In This Review

China Confidential: American Diplomats and Sino-American Relations, 1945-1996
China Confidential: American Diplomats and Sino-American Relations, 1945-1996
Edited by Nancy Bernkopf Tucker
Columbia University Press, 2001, 569 pp

Skillfully weaving together excerpts from the oral histories of 51 American diplomats, Tucker has captured the insider's story of American policymaking toward China from 1945 to 1996. Starting with the post-World War II mission of George Marshall and going through the major turning points -- the Korean War, the offshore islands crises, the Warsaw talks, the Vietnam War, the Sino-Soviet split, "ping-pong diplomacy," Nixon's visit, normalization, and the Tiananmen Square tragedy -- the diplomats tell how they and others interpreted and sought to influence Chinese behavior. The reader has the sensation of eavesdropping on conversations among wise people, telling personal stories about the shaping of great events, with Tucker occasionally prodding them along with pointed questions. The perspective of the Foreign Service professionals is evident throughout, which enriches the account with sharp criticisms of not just the Chinese but of many American politicians and political appointees. A unique diplomatic history with a strong human dimension, far livelier than what one finds in the official archives.