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CONSTRUCTING A HISTORY side of China (largely but by no means exclu- younger, adventuresome generation have OF CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY sively in the United States), scholarship bears begun to exploit their inherent advantages in FOREIGN RELATIONS
the imprint of the political science discipline studying China's complex behavior in an
and the closely related international relations often threatening and generally intrusive by Michael H. Hunt
field, which has long dominated CCP for- world. They have had immediate access to
eign-policy studies. Historical questions and publications (some of limited circulation), The study of the foreign relations of the historical methods are thus, at least outside and enjoyed the first glimpses into the arChinese Communist Party (CCP) is under- of China, only beginning to move from the chives. They have profited from their pergoing dramatic changes that are taking it in margins to a more central position.
sonal contacts with former policymakers, a distinctly more historical direction. This The purpose of this article is to offer a and brought to new sources an unmatched development has essentially been driven by guide to this emergent historical approach. It sensitivity to the political culture in which the appearance of an abundance of new begins with an extended look at the field's China's policy was made. They have enmaterial (for details see the accompanying two chief geographic divisions, China and joyed the stimulus of a large and interested essay on sources). This material is largely the United States. It closes with some thoughts audience for their writing and easy opportuthe product of the party's own history estab- on ways to encourage the already promising nity to discuss with colleagues work in lishment and its mandate to transcend a prospects for a solidly grounded and concep- progress and news of the field. As a result of simple and largely discredited party my- tually sophisticated history of party foreign these developments, the center for the study thology in favor of a better documented and relations.
of foreign relations and the CCP has shifted hence more credible past. The publication
back to China. A glance at the number of of documents, memoirs, chronologies, and
Scholarship in China
specialists and special research offices, the standard historical accounts has at last made
frequency of conferences, and the long list it possible for specialists outside of China to Scholars in the People's Republic of of publications would all confirm this immove beyond broad, heavily speculative China, now in many ways at the leading edge pression. treatments based on fragmentary evidence of CCP foreign-policy history, have only But Chinese specialists still face some and to construct a party foreign-policy his- recently come into their own. They long notable difficulties. One of these is a patriotory marked by engaging human detail and labored under the gaze of party representa- tism that the CCP did not create but did structural complexity.
tives whose main task was to ensure that powerfully reinforce in scholarship as in My book, The Genesis of Chinese Com- history served the party's political agenda other realms of Chinese life. The mantra is munist Foreign Policy (New York: Colum- and contributed to nationalist myths and popu- familiar: China was divided and oppressed; bia University Press, 1996), is itself a good lar morale during the international crises that China pulled itself together under CCP leadgauge of that already well advanced if un- marked Mao Zedong's years of power. Un- ership; China stood up. This satisfying if even reorientation. As is evident in the der these difficult conditions specialists on somewhat simple story to which specialists volume, the historical ground becomes more Chinese foreign relations did their best work on party history and foreign relations still treacherous to traverse the closer we get to by putting together politically inoffensive give at least lip service constrains their exthe present. The prehistory of the CCP collections of historical materials, many of amination of foreign relations, not least with (located in the opening chapters of my study notable quality and lasting value. But in their the capitalist powers and inner-Asian in the late Qing and the early Republic) is own writing they had to serve up a thin peoples. These sensitive topics must be firmly in place. From the point of the CCP's historical gruel heavily spiced but hardly addressed correctly and carefully or not at formal founding in 1921 down to its con- made more palatable by quotes from Chair- all. solidation of state power in 1949-1950 (the man Mao and other sources of the official While the fate of non-Han people under subject of the middle chapters), the evi- orthodoxy. This revolutionary historiogra- China's imperial ambitions are simply writdence constitutes uneven footing that re- phy, following tenets laid down by Mao, ten out of the category of foreign relations quires some caution. The most recent stressed the wave of imperialism that had (to be treated instead as an “internal” matphase—the foreign relations of the party- overpowered China. Commercial and later ter), dealings with foreign powers are feastate—is just beginning to pass into the industrial capitalism, its diplomatic agents, tured in terms of the comfortable and safe historical realm (as the tentativeness of the and those Chinese drawn into the unsavory tale of struggle and triumph. For example, relevant chapter suggests). It will prove the role of collaborator, had left the Chinese PRC scholars enjoying unparalleled access most interpretively volatile as historical people impoverished, economically subor- to source materials on the Korean conflict patterns begin to emerge for the first time dinate, and politically in thrall. The preda- waged against a U.S.-led coalition have been from the accumulation of reliable evidence. tory character of imperialism locked China in a position to offer the fullest account of its
This trend toward a more historical in fundamental conflict with the powers until conduct, warts and all. Their accounts are treatment of the CCP's external relations a popular revolution transformed China and indeed fuller but the warts are hard to spot, has occurred at an uneven pace and taken altered China's relationship to the capitalist thus keeping alive the old heroic narrative. different forms in a field effectively frag- world.
