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A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949

por Kevin Peraino

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1006268,408 (3.69)8
New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice * Winner of the 2018 Truman Book Award A gripping narrative of the Truman Administration's response to the fall of Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949--an extraordinary political revolution that continues to shape East Asian politics to this day.   In the opening months of 1949, U.S. President Harry S. Truman found himself faced with a looming diplomatic catastrophe--"perhaps the greatest that this country has ever suffered," as the journalist Walter Lippmann put it. Throughout the spring and summer, Mao Zedong's Communist armies fanned out across mainland China, annihilating the rival troops of America's one-time ally Chiang Kai-shek and taking control of Beijing, Shanghai, and other major cities. As Truman and his aides--including his shrewd, ruthless secretary of state, Dean Acheson--scrambled to formulate a response, they were forced to contend not only with Mao, but also with unrelenting political enemies at home. Over the course of this tumultuous year, Mao would fashion a new revolutionary government in Beijing, laying the foundation for the creation of modern China, while Chiang Kai-shek would flee to the island sanctuary of Taiwan. These events transformed American foreign policy--leading, ultimately, to decades of friction with Communist China, a long-standing U.S. commitment to Taiwan, and the subsequent wars in Korea and Vietnam.   Drawing on Chinese and Russian sources, as well as recently declassified CIA documents, Kevin Peraino tells the story of this remarkable year through the eyes of the key players, including Mao Zedong, President Truman, Secretary of State Acheson, Minnesota congressman Walter Judd, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the influential first lady of the Republic of China.  Today, the legacy of 1949 is more relevant than ever to the relationships between China, the United States, and the rest of the world, as Beijing asserts its claims in the South China Sea and tensions endure between Taiwan and the mainland.… (mais)
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A very well written account of world events that would resonate throughout history. The inability of Truman administration to decide on what to do with Mao and communism eventually resulted in the Korean & Vietnam Wars. The background of 1949 with Mao, Truman and the emerging of modern China is an essential read to understand better the history that flowed from that year. ( )
  Pharmacdon | Dec 20, 2020 |

A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949 by Kevin Peraino is the account of the fall of Nationalist China and the actions of the Truman administration. Peraino is a veteran foreign correspondent who has reported from around the world. A senior writer and bureau chief at Newsweek for a decade, he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for foreign reporting and part of a team that won the National Magazine Award in 2004. He is the author of Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and The Dawn of American Power.

The close of World War II saw the fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Europe was left in ruins by the war. The USSR was rising in power as the war came to a close. It was seen as a threat to Western Europe as it demonstrated its will in Eastern Europe. The Berlin Airlift 1949-1949 showed the Soviet commitment against the West. The United States and Europe worked on a plan of containment. In the East, China was still fighting a civil war that was interrupted by WWII and Japanese occupation and related atrocities. The United States was now occupying Japan and putting down the communist movement there. At home, the second Red Scare was beginning with McCarthy and Nixon rising in power.

At a time when the US should have been looking for a partner like nationalist China to contain the Soviet Union in the East, it didn't give meaningful support. America was tired of war. The Marshall Plan took care of Europe. Occupation forces in Japan were taking care of the East. Americans wanted to go back to peacetime and leave the world to itself.

China was mostly left to its own. The US did not want the communists and Mao to rule but did not find much confidence in the Nationalists. Poor leadership in battle and corruption plagued the Nationalist movement. Madame Chiang worked in America creating a public relations lobby to gain support for the Nationalists. Well spoken and elegant she was unable to find the support in the federal government she needed. The Soviets were on their guard. They were distrustful of Mao and his peasant army. During the WWII and before The USSR supported Nationalists turning to Mao when the US picked up support for the Nationalists and as the tide was turning in the civil war.

Peraino gives the reader an inside look at the major players on the world stage especially concentrating on Truman and the Chiangs. The roles of India and Britain are also discussed. A historical look at the civil war shows how easily things could have been different. Although the Chinese civil war was not fought in a vacuum it did not seem to get the attention it deserved. China was still considered an undeveloped country with only a few main cities. Its large population and land mass were not seen at its current potential. China looked to be a country that would remain poor and unorganized. With the exception of the Koreas, it is the only other separated country. The Nationalists still govern Taiwan (Formosa) and the Communists the mainland. Both see themselves as the true Chinese government. A fascinating look at the creation of modern China. ( )
  evil_cyclist | Mar 16, 2020 |
I learned a few things reading this book; can't remember why I failed to review it at the time I read it. ( )
  LynnB | Dec 21, 2019 |
A political history of US-China relations in 1949, including what became the Republic of China (Taiwan) though the principals don’t get mentioned in the subhead. I ended up with a better sense of just how much the world looked like whack-a-mole to US policymakers in the aftermath of WWII, with Britain’s power definitively broken, and how Mao both respected and rejected Soviet Communism. ( )
  rivkat | Aug 30, 2018 |
Summary: A study of how the Truman adminstration, under Secretary of State Dean Acheson, framed America's response to the rise of Mao as the Nationalist forces under Chiang Kai-shek fell to Communist forces in 1949.

