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

3 - “Troubled Modernizer” to “Resurgent Power”: Revisionist Images of the PRC and Arguments for a New China Policy


As the hostile policy discourse toward Communist China evolved and became more acute and yet also more ambiguous during the 1960s, a parallel revisionist discourse was developing both in reaction to events and as a result of personal convictions. Throughout the decade, a number of officials within the Kennedy and Johnson administrations worked to convince their colleagues of the need to alter the official U.S. position toward the PRC. This group combined liberal Democratic stalwarts such as Chester Bowles, Averell Harriman, and Adlai Stevenson; “old China hands” such as Edward Rice; and Asian and China specialists such as Roger Hilsman, Edwin Reischauer, James Thomson, and Robert Komer. They variously occupied the main China advisory positions in the State Department and the White House and headed key diplomatic posts.

These officials pushed for the relaxation of China policy and accumulated a “shopping list” of possible American initiatives that included lifting the travel ban on Americans wishing to visit China, removing trade restrictions on nonstrategic goods, inviting the Chinese to disarmament negotiations, and ending Beijing's exclusion from the UN on the basis of various “two Chinas” arrangements. They advanced arguments that were based on two central revised images of China, focusing in turn on its weakness and poverty, and on its pride and potential strength. Together, these two images identified China in ways that revealed potential common areas of understanding between the United States and China. Initially, the revisionist discourse was submerged within internal memoranda, waged as personal campaigns by midlevel officials.