Patriotism, reinforced by party orthodoxy, mented into two distinct parts. The work Since the late 1970s established schol- has inspired repeated claims that the Korean done in China is already decidedly histori- ars have worked free of many of the old intervention was a "brilliant decision" cal though still politically constrained. Out- interpretive constraints, and joined by a (vingming juece) unblemished by confusion, division, or opportunism. That very ence.
others. phrase appears in the title of one of the How the CCP privately assessed the But Mao's account also arose from the earliest of the documented accounts to ap- USSR as a supporter and model—surely the more practical political concern with launchpear in the PRC, and the theme persists in single most important issue for understand- ing a publicity campaign that would win virtually all of the secondary studies of the ing the CCP's position within the socialist support for the party among Chinese and Korean War published in the last decade.
camp—will remain a matter of speculation foreigners and bring in much needed contriA second impulse, as constraining as if not controversy so long as the historical butions from the outside. Inviting Snow, a patriotism and no less intrusive, has been the sources needed to arbitrate it are kept locked reliably progressive American, to Bao'an pressure to fit research findings within a in Chinese archives and excluded even from was part of that strategy. Mao set aside linear, progressive conception of the CCP's restricted-circulation materials. The open
restricted-circulation materials. The open- roughly two hours a night over ten evenings development. Highly selfconscious of the ing of Soviet archives may provide the first to tell his story. While WuLiping translated, importance of its own past to legitimizing revealing, detailed picture of broad aspects Snow took notes. Huang Hua then transthe current leadership and maintaining party of the relationship, and may perhaps even lated those notes back into Chinese for Mao prestige, the CCP has consistently sought to help overcome some of the squeamishness to review. Snow then returned to Beijing to explain its evolution in terms of the forces of party leaders apparently feel about a candid prepare the final account, to appear in 1938 history and the wisdom of its leaders. The look at this important part of their own past. in Red Star Over China. The first Chinese result is a picture of a party that adjusted to Or it may take the passing of the last of party version of Mao's story appeared the year changing social and international conditions elders whose memories of dealing with the before. That Chinese edition and others and that consistently and correctly reassessed Soviets go back to the 1920s. However they would circulate within Nationalist as well as its own performance, distinguishing correct get there, scholars badly need freer rein to CCP controlled areas.
5 from mistaken policy lines. The party, thus research and publish on this long sensitive The second layer is associated with the at least in theory, developed according to a topic vital to understanding the CCP after "new democracy" Mao began to form in the logic which left scant room for recurrent 1949 no less than before that date. (Ed. note: wake of Wang Ming's defeat and in the miscalculation or fundamental misdirection. A sampling of recently released Chinese context of the rectification movement of
This notion of history in which all events materials on Sino-Soviet relations, 1956-58, 1942-1943. Party theoreticians had in 1941 are mere tributaries feeding the main stream appears on pages 148-163 of this issue of the begun to promote the importance of “Mao itself flowing toward some predestined point CWIHP Bulletin.]
