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About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

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"Mann's colorful and detailed narrative, studded with dozens of vivid anecdotes, reveals how ineptly [we] have managed our ties with the world's most populous nation." --The Washington Post Book World Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, scores of interviews, and his own experience, James Mann, former Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief, presents the f "Mann's colorful and detailed narrative, studded with dozens of vivid anecdotes, reveals how ineptly [we] have managed our ties with the world's most populous nation." --The Washington Post Book World Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, scores of interviews, and his own experience, James Mann, former Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief, presents the fascinating inside story of contemporary U.S.-China relations. President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger began their diplomacy with China in an attempt to find a way out of Vietnam. The remaining Cold War presidents saw China as an ally against the Soviet Union and looked askance at its violations of international principles. With the end of communism and China's continued human rights abuses, the U.S has failed to forge a genuinely new relationship with China. This is the essential story of contemporary U.S./China policy.


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"Mann's colorful and detailed narrative, studded with dozens of vivid anecdotes, reveals how ineptly [we] have managed our ties with the world's most populous nation." --The Washington Post Book World Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, scores of interviews, and his own experience, James Mann, former Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief, presents the f "Mann's colorful and detailed narrative, studded with dozens of vivid anecdotes, reveals how ineptly [we] have managed our ties with the world's most populous nation." --The Washington Post Book World Drawing on hundreds of previously classified documents, scores of interviews, and his own experience, James Mann, former Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief, presents the fascinating inside story of contemporary U.S.-China relations. President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger began their diplomacy with China in an attempt to find a way out of Vietnam. The remaining Cold War presidents saw China as an ally against the Soviet Union and looked askance at its violations of international principles. With the end of communism and China's continued human rights abuses, the U.S has failed to forge a genuinely new relationship with China. This is the essential story of contemporary U.S./China policy.

30 review for About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton

  1. 5 out of 5

    Laura Noggle

    Riveting, detailed, true. If you have any interest in U.S.-Chinese relations, this book is a must read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Klein

    A must-read for anyone studying Sino-US foreign policy dynamics. Traces out the major trends in Sino-US relations since Nixon/Kissinger opened dialogue with China in 1971. Outlines the highly secretive and personalized ties between Washington and Beijing 1971-1989, and how the end of the Cold War and Tiananmen changed the fundamental relationship in the 1990s forward. Concise, clear, very well written.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Grindy Stone

    Pretty good option for people looking for a roadmap to figure out how the US arrived at its current posture vis-a-vis China. It only goes to the late 1990s so it’s dated, but the information is still solid.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Though long and at times cumbersome to read, Mann provides a thorough and well explained history of US-China relations with good insight into where the relationship is going in the future.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lara

    This is the first book I've read that deals primarily with the inner workings of foreign policy. It has opened my eyes up to how media is used by politicians to shape public opinion and how clandestine our nation's leaders can be. As for our relationship with China, I think this is a book all should read because this is a relationship that will only become more important as the future unfolds. Below is my completely personally biased ranking on the presidents covered regarding their foreign poli This is the first book I've read that deals primarily with the inner workings of foreign policy. It has opened my eyes up to how media is used by politicians to shape public opinion and how clandestine our nation's leaders can be. As for our relationship with China, I think this is a book all should read because this is a relationship that will only become more important as the future unfolds. Below is my completely personally biased ranking on the presidents covered regarding their foreign policy with China: 1. Reagan (is #1 mostly for a few times he had the balls to do what he wanted, unlike any of the other presidents (excepting Nixon) who were controlled by previous policies and advisers. 2. Nixon (While I abhor his policies and rationale, he knew how to wield power and make things happen politically more than most of the later presidents that would deal with China. Somehow I admire this more than puppets who are blown about by whomever). 3. Ford (I don't remember much about him; he mostly just went along with what Nixon had been doing). The Three Biggest Losers 4. Carter (the fact that he's hailed for his humanitarian efforts during his presidency throughout the world lands Carter in the bottom three. Per official documents, Carter dropped all of his ethical principles in dealing with China making him a big fat hypocrite. Don't flout your humanitarian ideals when you gave it up secretly in dealing with China please). 3. Bush (I don't like his presidential style for one- Bush places personal relationship as the foundation for his dealing with China. While not a bad quality; its not very balanced and doesn't yield effective results, especially when your "friends" are using you. Bush just kinda seemed like a putz to me). 4. Clinton (I didn't except to like Clinton's presidency the least but here he is. As a governor, he really didn't have enough experience, which I am now seeing as really important for future presidential candidates. He pretty much waxed eloquently about how our relationship with China should be; much like an idealistic college student. But when faced with challenges Clinton did not rise to the occasion rather became the king of political flip-flops and pulling them off by well timed and eloquent PR events and speeches). Below are some important quotes and why I think they are important: Regarding our relationship with China and policy reversals: "Procurement won out over idealism" (240). On China's MFN status (Most Favored Nation - tied to abilitiy to trade with other nations): "The was one China issue in Washington that Triplett avoided. He steered clear of the annual campaigns to revoke or restrict China's most-favored-nation trade benefits. He often argued that for those opposed to the China's Communist regime, MFN was a losing issue, because the power of the U.S. corporations would always hold sway in Congress. (It is worth noting that in this respect, too, Triplett's position ran parallel to that of Taiwan. The Taipei government never sought to curb China's MFN benefits, because many Taiwan-based companies were running factories in mainland China, earning handsome profits by exporting their products to the United States" (244). This quote is interesting because it shows how tangled up foreign policy can get; there are many factors influencing it. It is important to understand this reality because presidents and people alike have often proposed policies that are too far reaching in their ideals and can never be enforced (Clinton's proposal of linking MFN status to China's advancement of human rights). While human rights are important (and should be advanced), it causes more damage when impossible standards are set and then reversed and lied about. We must understand the system within which we are working before we can best assess how to affect change. Regarding China's offical view on Tinanmen Square: "The actions in Tiananmen Square were a good thing. We do not regard them as a tragedy...Chinese leaders had tirelessly pressed the theme that political liberalization leads to chaos (per Soviet Union collapse). Although Baker didn't realize it at the time, Chinese security officals had resorted to old-fashioned thuggery to make sure the secretary and his aides didn't see or talk with anyone in China who might give them a different point of view" (251). Living in Taiwan, close to China, has made the politics of our foreign policy hit much closer to home. For as much as China opens up economically and even liberalizes (perhaps), the mindset of the country is fundamentally different from ours. It is a country built on communist ideals; these ideals irrevocably change a people- whether they adhere to them or not. I would argue this for Eastern Europe as well even post Soviet collapse. Once again, this reality must be ever present as we deal with China and other nations. I don't believe in cutting China off internationally, but I do believe we must understand where they come from and who they are in order to effectively negotiate with them and not delude ourselves.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Ethan Cramer-Flood

