On China by Henry Kissinger

Summary

  1. Kissinger’s vivid discussion of his experience dealing with the Chinese. He explains their multi-millenia culture, different mindset, different priorities, etc. and how they all play into miscommunication, tension between the Americans and the Chinese. This book helps provide a Chinese perspective on politics, life, family, religion, etc. Do not need to agree but important to understand. Another key element is the interaction between Chinese and American leaders
Key Takeaways
  1. Nixon sent Kissinger to China in 1971 to open doors for peace
  2. The U.S. and Chinese relationship has been very profitable although different. American exceptionalism is almost missionary in the sense that they feel they need to spread their values to the rest of the world whereas China’s exceptionalism is cultural. They do not proselytize 
  3. No other country has such a rich and continuous civilization. They draw upon this experience and traditions unlike anyone else. In 1962, in order to deal with the Indian border dispute, Mao looked back 1,300 years to see how the leaders of that time dealt with the Indians
  4. Chinese civilizations seems to have always existed – beginning not known and “founding” emperor, yellow emperor, had to organize a chaotic civilization, not create it
  5. Due to China’s isolationism and other factors, many Chinese elites consider themselves the essence of civilization, the center of the world and the creators of man. They never came up with a mystical creation story like other civilizations and religions 
  6. For the vast majority of recent history China has been the most populous, productive and wealthy state in the world – often by far
  7. Confucius’ teachings have been adopted as a combination of bible and constitution in one
  8. The Emperor was seen as both a ruler and a metaphysical embodiment, the son of heaven
  9. The Chinese viewed foreigners with a bit of contempt and pity – seeing them more as barbarians and when trade occurred it was almost considered tribute to Chinese superiority rather than trade. They had little interest in conquering other lands or spreading their culture
  10. Avoided war and confrontation when possible, relying more on diplomatic and economic negotiations
  11. When foreign conquerors made progress, Chinese elites convinced them that because of the vastness of the empire, only Chinese language, culture, etc could be used and over time the conquerors would be assimilated
  12. The writings of Sun Tzu have been popular for millennia – gives more focus to psychological factors in warfare than any other of his contemporaries. The successful conqueror does so without needing battle
  13. The British sent McCartney to China in order to open up relations and to better understand them. However, neither goal was achieved. They also wanted to set up a permanent British embassy but that was rebuffed as well. Britain simply had nothing China wanted and China considered Britain along with all other foreigners barbarians
  14. Britain was not happy about China’s closedness and would have to break down the walls if necessary – lead to the Opium Wars. Opium was allowed in Britain but illegal in China. It’s use was growing and was one of the few things Britain could supply (grown in India) which the Chinese wanted. China cracked down on opium use and began taking all foreigners goods, opium or not. Confrontations lead to a small war with the British winning and gaining concessions and several ports, opening China up to foreign trade
  15. In the 19th century China experienced a serious decline in power and sovereignty which lead to social unrest and internal wars – a century of humiliation which only ended with the reunification of the country through communism. Estimated that from 1850-1873 China’s population declined from 410-350M!
  16. China was amazing in pitting foreign powers against each other, especially Russia and Japan. “Use barbarians against barbarians”
  17. In order to catch up to the west technologically the Chinese started for the first time to start studying western languages and teachings
  18. Japan and China always clashed because of their world centric and divine ruler beliefs.
  19. Japan quicker adopted western technology and opened its doors which helped spur amazing technological and economic advancement
  20. Because of its location China and Japan often fought over Korea. Japan conquered Korea and also took Taiwan as part of the treaty
  21. Russia helped China reclaim some one from the Japanese but they ended up taking even more land and extending the Trans-Siberian railroad across it
  22. Mao tore apart Chinese traditions in order to rejuvenate China
  23. Russia and China had a strained but beneficial relationship. They disagree to this day over who truly decided to give the green light on invading Korea. Truman sent American troops to Taiwan which violated all international agreements and lead to 20 years of isolation and 2 years of war with China. China felt they had to defend Korea because they didn’t want America to become too confident and start gaining land and/or influence in Asia. China was able to confidently do all this because they had the support of the Soviet Union. However, Stalin soon changed his mind and now would only provide support once Chinese troops were actually dispatched, not before