thought” to party orthodoxy, and a Political is extraordinarily constraining, as a look at The last and easily the most practical Bureau meeting in September and October PRC writings relating the 1919 May Fourth problem handed down from earlier CCP of that year produced statements of support movement to the CCP reveals. Chinese historical work is the matter of the layers of from Wang Jiaxiang, Zhang Wentian, Chen leaders interested in the origins of the party tendentious documentation and personal Yun, and Ye Jianying. (Neither Zhou Enlai have tried to force a rich set of contemporary reminiscences that have come to surround nor Lin Biao was present.) For the next two views into an orthodox framework wherein Mao Zedong. Those layers have unfortu- years the visibility of “Mao thought” continthe raison d'être of May Fourth is to serve as nately not only served to obscure him as a ued to rise. Zhang Ruxin, Zhu De, Chen intellectual midwife to the CCP's birth. Their personality and policymaker but also cov- Yun, Liu Shaoqi, and Zhou Enlai offered studies make the Bolshevik revolution the ered over the contributions of his colleagues. praise, and Mao's writings figured promicentral and transformative event in the intel- Repeatedly over the last half century party nently in the study material used in the lectual life of future party leaders; they un- officials have remade Mao, re-creating his rectification campaign. The Seventh Party derestimate that era's ideological explora- persona to suit the politics of the times.
persona to suit the politics of the times. Congress brought the apotheosis. A Liu tion and fluidity; they minimize attachment These multiple layers baffle and distract Shaoqi report and a resolution passed at the to such heterodox beliefs as anarchism; and foreign scholars no less than Chinese.
congress established a Maoist historiograthey downplay the influence of earlier per- The process began in the late 1930s phy and proclaimed the guiding role of “Mao sonal concerns and indigenous political when the task was to reinforce Mao's claims thought.”
to leadership of the party. Mao himself made As early as mid-1944 the first genuine The third obstacle standing in the way a signal contribution by relating his autobi- collection of Mao's writings had appeared to of party historians is the sensitivity withography to Edgar Snow in mid-1936. Put- help consolidate his claim to ideological which the party center continues to regard ting aside the reticence usually so marked a dominance within the CCP. This early fivepast relations with "fraternal" parties. This feature of Chinese autobiography, Mao of- volume Mao Zedong xuanji (Selected Works reticence is perhaps understandable in the fered a self-portrait that highlighted his own of Mao Zedong) was edited under Wang case of North Korea and Vietnam. A candid moment of Marxist illumination and his Jiaxiang's supervision and published in the look at the past can complicate dealings with strong revolutionary commitment. The re- Jin-Cha-Ji base area by the New China News parties still in power. But the reticence sulting account bears an uncanny resem- Agency. New editions of his selected works applies even to the now defunct Soviet party. blance to the genre of spiritual autobiogra- (perhaps as many as eight, some with reBy thus consigning interparty relations to phy penned by Buddhist and Confucian writ- stricted circulation) continued to appear in historical limbo, the CCP has effectively set ers intent on making their own journeys of the base areas down to 1948. That same year out of bounds large and important slices of spiritual self-transformation and spiritual Xiao San published his account of the young its own foreign-relations record and experi- discovery available for the edification of Mao; he had conceived the project nearly a
decade earlier and proceeded with Mao's and considerable Political Bureau discus- factual questions as the date of a particular approval and the party leadership's sup- sion. The resulting 1981 resolution, pre- document or the contents of a particular
pared by a small drafting group headed by conversation. Engrossed in a clearly deThe third layer of Mao publications Hu Qiaomu and supervised by Deng himself fined body of party history materials, rebegan to appear soon after the conquest of along with Hu Yaobang, made Mao bear the searchers pay scant attention to either Chipower in 1949. Stalin is supposed to have burden of mistakes committed in his last nese society or the international environsuggested to Mao during their Moscow sum- years, forced him to share credit for the ment in which the CCP operated. The failure mit the formal designation of an official successes with his colleagues, but let him to read, not to mention engage, foreign scholbody of Mao's writings. (Ed. note: The retain full credit for his earlier revolutionary arship has helped preserve the narrowness, Soviet transcript of the first Stalin-Mao leadership. Finally, in 1986 a two-volume discourage international dialogue, and close meeting, on 16 December 1949, published reader appeared defining the essence of this off CCP history from comparative insights. on pages 5-7 of this issue of the Bulletin, latest, emphatically scientific version of “Mao Behind at least some of these difficulindicates that Mao, not Stalin, made this thought.”:10
