Courtesy Reuters

China in Context

For some months, 1966 promised to be a year of significant albeit gradual change in American policy toward Communist China. In a strange and paradoxical fashion, the emotional issues of the Viet Nam War opened the way for the most sober, responsible and even-handed public discussion of China since the Communists came to power. At Congressional hearings and in the mass media, scholars and leaders of opinion have dispassionately calculated the possibilities for change, and Administration leaders have in their customarily guarded language intimated that change was not impossible. Most significant of all, the American public demonstrated a gratifying degree of maturity by forgetting the old passions and asking for only facts and analyses about the new China. Our national mood was increasingly one of believing that with prudence and wisdom it would be possible to work toward gradually incorporating China into responsible world relationships.

All of this, of course, was before the Cultural Revolution and the startling appearance of the Red Guards shook the gradually emerging American consensus as to what China was likely to become. While it is still too early to forecast the full implications of the current upheavals, we manifestly shall have to revise some of the estimates which informed that growing consensus. The Chinese are going to have more difficulties with the problems of succession than was generally believed a few years ago. Also, it now seems likely that more time than we had expected will have to pass before Chinese Communism will accept the realities of domestic economic and social life as inevitably limiting change. Although it is still appropriate for American policy to be guided by the certain fact that eventually Chinese Communism, like all underdeveloped but modernizing systems, will have to come to terms with both its own society and the world community, there is now more uncertainty as to how soon and in what form this will take place.

Once again we may be in the classic situation in which American hopes and

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