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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: July 2009

4 - The Revisionist Legacy: The Discourse of Reconciliation with China by 1968


The two preceding chapters analyzed the China policy debate within the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and traced American officials' arguments for and against relaxing China policy in the 1960s. They demonstrated that four distinct subdiscourses about China existed within the internal official discourse, each a representation of the perceived identity and characteristics of China, of the Sino-American relationship, and of resulting U.S. interests and policy stances. These are summarized in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1 highlights how each discourse focused on particular aspects of China's identity, used separate frames of reference, and made distinct policy recommendations. The Red Menace image emphasized China's aggressive hostility toward the noncommunist world, working from the 1950s international framework of two opposing rigid blocs in a Cold War. The second hostile discourse based on the image of China as Revolutionary Rival used the less rigid international framework resulting from the Sino-Soviet split to suggest selective opposition to the more militant Chinese brand of communism. The two revisionist subdiscourses of China, on the other hand, stressed indigenous aspects of Chinese identity. The Troubled Modernizer image was concerned with China's poverty and “basic needs” crises, viewed through the lens of Western models of socioeconomic development. The policy recommendation was that Washington should try to encourage the ascendance of the moderate elements of the Chinese leadership that wanted to concentrate on these internal problems, thereby muting China's external hostility.