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Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950 Paperback – March 21, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0804744843 ISBN-10: 080474484X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press; 1 edition (March 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080474484X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804744843
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #967,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Offers meticulous research, drawing on classic reports, recent memoirs, and scholarship in Chinese, Russian, and English based on archival research. . . . More important, [Westad] weaves a grand, sweeping epic of social, cultural, and economic conflict that includes but goes beyond political and military battles. . . . Highly recommended for academic libraries and collections in Chinese history."—Library Journal

"This remarkable survey of a crucial period of Chinese history deserves to be widely read."—Choice

"This book is of fundamental importance to understanding twentieth-century Chinese history, comparative revolution, and early Cold War history. Weaving together strands of military, social, political, and international history, Westad provides by far the best empirically grounded, multi-archival, and comprehensive nationwide analysis of how the Chinese Communist Party achieved victory in the Chinese Civil War of 1946-1950."—Journal of Cold War Studies

"Odd Arne Westad has written a key work on the civil-war period as well as an essential bibliographic starting point for further research."—The China Journal

"Decisive Encounters is a highly readable, comprehensive, and reliable account of a war whose importance we all know but which nonetheless has received little attention."—PACIFIC AFFAIRS

From the Inside Flap

The Chinese Civil War was one of the key conflicts of the twentieth century. The Communist victory determined Chinese history for several generations, and defined international relations in East Asia during the Cold War and after. Despite its importance and scope—its battles were the largest military engagements since World War II—until now remarkably little has been known about the war, and even less about its effects on the societies that suffered through it. This major new history of the Chinese Civil War attempts to answer two central questions: Why was the war fought? What were the immediate and the lasting results of the Communists’ victory?
Though the book highlights military matters, it also shows how campaigns were mounted alongside profound changes in politics, society, and culture—changes that ultimately contributed as much to the character of today’s China as did the major battles. By analyzing the war as an international conflict, the author explains why so much of the present legitimacy of the Beijing government derives from its successes during the late 1940s, and reveals how the antagonism between China and the United States was born.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Truth be Told on June 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
Prof. Westad's book provides the reader with a solid overview of the tumultuous events that engulfed China in the wake of WWII and led to China becoming the world's most populous Communist country. Prof. Westad has an engaging writing style that keeps the reader's interest, unlike many of the works written by academics. He does a good job at introducing the reader to the salient political and military events that led to the eventual defeat of the Kuomintang (KMT or Nationalist Party) and does a good job at giving those new to the subject matter the necessary background to expand their studies. Unfortunately, the work lacks in several respects. First, the the book's maps are too few and provide little of the necessary detail for one to truly understand why the principal actors made the military decisions they did. Bluntly put, the maps should have included more topographical detail and there should have been more maps covering areas of fighting in smaller increments of time to permit one to truly follow the course of military events. Furthermore, in his introduction Prof. Westad states "the main emphasis (of the book) is on the political and military history of the war..." As a former Marine combat officer who later served as a diplomat in China, I found the book lacked in both respects. There was a good deal of coverage regarding the issues of CCP debate regarding its land reform policies and debates about those policies within the party. However, the book fails to provide as much information on what the KMT leadership's thoughts about this and other important socio-economic issues.Read more ›
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Edward Hou on June 9, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was slightly disappointed after reading this book. The title gives an impression of military strategy on the battlefield level. This book offered very little of that. Most concepts, strategies, and thoughts were from the thirty thousand feet level. I was hoping for a book which outlined campaigns with battlefield maps, and greater descriptions of the eb and flow of the combat. Most battles were described in a paragraph or a two. That was very disappointing. The book did give good background information on why things happened, and the history of the conflict. But with a title of "Decisive Encounters" I was expecting more "decisive encounters".
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Albin TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 23, 2009
Format: Paperback
This is a clear, well organized, and concise overview of the Chinese Civil War. This is not a detailed narrative or military history. Readers looking for that type of book can consult the excellent bibliography of this book. Westad's aims are to cover the basic narrative and provide analysis of the major features of the Civil War. Westad does this very well.

Westad presents China emerging from WWII and the prolonged struggle against the Japanese as a profoundly damaged society. This was particularly true in those parts of Northern China that were the main battlegrounds in the fight against Japan. In this context, whoever could establish even moderately effective government would be able to dominate China. The Nationalist party (Guomindang - GMD)led by Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek)had become the most powerful force in China in the interwar period but the success of the Japanese invaders greatly damaged the GMD. Nonetheless, in 1946, the GMD seemed likely to regain dominance of China. Jiang Jieshi was acknowledged internationally, including by the Soviets, as the leading figure in China, the GMD at least nominally controlled 80% of the country, and the GMD army had been well equipped by the Americans. In the initial battles of the Civil War, the GMD forces did well against the Red Army of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

A major theme of this book is the failure of the GMD to capitalize on its advantages. The initial pre-eminence of the GMD was also a source of weakness as any failures to establish effective governance undermined the legitimacy of the GMD.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Van Pham on June 2, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I purchase this book hoping to learn something new only to be disappointed. For one thing, the author did correctly note that the Chinese Communist contribution to the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945 was minimal and most of their "operations" were propaganda in nature. Unlike the opinion of some other reviewer, the CPC (Communist Party of China) hardly ever engaged the Japanese in major battles but did have some nominal guerrilla skirmish against the Japanese. The CPC mostly concentrate on building their army and political network after their disastrous Long March.

As such, out of 22 major engagements (battles involving 100,000 men or more), the CPC participate in only 2 of them and only as a minor player. The Japanese view the Kuomintang as their only enemy as such most of the Japanese operations were against the Kuomintang.

What this author fails to articulate was the real reason why the KMT (Kuomintang) lost to the CPC. In my opinion the KMT lost due to three reasons. One of the reasons was the rampant corruption of the KMT. The second have to do with the stupidity of the Americans in forcing the KMT to "make peace" at the time when the KMT forces was successful in their offense against the CPC in 1946.

The third reason was the U.S coercion of the KMT to get rid of the warlords and troops who have co-operated with the Japanese during WWII. The Nationalists sacked over 1.5 million troops who have ties with the pro-Japanese government to support the Marshall Mission; this turned out to be a fatal mistake for Chiang Kai-shek and Nationalists. Almost none of the 1.
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