Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia

Americans didn't make an effort to understand Asians and paid the consequences. America viewed a mirage of Asians that wanted to be westernized Christians. Political leaders were willing to do whatever it took to help fulfill that "mirage". This lead to Pacific involvement in World War II, the Korean war and Vietnam war. Only after the disaster of the Vietnam war did American leaders give up on this mirage and finally accept Asians as Asians and not proto-Americans. (And funny enough, after the US backed off, they went ahead and adopted American materialism.)

Chiang Kai Shek receives the most negative treatment in this book. He comes across as a bumbling opportunist who is controlled by the Soong family. He stumbled upon Sun Yat-sen's mantel and saw it as a great opportunity to enrich himself. (Generalisimo cash-my-check.) Americans wanted to see a westernized China, and he was more than willing to comply. He married an American-educated Chinese woman (who cares if he was already married.) He converted to Christianity. He was exactly what Americans hoped for. He would even put on a show of fighting the Japanese (even though he would much rather spend the resources to fight Mao.) FDR fell for it as did many other politicians (and the American public.)

Mao, on the other hand, is portrayed in a somewhat positive manner. He was basically "not an idiot". He built up support among the masses and would actually help fight the enemy. He had fallen out of favor with the communists (due to his peasant support). He was willing to align with the US. However, the US would have nothing to do with him.

The root of the China problem is traced back to the Chinese exclusion act. The Chinese were too successful. They were forced out of many towns where the law would turn a blind eye to the mob violence. The Chinese were not permitted to immigrate to the country. The primary contact point with the Chinese were American missionaries, who usually lived in isolated compounds in China. There was no real understanding, so the leaders and people were willing to believe what they wanted.

What would have happened were it not for the collective "bag over head"? Maybe China would be much more "Americanized". Taiwan would probably not exist as it is today. Some of the atrocities like the "Great Leap Forward" may not have happened. However, it is difficult to say that either country would be better off now. The "competition" between China and US has been good for global growth. China's rapid infrastructure growth is something the US could only dream of. The American economy also relies heavily on all the manufacturing and investment from China. Maybe the growth would have been inferior with an alliance.

Korea and Vietnam, however, would have been much different. With a Sino-American alliance, the partitioning of Korea may never have happened. The Vietnam de-colonization would have been handled in the European model without the prolonged war. The war experience in Asia would not have been needed. However, the military would have wanted some means of testing its cold war weapons. Would this mean a Russian war in Europe?

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