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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - Lips and Teeth: China's Decision to Intervene in Korea


THIS chapter analyzes the attitudes of civilian and military leaders toward China's 1950 decision to intervene in Korea. The analysis aims to determine how these two groups compare in their basic orientations toward the initiation of hostilities. The Korean case is particularly valuable not only because analyses of China's strategic disposition in this instance vary radically, but also because the perspectives of soldiers and statesmen have not been fully examined, and the primary focus has been on the dominant figure of Mao Zedong. In the twenty-first century, with no single leader as dominant as Mao or Deng Xiaoping, such an approach is of limited utility. The richest and most extensive sources now available on the views of military and civilian leaders regarding the PRC's use of force are those on the Korean intervention. Indeed, scholars have studied Beijing's path to the Korean War far more thoroughly than any of the other cases examined in this volume. Hence the circumstances of China's intervention in Korea can be readily discerned elsewhere, and this chapter does not go into the degree of detail of the chapters that follow.

Although it took place half a century ago, the Korean conflict remained a defining experience for many individuals who at the dawn of the twenty-first century were China's most senior military leaders. Moreover, lessons of the conflict continue to be carefully studied by younger generations.