The role of the People's Republic of China as a world power is an accepted reality in today's global landscape. Threats to Taiwan, seizure of coastal islands, influence throughout east and southeast Asia, and economic growth and trading relationships with the U.S. regularly are subjects of the evening news. What is often less understood are the events nearly 70 years ago that helped shape current realities.

In 1949 the world was recovering from war. China invaded by Japan in World War II, nominally was under control of a Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek. Beginning in the spring of 1949, Communist forces under Mao Zedong rapidly conquered Nationalist controlled territories, leading to a situation where the fate of Chiang's government, which had enjoyed American support, was increasingly in doubt.

Kevin Peraino, using recently declassified information as well as Russian and Chinese sources, studies the U.S. response to what many viewed as a cataclysmic event. China under Chiang had been an object of American mission efforts as well as trade and a wartime alliance, all of which was in jeopardy. For that reason, the Truman administration faced significant factions who pressed for continued efforts to prop up the failing regime, led by one-time Truman ally, Warren Judd. These efforts were also fostered by Madame Chiang, who took up residence in the U.S., probably the most effective ambassador Chiang could have employed.

Louis Johnson, Truman's Secretary of Defense favored efforts to support Chiang while Dean Acheson, as Secretary of State was much more doubtful of Chiang's ability to survive, even on Taiwan. Acheson also recognized that China and Russia may not have had as much in common as was projected. There were even reasons to support rather than resist this new government. In the end, it wasn't to be, even though there was good reason for the suspicions that the relationship between Russia and Communist China was an uneasy alliance at best. Instead, the U.S. extended its policy of containment, withholding recognition to the People's Republic of China until the late 1970's, and becoming involved in conflicts first in Korea and then in Indochina, leading to our Vietnam ordeal.

Peraino's book explores how foreign policy is often constrained by the politically possible at home as well as by other global actors. Fears of Communism, of atomic war, and the concern not to be the administration that "lost" China placed great pressures on the Truman administration, which resulted in a compromise between acceptance of the new reality and the effort to project a strong response shaping events for at least a generation, and perhaps down to the present day. One wonders what might have happened if early American recognition and support of Mao had been possible. Would China have gone through the ordeals of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution? Would we have been embroiled in Korea and Vietnam? At the same time, would the vibrant, indigenous Chinese Christian movement have arisen, now estimated to number more than 100 million adherents?

It is not given to us to know "what if." But Peraino helps us understand what happened and what resulted and how that has shaped the international landscape down to our own day. We see both the necessity of intelligent foreign policy in the careers of people like Acheson and George Kennen, and the limits even very bright people face. We see both the pressures and the folly involved in backing failing governments. And we see how Truman's ideals of achieving the "federation of the world" of Tennyson's "Locksley Hall" come smack up against the realities of the Cold War, one that really hasn't ended to this very day.

____________________________

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. ( )
  BobonBooks | Mar 28, 2018 |
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New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice * Winner of the 2018 Truman Book Award A gripping narrative of the Truman Administration's response to the fall of Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949--an extraordinary political revolution that continues to shape East Asian politics to this day.   In the opening months of 1949, U.S. President Harry S. Truman found himself faced with a looming diplomatic catastrophe--"perhaps the greatest that this country has ever suffered," as the journalist Walter Lippmann put it. Throughout the spring and summer, Mao Zedong's Communist armies fanned out across mainland China, annihilating the rival troops of America's one-time ally Chiang Kai-shek and taking control of Beijing, Shanghai, and other major cities. As Truman and his aides--including his shrewd, ruthless secretary of state, Dean Acheson--scrambled to formulate a response, they were forced to contend not only with Mao, but also with unrelenting political enemies at home. Over the course of this tumultuous year, Mao would fashion a new revolutionary government in Beijing, laying the foundation for the creation of modern China, while Chiang Kai-shek would flee to the island sanctuary of Taiwan. These events transformed American foreign policy--leading, ultimately, to decades of friction with Communist China, a long-standing U.S. commitment to Taiwan, and the subsequent wars in Korea and Vietnam.   Drawing on Chinese and Russian sources, as well as recently declassified CIA documents, Kevin Peraino tells the story of this remarkable year through the eyes of the key players, including Mao Zedong, President Truman, Secretary of State Acheson, Minnesota congressman Walter Judd, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the influential first lady of the Republic of China.  Today, the legacy of 1949 is more relevant than ever to the relationships between China, the United States, and the rest of the world, as Beijing asserts its claims in the South China Sea and tensions endure between Taiwan and the mainland.

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