In This Review

A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China: An Investigative History
A Great Wall: Six Presidents and China: An Investigative History
By Patrick Tyler
PublicAffairs, 1999, 512 pp.

Combining the skills of an investigative reporter with a novelist's mastery of drama, Tyler has produced a suspense-filled account of the struggles of six presidential administrations in shaping a sustainable China policy. In vivid detail, filled with direct quotes and even descriptions of the participants' body language, he recounts the clashes of passions and personalities among the strong-willed people in the White House and the Washington bureaucracy, especially between national security advisers and secretaries of state (most famously, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Cyrus Vance). The stakes were exceedingly high -- so high, according to Tyler's information, that the United States and China came close to war on several occasions. Indeed, he believes that the danger of war still exists because of the insoluble problem of Taiwan. He points out that for five of the presidents, China policy was a function of containing the Soviet threat, thereby allowing concerns about the future of Taiwan to be set aside. But history moved on: Taiwan became democratic and developed a will of its own while the Soviet Union collapsed, leaving the U.S.-China relationship adrift. Tyler's gripping -- and alarmist -- story is recommended reading for both the novice and the specialist on Sino-American relations.