  24. There was a lot of conflict over Taiwan as well between Russia and China and the US. It ended in a draw where the US. Kept the Chinese in check and China kept Taiwan from seceding.
  25. Mao was brilliant militarily and never believed the US.. would use nuclear weapons on them as the whole world would turn on them. Seemed like he was willing to stake tens of millions of lives on this belief
  26. Truman and China were irreconcilable after the Korean War and Eisenhower and China were deadlocked over Taiwan. China wanted the US out of Taiwan and the the US wanted China to not use force to take Taiwan over
  27. Stalin died in 1953 and Khrushchev took over. His aim over the next decade or so was a series of quick fixes – nuclear bombs, Berlin talks, Cuban missile crisis, etc. – all slowly eating away at the Soviet Union’s power
  28. Russia and China were eventually driven apart by ideology
  29. Khrushchev began distancing himself from China and taking a more conciliatory approach to the United States. He even denounced Stalin’s positions which China took very personally
  30. Khrushchev took a stance of peaceful coexistence with the United States which move them from ally to potential adversary for China
  31. China and Tibet get into physical altercations because each think the other has encroached on the others land
  32. The Cultural Revolution was a terrible catastrophe for China’s cultural heritage. The communist party destroyed thousands of cultural centers and burned millions of books and killed millions of people
  33. In the coming years, China had enemies on all borders including Russia, India the war with the US in Vietnam and issues in Taipei and Tibet. Luckily for China, Nixon took a more conciliatory approach and opened the doors to diplomatic negotiations for the first time in over 20 years
  34. Nixon and Kissinger open the doors to relations with China. In the event of a conflict with either Russia or China, the US would take a neutral stance but lean as much as possible towards China
  35. Ping-pong Diplomacy refers to when the Chinese invited the American ping-pong team to China to play against the Chinese ping-pong team
  36. Kissinger was sent to Beijing shortly after the ping-pong diplomacy in order to speak to Chinese delegates and see what future steps could be taken
  37. Nixon made it to China in 1972. Huge moment for both sides after s long and cold history. Mao wanted to be seen as a philosopher king, not the typical majesty associated with traditional Chinese emperors
  38. Mao died in 1976 and although he use brutal tactics he united China unlike it had been for centuries before
  39. Deng Xiaoping was exiled several times but always brought back because he was so effective. He was much more realistic and transparent about the difficulties China faced such as poverty. He also helped China become the economic superpower it is today by helping to modernize and industrialize many of China’s industries. Deng focused more on the importance of science and technology and its pragmatic implications than broader cultural reforms
  40. There were large leadership changes in the US and China in the 1970s. Reagan was much stronger and wanted to eradicate communism as opposed to just containing it.
  41. China’s increasing influence in Vietnam was one of the early factors of Soviet decline along with that a couple years later was the Soviet Union’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 1989 China developed a three worlds concept to their foreign-policy meaning that the Soviet Union and the US were the first world developing countries are the second world in Third World countries with a Third World
  42. Once Russia fell from power China had to decide if it wanted to fill its place and become the contending world super power with America or if they would take and more cooperative approach
  43. By the end of Reagan’s presidency, Asia was in a much more stable position due to defined borders and more stable sovereign governments
  44. China gradually open the door to foreign investors and allow the Chinese to finally let their entrepreneurial spirit soar. The Chinese government took the position that the state would still be involved in everything but would allow the managers the flexibility and freedom to manage
  45. The Chinese government harsh suppression of protesters which was televise worldwide put great pressure on Sino American relations and made everyone question how reformed it truly was
  46. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, China became very concerned about the stability of its communist government. They believed that the best way to stabilize the country was to increase the standard of living. They did this through bringing back smart and talented people which were before not widely accepted in the communist regime and by improving people’s economic well being at unprecedented rate in the 90s and 2000.
  47. It is important for the US and China to work in conjunction moving forward in order to avoid potential major conflicts
What I got out of it
  1. Fascinating and very informative overview of Sino-American relations and why the Chinese act, think the way they do

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