ties is something that is likely to be in short suggestion.) The Political Bureau gave its In the new atmosphere of greater open- supply for the foreseeable future—material approval in spring 1950, and a compilation ness the party history establishment has made resources for research and the assurance that committee was formed at once. The result- available a wide range of works that consti- researchers have political support or at least ing four volumes of this new xuanji, pub- tute the point of departure for anyone inter- tolerance from a ruling party concerned to lished between 1952 and 1960, burnished ested in Mao's outlook and political role. keep its historical reputation free of blemish. the image of the statesman traveling the But cutting through the successive layers of An attempt to circumvent these two probChinese road to socialism. This new collec- Mao documentation and sorting through the lems by sending Chinese abroad for gradution, carefully revised by Mao with the help mountain of writing that he left behind is a ate study in history and international relaof his staff, was flanked by yet another task that Chinese scholars have sidestepped. tions has proven somewhat disappointing. It treatment of the young revolutionary, this Without comment, they have let new schol- is my impression that those studying overone by Li Rui.8
arly collections pile up on top of the older seas in one or another of the broad foreignThe next layer in the official Mao was ones compiled with a marked political agenda, relations fields have not found training and laid down during the Cultural Revolution. leaving specialists outside China such as research on China-related topics notably atAlarmed by what he saw as ideological Takeuchi Minoru, Stuart R. Schram, Michael tractive, and dismayingly few of those who backsliding in the USSR and the persistent Y. M. Kau, and John K. Leung struggling to have completed their studies abroad have bourgeois grip on China's intellectual and produce a full and accurate collection essen- gone home to share their skills, knowledge, cultural life, Mao put forward his own ideas tial to recovering the historical figure be- and contacts. Long-time expatriates are as the antidote. His acolytes took up the neath all the political mythmaking.
likely to find settling into home institutions struggle, beginning with compilation of the A variety of other difficulties stand in trying and particularly frustrating after hav“Little Red Book” on the eve of the Cultural the way of the development of party history ing paid a substantial personal price in makRevolution. That slim but ever-present vol- in its homeland. The publications processing the earlier adjustment to foreign acaume was but the herald to twenty-plus col- lacks quality controls, in part because there demic life. lections intended to define the most impos- are so many party history journals with pages Despite all these problems, good work ing Mao ever-"the greatest genius in the to fill and so many party elders with reputa- on CCP foreign relations is being done in world," unsurpassed “in several hundred tions to burnish, causes to advance, and scores China that bears considerable relevance to years in the world and in several thousand to even. Access to archives for the entire historical scholarship in the United States years in China.” One enthusiast declared, history of the Communist Party and for the and elsewhere abroad. Indeed, it has already “Chairman Mao stands much higher than era of the PRC is tightly restricted. Some had an impact here, thanks above all to the Marx, Engels, Lenin, or Stalin." His thought favored Chinese specialists get in; foreigners PRC scholars who have helped foreigners "serves as the lighthouse for mankind,” its are uniformly excluded. Even the best librar- researching in China, who have published in "universal truth applicable everywhere. ies are weak on international studies gener- English, or who have begun careers in the
The latest layer took form soon after ally and on the foreign relations of particular American university system. It seems cerMao's death and was shaped by the political countries whose histories impinged on that tain that foreign historians bent on studying struggle to claim his legacy and appraise his of China. Opportunities are limited for re- the CCP will ride on the coat-tails and in achievements. Hua Guofeng sought to search in libraries and archives outside China many cases work in close cooperation with strengthen his claim to leadership through and for exposure to conceptual approaches the larger and more active group of Chinese the editing of volume five of the official prevailing abroad.
