In This Review

China 1945: Mao's Revolution and America's Fateful Choice
China 1945: Mao's Revolution and America's Fateful Choice
By Richard Bernstein
464 pp, Knopf, 2014

In 1945, with World War II finally over, the United States was keen to find a compromise between the Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek and the head of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong, that would avoid more bloodshed in Asia. But even a U.S. negotiator as influential and effective as George Marshall could not reconcile the two sides. The ensuing civil war ended with Mao’s victory in 1949 and ignited a decades-long Cold War debate in Washington over who “lost” China. Bernstein argues convincingly that Mao’s party was always oriented toward anti-imperialist revolution and the Soviet Union and would never have been a partner of the United States. His narrative is elegant and compelling, drawing mainly on U.S. sources but also using some Chinese materials. The book brings to life characters such as the waspish U.S. Army general Joseph Stilwell and the eccentric U.S. ambassador Patrick Hurley. Bernstein also discusses with empathy how accusations of communist fellow-traveling ruined the careers of many U.S. Foreign Service officers and likely delayed the prospect of reengagement with China. This thoughtful book moves decisively beyond sterile old debates to demonstrate that in the end, China’s fate in 1945 was for the Chinese people, and not Americans, to decide.