Home > Analysis, history, Philosophy, politics > A lesson from the history books – “Our Chinese Allies”

A lesson from the history books – “Our Chinese Allies”


Our Chinese Ally” by Owen and Eleanor Lattimore

In response to Wukailong’s recent comment, I dug up an old post I had left undone from a few months ago.

In the run up to the World expo, I was surprised to see how the coverage of Shanghai in the West had been much less politicized than those on Beijing (and China in general) in the lead up to the 2008 Olympics.  Check out for example, these interesting articles on Shanghai from National Geographic and Time.

When later I ran across an old pamphlet on China (titled “Our Chinese Ally” by Owen and Eleanor Lattimore) produced in America in 1944 and compare that with the venom spewed about China in the lead up to the current U.S. election, I am again reminded how politicized our views of otherwise ordinary things in the world can be – how the the demonization of other peoples and nations can derive from political expediency.

The pamphlet is not short, but it is definitely worth a read.  While the pamphlet was written at a time when China was an ally to the U.S. and still a very poor (impotent) nation, it is nevertheless amazing to note how much of what was written is consistent with what many in the West today blindly refer to as communist or Chinese nationalist propaganda.

Sometimes, to see beyond the ripples and warts of the times, you have to turn to historical narratives from another era.

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  1. xian
    October 20th, 2010 at 16:30 | #1

    Western nations are fickle and have little foresight, siding with whoever is more convenient at the moment. Same deal with the Islamic extremists they used to fight with against Soviet influence. They had one of these pamphlets for every nation allied with them in WW2, “Our Russian Ally”, “Our British Ally” etc.

  2. October 20th, 2010 at 18:27 | #2

    I just read the “Our Russian Ally” pamphlet – I thought it to be pretty balanced. I don’t see anything in it that is propagandistic. Do you?

    The future-oriented section titled Will Russia Share in Reconstruction? and Does the U. S. Get Along with Russia? especially feature a balanced and nuanced perspective on seeking peace between Russia and the West in a way that I think is as valid today as it was in dusk of WWII.

    Regardless, I don’t think the level of demonization of Russia today is anywhere close to that of China.

  3. xian
    October 21st, 2010 at 04:10 | #3

    @Allen
    I didn’t say anything about propaganda, they simply choose to highlight the positive or negative as they see fit. but it’s pretty obvious all the pamphlets try to find as much common ground between them and their allies as possible. Understandable during war. The point is while Asians tend to remember allegiances (and grudges) longer, Westerners flip flop as they see fit, hence the demonization of Russia during the Cold War era, and the same of China today.

  4. October 21st, 2010 at 09:02 | #4

    @xian,

    I see. I guess in my mind, a balanced perspective necessarily involves trying to view the world through multiple lenses, through lens of mutual respect, of de-demphasizing conflicts and emphasizing the common ground. That is what came across in these pamphlets.

    In general, allies or not, I believe peoples and nations should always try to minimize grudges and find common grounds. That is one reason why I support the Chinese gov’t’s approach to foreign policy today of pursuing practical, “harmonious,” win-win solutions much more than I do of the U.S. of approach of preaching “norms” and then pursuing double-speak for its self-interest at the expense of all others.

  5. tc
    October 21st, 2010 at 16:33 | #5

    “…the Chinese gov’t’s approach to foreign policy today of pursuing practical, “harmonious,” win-win solutions much more than I do of the U.S. of approach of pursuing double-speak for its self-interest at the expense of all others.” — This is what I see as well.

  6. r v
    October 25th, 2010 at 15:44 | #6

    The problem of China’s diplomacy is not “double speak” behind the scenes, but too much open directness.

    China should learn some lessons from history and from US.

    The game of diplomacy is about getting others doing what you want, without too much arm twisting.

    Ie. if you see a problem, don’t confront it directly, wait for someone else to confront, and then join it and take a piece of the action. “Minimal confrontationalism”.

    If Japan is making too much ruckus, don’t fight them immediately, complain, and wait for South Korea to complain about similar problems, and then join it. Let South Korea take the lead.

    I mean, China took similar approaches with US. Not confronting directly, but just wait for someone else to pick at US, and then join in, or take a bribe for not joining in.

    That’s the right way to diplomacy.

  7. raffiaflower
    October 28th, 2010 at 23:12 | #7

    lol. diplomatic skulduggery sounds like virtual flaming in the blogosphere. Set up a situation where you get all your cronies/flunkeys to attack your target until he/she looks like a caterpillar’s lunch!
    I would rather characterize China’s diplomacy as defensive rather than direct. It hasn’t built up the necessary alliances, and is too focused on its internal situations, to create diplomatic offensives.
    But it is not coy, when thrown the gauntlet, as witness the DYT challenge.
    The policy of self-reliance goes back to the early 20th century as China struggled to break free of foreign domination to create an independent nation.
    The courage to follow its own star has enabled it to trump wars, smear campaigns and provocations to continue on its own course.
    The singlemindedness can come across as clumsy, frightened and, possibly, even frightening, given China’s rising power and the inability for others to second-guess its strategies.
    But that will change in the coming decades, as its interests – food and energy security, commercial investments – expand and it forges partnerships to enhance and protect common objectives.
    Whether China identifies with the developing world or the advanced economies, or continues to straddle both, could be much debated within its ruling ranks as well as other interested parties.

  8. October 29th, 2010 at 00:58 | #8

    @raffiaflower

    I read somewhere that Deng Xiaoping encouraged the Chinese leaders to not seek alignment with either the developed world or the developing worlds. Sounds like a really really tough position to keep how polarizing our world can get. But doing well as a nation in the face of that IS really cool in my opinion – and certainly ‘got balls.’

    I also think you are right – as China spreads her tentacles more, she will be constantly pressured to take sides.

  9. r v
    November 2nd, 2010 at 18:58 | #9

    I think US has been pretty stupid in its diplomacy.

    US’s latest: Telling China that US will defend Japan in a dispute over Diaoyu, and THEN offer to mediate between Japan and China.

    Hmm…. Gee, I don’t know, that doesn’t sound like mediation. More like US wants to pick up someone else’s fight.

    Another recent goody: Clinton telling Cambodia not to get too dependent on China.

    Hmm… I’m sure the irony of that statement from a US diplomat did not escape the Cambodians.

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