hegemony”, as in Chairman Mao’s famous quote from the 1970s (see below)*, doesn’t it cause you to become a little suspicious?
*(The quote from Chairman Mao is “Dig tunnels deep, store grain everywhere, and never seek hegemony深挖洞, 廣積糧, 不稱霸. Every person in China knows this quote by heart. China’s current leaders still use the last part of it in their speeches, especially when traveling to foreign countries.)
When I worked at the National Academy of Sciences from 1973-1980 and then at the National Science Foundation from 1980 through 2010, I was closely involved in carrying out the U.S. government’s policy of promoting scientific and technical cooperation between American and Chinese scientists and engineers. The U.S. government’s overall policy then, and for many decades thereafter, was that a strong and stable China is in the best interests not only of China but also of the United States.
Looking back at those years, I recall a conversation that I had in 1973 or 1974 aboard an airplane with a gentleman who was seated beside me, a Mr Lamar. I, together with five-or-so armed agents of the State Department Security Office, was escorting a group of Chinese scientists on visits to universities and laboratories in their field across the United States. These exchange visits from China, not to mention visits in the other direction by American scientific and technical delegations, first took shape in talks between the Committee on Scholarly Communications with the People’s Republic of China, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Chinese leaders. Subsequently, they were sanctioned by the State Department and became associated with an agreement to exchange S&T delegations. The National Academy of Sciences, which is not a government agency but which works closely with the government, was selected by the White House to be the facilitator of these exchanges in the years prior to the establishment of formal diplomatic relations by President Jimmy Carter and Premier Deng Xiaoping in 1979.
Now, back to my interlocutor. Mr Lamar asked me a simple question: “What does the United States gain from these contacts with China?” (There are some answers to this question outside the realm of science and technology, but here I will restrict myself within the that realm.) I recall stammering a bit as I fumbled around in my head for a reasonable-sounding answer. I think I responded that it was important that we get to know one another after so many years of antagonism and non-communication. I probably also mentioned that American scientists and engineers were going to China under the same accord and that they would find out about the state of S&T in their fields of research. Mr Lamar pointed out that American levels of achievement in S&T were far above those of the Chinese so that it was unlikely that we would learn very much. I probably nodded and shook my head indicating that I recognized the truth of what he was saying. He then let me off the hook by saying that he was not against such contacts in principle but that we should be getting something more out of the contacts.
Some critics of Pillsbury’s book may scoff at his reliance on ancient stories to buttress his argument that the Chinese regard themselves as being engaged in a struggle with the United States, but I think he should be taken seriously for several reasons. I have already explained how the Chinese language is replete with sayings from the past and that this greatly influences Chinese thinking. It is well known that the Chinese often refer to the United States as the “ba”, just as they once used the term to refer to the Soviet Union and over 2000 years ago to the rival warlords of the Warring States. Another reason is the deep regard that the Chinese have for their history and culture. Let’s not forget that until the middle of the 1800s, but a moment in Chinese thinking, China was arguably the most advanced and powerful nation the world. The Chinese have always thought of themselves as the superior nation while all other peoples were regarded as barbarians. The very name of China in Chinese, Zhungguo (中國), means “Central Kingdom” as in worthiest, most important nation. This way of seeing the world leads into the deep sense of injustice, victimization and humiliation that the Chinese people feel against the Western Powers, including the United States, for invading China in the eighteen-and-nineteen-hundreds and forcing the Qing government to sign unequal treaties that carved China up into extraterritorial spheres of influence within which foreigners were exempt from Chinese law. Britain’s introduction of the opium trade into China and the wars it fought against the Qing government to protect that trade were further degradations. In addition, China’s leaders believe that the United States is determined to encircle China and to prevent it from assuming its rightful place in the world. It doesn’t matter how many times Americans or the American government avow that they have no such intentions. The Chinese are firm in this conviction.
I recommend this book. One can agree or disagree with it, but at the very least it deserves our attention both because it is written by someone who was intimately involved in rebuilding our relationship with China and because it will certainly provoke a reassessment of our basic understanding of China. Also, I think that it is right-on with respect to the way things are going.
In a following blogpost, I will comment on a book written in 1999 by two Senior Colonels in the People” Liberation Army (PLA). The book is entitled Unrestricted Warfare: War and Strategy in the Globalization Era.
My blog probably will eventually include many different things, but for starters I will comment on China.
I spent all of my professional working life focusing on scientific and technical relations between the United States and China. For most of that time, I worked for the U.S. National Foundation, an agency of the Federal Government tasked with supporting basic scientific research in the United States.
I spent the final two years of my servive, 2008-2010, as the Head of the NSF China Office in the United States Embassy in Beijing. I retired immediately after.
Since retiring, I have intentionally stayed away from things related to China, or for that matter Japan, on which I also spent a great deal of time. When I was a government official, I was of course precluded from making my personal views known publicly either on official relations with other countries or on any other matters pertaining to those countries. Furthermore, after retiring I wasn’t interested in keeping involved. Now that I have gained some distance from these matters, I want to share my thoughts and observations with others on matters both big and small. I will enjoy this, and I hope that you will find my comments either informative or amusing.
Observations from a lifetime of interactions with the Chinese