scholars. xuanji, published in 1977. The other, ulti- As a result, party historians in China mately victorious side in the succession operate in an atmosphere of caution and Scholarship in the United States struggle dismissed the tendentious quality insularity. There is little if any interest in of that volume and went off in search of its methodological or theoretical issues so promi- On this side of the Pacific, historical own Mao. The new image, intended to nent outside of China. Scholarly debates do work on CCP foreign relations has suffered serve the political program of Deng Xiaoping not publicly at least go beyond brief ex- from neglect. In the most direct sense this and his allies, was defined after two years changes in party history journals over such state of affairs is the result of indifference to
the subject by historians of modern China. today's governing historical concerns. Why importance in filling out such diverse topics The paucity at least until recently of ad- should specialists in early twentieth-century as the role of ideas, life in the city, or changes equate sources provides the most obvious anarchism, urban women, or rural society in the countryside. Party historians in parexplanation for this indifference. But per- care about the party's dealings with the ticular run the risk of losing track of the haps even more important is the fall of outside world? Even specialists in party global dimensions of the revolutionary and foreign relations from historical grace—from history drawn from a new generation of state-building enterprise and thereby forthe position of prominence and respect it American historians are inclined to set for- feiting a chance to move toward a fully once enjoyed. As historians embraced a eign relations beyond their purview or ban- rounded understanding of the CCP. At the "China-centered" approach, they became ish it at best to the margins of their concerns. same time, CCP foreign relations needs the increasingly absorbed in intellectual, social, But arguably to set foreign relations methodological leavening and interpretive economic, and local history. They looked somewhere on edge of Chinese history is to breadth afforded by the history of China as it back with a critical eye on the earlier histori- impoverish both. Politics and the state do is now practiced. Foreign relations also cal literature with its strong emphasis on matter, a point that social and cultural histo- needs the well honed language tools that China's external relations, and they saw rians in a variety of fields have come to historians of China could bring to mining the scant reason for interest in more recent treat- accept. 12 And foreign policy, the regulation documentary ore now so abundantly in view. ments of CCP foreign policy produced in the of relations with the outside world, may be While there is no reason to mourn the main by political scientists. 11
one of the most powerful and consequential passing of the age of foreign-relations hegeAs a result, an emergent CCP foreign- aspects of the state's activity. Understand- mony in the study of the Chinese past, the policy history, like other aspects of China's ing the decisions, institutions, and culture effect has been to leave the stewardship of foreign relations, stands somewhat apart from associated with that activity can be of signal
associated with that activity can be of signal China's foreign relations to political scien
tists with their own understandably distinct dered particularly tricky by all the ways clarity and the absence of restraints that rich agenda and style. The consequence of their those pronouncements can deceive. Usually documentation might impose. At first based dominance is a literature tending in two couched in explicit and correct ideological largely on circumstantial evidence, the facdirections, each bearing features that are terms, they may not reflect the more direct, tional interpretation enjoyed a major boost worrisome because of the effect they may less jargon-ridden inner-party discussions during the Cultural Revolution when matehave in slowing and skewing the use of new and directives. They are, moreover, some- rial on elite conflict became public. As a materials on the CCP. 13
times intended to manipulate foreigners, and result, a variety of factional cleavages have One tendency, marked but by no means thus are couched in terms that the party gained prominence in the writing of Chinadominant, is a preoccupation with theoreti- thinks will be effective on its target audience, watchers, and soon found their way back cal abstractions. What may most strike not in terms that are revealing of inner-party into the work on party history produced by historians is how this theory-building enter- calculations. Finally, they may be directed at political scientists. Perhaps the best known prise tends to thrive under conditions that an audience altogether different from the one of the factional interpretations has arrayed are euphemistically described by those who the contemporary foreign reader may have “Maoists” against Moscow-oriented “interattempt it as "data poor” (if imagination assumed was the target.