    I'm a sucker for journalism style contemporary history books, especially when they cover my favorite topic. Whenever I see "former bureau chief" listed in the author's bio -- rather than, say, "professor" or "noted scholar" -- I know I'm in for a pleasant ride. A world class journalist and a world class scholar should, in theory, tell pretty much the same story. The trade off is that the journalist will miss some nuance and some historical and global context, but will make up for it with oh so m I'm a sucker for journalism style contemporary history books, especially when they cover my favorite topic. Whenever I see "former bureau chief" listed in the author's bio -- rather than, say, "professor" or "noted scholar" -- I know I'm in for a pleasant ride. A world class journalist and a world class scholar should, in theory, tell pretty much the same story. The trade off is that the journalist will miss some nuance and some historical and global context, but will make up for it with oh so many more juicy anecdotes and insider dish. That's exactly what Mann delivers in About Face. In a classroom, I would only use this as a supplemental text. But he handles the details and the big picture just as deftly as would a major scholar, and the story is so much more interesting to read in this format. I could read these kinds of books forever. Also, given that his scope ran from the 1960s to the mid-1990s, I learned quite a bit and refreshed on some elements I haven't focused on in a while. My own US-China relations expertise focuses almost entirely on the post-Tiananmen/post-Cold War era -- but as any good undergrad history major knows, we can't understand the present without...well, you know the rest.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Travis Struchen

    started this informative book during my 14 hour flight from Taipei to LA. goodtimes. interesting dynamics between the chinese & US governments. Apparently it was such a big deal when the US started formal relationships with China that one of the US government officials sprinted to the front of the plane when they were crossing into china so that he could style himself as the first US official to enter into communist china in 1969.

  8. 4 out of 5

    William Shoemaker

    Poorly written in places, quite dry, and Mann makes it painfully clear that he can't speak Chinese (note to China historians in the West: learn Chinese already, or get another job!!); but there is some interesting and worthwhile history in here, most notably the parts where he discusses Deng Xiaoping's miserably failed invasion of Vietnam. Poorly written in places, quite dry, and Mann makes it painfully clear that he can't speak Chinese (note to China historians in the West: learn Chinese already, or get another job!!); but there is some interesting and worthwhile history in here, most notably the parts where he discusses Deng Xiaoping's miserably failed invasion of Vietnam.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kelvin Chin

    Interesting book. Really breaks down the dichotomy and relationship between China and America throughout the beginning to today. I feel like it really makes you think about how Chinese culture and American culture really plays into all of the relationships that have been created.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Luci

    This book is difficult to follow but is jam-packed with useful information that comes from all angles. I'd recommend reading The Great Wall: Six Presidents and China, which offers eyewitness and journalistic accounts of the history of bilateral relations between the United States and China. This book is difficult to follow but is jam-packed with useful information that comes from all angles. I'd recommend reading The Great Wall: Six Presidents and China, which offers eyewitness and journalistic accounts of the history of bilateral relations between the United States and China.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    a bit sprawling for an academic piece, but still an excellent, thorougly reasoned explanation of this period in the history of sino-american relations.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Danprain

    the section dealing with post-tiananmen MFN negotiations from early to mid 90's is crucial the section dealing with post-tiananmen MFN negotiations from early to mid 90's is crucial

  13. 4 out of 5

    Moming

    the second best book about China-U.S. relations, after MacMillan's Nixon and Mao. the second best book about China-U.S. relations, after MacMillan's Nixon and Mao.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Fritz Bachmair

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jack

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matt McDevitt

  17. 5 out of 5

    Deliags

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dolan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Bruce

  21. 4 out of 5

    John E.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sam

  23. 5 out of 5

    Adam Brobson

  24. 4 out of 5

    Judy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin Lee

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

  27. 5 out of 5

    Roberto Ramirez

  28. 4 out of 5

    Britt

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kris Alexander

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