The China Diary of George H. W. Bush: The Making of a Global President

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The China Diary of George H. W. Bush: The Making of a Global President
By Jeffrey A. Engel
Princeton University Press, 2008
576 pp. $29.95
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In 1974 and 1975, between his tenure as chair of the Republican National Committee and his assignment as director of central intelligence, George H. W. Bush spent a little over a year as head of the U.S. liaison office in Beijing (this was before China and the United States normalized relations and exchanged embassies). It was a time, like the present, when people worried about the possibility that the rest of Asia would align itself with China. The United States was in the last stages of losing the war in Vietnam, and Bush, a believer in the domino theory, worried that Beijing's influence was growing as Washington's was declining. On bicycle rides and courtesy calls around Beijing, he gained few insights into either Chinese politics or the China policy of his boss, Henry Kissinger, since neither the Chinese nor Kissinger told him anything. Yet these diary entries -- describing a cheerful round of visits, meals, tennis games, and efforts to strike up personal relationships with Chinese officials and the Beijing diplomatic corps -- are nonetheless compulsive reading. They convey the local color of a quaint Beijing that is now lost to history, as well as reveal much about the gregarious character and social skills of the man who became the 41st U.S. president. Engel's exemplary notes and interpretative essay add to the volume's readability and scholarly value.