ABOUT FACE by James Mann


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An engrossing history of US-China relations from the Nixon era to the present day. According to Mann, Richard Nixon’s 1972 journey to China brought a more rational approach to US dealings with that nation and also set the stage for America’s China policy for the next three decades. In a remarkably short time, China changed from being an implacable foe to a friend. Diplomatic relations were restored; Washington helped arm the People’s Liberation Army and held secret strategy sessions with Chinese political and military officials over how best to contain the Soviet Union. The US strongly supported China’s economic development. It was assumed that China was stable and would over time become a more open society. Then two things happened in 1989: the Soviet Union ceased to exist, and the Chinese leadership ordered the shooting of its own citizens in Tiananmen Square. With the demise of the Soviet Union the whole rationale for supporting China evaporated, and the shootings deeply angered the US public. Yet Mann, a Los Angeles Times correspondent formerly based in Beijing, argues that post-1989 policy was trapped by the policies that had preceded it. The overly positive image of China portrayed by successive US administrations and the elite, secretive nature of the US-China official dealings before 1989 made Tiananmen that much more bewildering to the public and to Congress. Consensus on what to do about China was thus difficult to build. If after 1989, the US feared the military power of China, it was a power the US had done much to create. If the economic strength of China made it a difficult nation to ignore, the US had done much to develop that strength. And it was, claims the author, US commercial interests with that country that eventually pushed Clinton toward rapprochement with China. Basing much of what he writes on previously classified documents, Mann’s conclusions are most persuasive. A fine history that skillfully unravels the tangled tale of recent US China policy.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-45053-X
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1998


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