nationalists." rich). We can all call to mind efforts to American observers' misreading of the The new materials have raised two sets construct and test high-flying theoretical CCP's propaganda line from mid-1945 to of doubts about the factional model. On the formulations that get off the ground only mid-1946 offers a good example of these one hand, they offer little to support even a after the perilous potholes along the interpretive difficulties. Inner-party docu- circumstantial argument for the existence of evidentiary runway are carefully smoothed ments now capture Mao Zedong as a back- factions, and on the other they have set in over. Once airborne, those formulations stage operator, carefully orchestrating an at- question the Cultural Revolution evidence stay aloft only so long as no dangerous tempt to manipulate Washington into an en- used to beat down former party leaders. mountains of data intrude in the flight path. gagement in Chinese politics beneficial to Some of this evidence is of doubtful authenThe virtuosity of the performance can be the CCP. He was not intent, as most students ticity, and much seems torn from context to impressive, but it usually comes at the price of the period have naturally concluded on the score political points. of obscuring the fascinating complexity of basis of the public record, on dismissing It would prove ironic indeed if the facpolitical life with sometimes mind-numb- American contacts or rejecting American tional model turns out to offer a no more ing abstractions. 14 involvement. 17
subtle treatment of Chinese politics than The second, perhaps more pronounced An even more complicated example of does the former dependence of the CCP's tendency among political scientists is to the perils of reading public signals is Zhou own analysts on struggles within monopoly approach Chinese policy with a stronger Enlai's interview on 3 October 1950 with the capitalism to explain U.S. politics. Undenicommitment to description and a more de- Indian ambassador. Often cited retrospec- ably, informal networks and shifting coaliveloped historical sensibility. Political sci- tively as one of a string of crystal-clear tions have played a part in PRC politics, but entists working along these lines bring to warnings issued by Beijing following the a compelling, carefully documented case their work an awareness of the way that outbreak of the Korean War, Zhou's own has not yet been made that those networks skimpy documentation hobbles their inter- language in the formal Chinese record is in have supported stable and identifiable as pretive effort. This group also follows an fact strikingly muffled and vague and does opposed to complex and cross-cutting poold-fashioned faith in the importance of not accurately convey the depth of Mao's litical attachments. Scholars pressing facindividual leaders' values, style, and per- commitment to intervention at that moment. tional claims bear the responsibility for besonality-especially Mao's. 15 But the pau- Zhou was apparently aware that he might be ing explicit about their definition of the city of good documentation long locked misconstrued and worked with his translator term, marshalling reliable evidence, and setCCP decisionmaking in a black box and to get his point across. But U.S. China- ting whatever factional activity may exist forced these China-watchers to find modes watchers in Hong Kong had difficulty ex- within the broad political context so as to of analysis that would help them make sense tracting a clear message from that October clarify the relative importance of such activof limited evidence and communicate their interview, and the puzzle still remains for ity. findings promptly and clearly to the broad historians today looking back. While we A final shortcut rendered doubtful by policy community. Determined to make may puzzle over whether Zhou's lack of the new CCP history is the China-watchers' some sense of what was going on inside the clarity was inadvertent or by design, the reliance on China's own international afblack box, these analysts developed a vari- point remains that this critical public pro- fairs “experts" as a prime source of informaety of tools to penetrate its mysteries. How- nouncement is still hard to interpret.
18 tion.21 These experts, often accessible and ever, the problematic nature of some of An emphasis on factions, the relatively able to speak the language (both literally and those tools is becoming apparent as the new stable groups united by some sort of figuratively) of Western analysts, have beCCP sources open up that box for the first overarching interest or ideology, 19 is an- come over the past decade understandably time and permit comparison of past inter- other of the questionable short-cuts employed attractive contacts, constituting along with pretations with the newer, more richly docu- by China-watchers struggling to make sense their foreign counterparts a transnational mented understanding.
of Beijing politics. The reduction of compli- community of policy specialists and comThe reading of public pronouncements, cated political choices to stark factional al- mentators on current international affairs. long a mainstay of China-watchers, is ren- ternatives reflected the analysts' need for But the new history underlines the lim