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About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton 58863rd Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679768616
ISBN-10: 0679768610
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the 1960s, China and the United States had no trade relations and no direct diplomatic contacts. At the end of the 20th century, the two nations are major trading partners who regularly swap visits between their heads of state, and the relationship between the world's most populous nation (with its nuclear weapons and rapidly expanding economy) and the world's most powerful nation (standard-bearer of democracy and capitalism) has become increasingly vital to world peace. Though it remains fraught with problems, the relationship between China and America has survived such crises as the Tiananmen massacres and confrontations over Taiwan.

James Mann, a foreign policy columnist for the Los Angeles Times, was that newspaper's bureau chief in Beijing from 1984 to 1987. In the clear language of a veteran journalist, he analyzes the political and historical developments since America's first overtures to a xenophobic China in the early 1970s. President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were interested in China as a counterweight to Soviet Russia; the Clinton administration is interested in China's markets, with a nod paid to human rights along the way. In this fascinating study, Mann uses his firsthand experience of the events and players to guide us confidently through the twists of a tortuous diplomatic journey, in which China has continually been able to play its opponents--including not only the U.S. and other nations but opposed political factions within America--off one another. --John Stevenson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The Cold War may be over, but its effects live on in the United States's desire to seek close ties with China. That's one of the main threads that Mann (Beijing Jeep), a Los Angeles Times reporter, skillfully pulls through his entertaining history of Sino-American relations since Henry Kissinger's fateful 1971 mission to Beijing. Mann deftly chronicles how Nixon's desire to open up China in order to diplomatically outflank the Soviet Union has become a virtual straitjacket on American policy. America's key decision-makers in successive administrations, Mann argues, mistakenly believed that younger leaders would reform China in much the same way that Mikhail Gorbachev transformed the Soviet Union. Using scores of interviews with top American players (former secretaries of state, national security advisers and CIA directors), as well as documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, he shows that the U.S. has been unable, especially in the wake of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, to pressure China to reform. By the 1990s, economic ties with Beijing had become such a driving force that the Chinese knew that all American threats?most importantly the threat of revoking Most Favored Nation trade status?were empty. Mann's descriptions of the behind-the-scenes jockeying among U.S. policy makers?the micropolitics behind the geopolitics?are so entertaining that his book will appeal to readers beyond foreign policy junkies.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 58863rd edition (February 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679768610
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679768616
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #264,413 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I spend a large percentage of my time reading about and studying China, but I rarely find a book that captivates me like this one did. James Mann is very knowledgeable and insightful about U.S. - China relations. Since he used information newly available (at the time of the book's publication, in 1998) under the Freedom of Information act, his detailed research goes well beyond what you will find in the news and most books.

The best part about this book, however, is simply how well written it is. It is completely scholarly, yet it reads like a story. It's rare that I say this about a nonfiction book, but I couldn't put "About Face" down.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I bought this book because I wanted to know more about the history of China with its relationships to the US presidents. This book is far more easier to read than America's Response To China. This book has a lot of information and does not make it long and boring. Good read. Just wished that the author would revise the book to include the latest presidents.
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Format: Paperback
The United States relationship with Communist China has been an exceedingly curious thing over the years. From the time of the Chinese Communist revolution when the Nationalist Chinese were driven from the mainland to modern day Taiwan until Richard Nixon's visit in the early 70's we refused to recognize them as a country. We ignored the vast bulk of the country and recognized only the Nationalists in Taiwan as the legitimate Chinese government because although the Nationalists were not democratic they at least were not communist.
Not only did we not recognize them we fought them in Korea and it is thought that we killed over 1,000,000 of their soldiers. The fighting there was so bitter that it appeared at times our own troops might be completely wiped out and killing of the wounded and prisoners was taking place on both sides at times. Then in Vietnam the Chinese backed the Vietnamese and Khmer Rouge elements as well as the Laotian communist insurgents. In short they were on the other side in conflicts that killed over 80,000 of our soldiers and in which we killed millions of communist soldiers, civilians, etc. They were one of the great powers involved in causing the conflicts because it was the communists who invaded in both conflicts not the other way around. In the 1960's the Chinese hordes were seen as a great threat to western civilization it was they after all who drove McArther back to the demarcation line in Korea (suffering staggering losses including the son of chairman Mao). They were second only to the Soviet Union on the list of threats to the U.S. and this was only exacerbated when they exploded their first nuclear weapon.
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Format: Hardcover
this worthy book, all the more fetching to me as a sinologist and former resident of beijing, reflects the very problem it identifies: that china has managed to exempt itself from consistent scrutiny by the united states in the promise of delivering a profitable and strategic relationship. although much of the world was apparently ignorant of the cultural revolution's carnage as it went on (1966-76), henry kissinger's comments about its irrelevance to the 'realpolitik' of diplomacy are chilling. in a world that is still sorting out who knew what and when about hitler's death camps and still shudders at his photographs with prominent personalities, the real shock for me is simply accepting america's historic breakthrough with china without being shocked by the image of president nixon in the company of chairman mao. it was not until the international media found itself deep in the wound of the tian-an men massacre that the doubting thomases were convinced of china's dark capabilities. in this book and through no fault of its own, china is a scrim, lacking the same depth of narrative which is offered on the american stage. i would hope that either mr. mann, a keen observer, indeed, or another, undertakes an exercise which relates diplomatic masque to the folks on the ground in china. i hate to dwell on the past; but, that's what history is all about.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have no idea why I bought this book, not being a scholar of U.S. - China relations, but I found it interesting. However, I probably missed a lot not being an expert. What I found interesting, as a layman, was the degree to which one side tries to trump the other, as in a finely nuanced chess game. I found the book well-written and compelling as it described the relationship from the Nixon initiative up through the Clinton administration. It gives me a better foundation to understand the unique relationship between the two countries. I would imagine scholars will find it even more valuable.
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Format: Paperback
If you want to know what is wrong with American policy towards China, there is no better place to start than James Mann's superb "About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, From Nixon to Clinton."
As a skilled journalist, Mann writes clearly and to the point. But this book is more than a journalistic tour de force. Mann has been following the China story since he was posted by the Los Angeles Times to Beijing in 1984 and his experience has produced a depth of knowledge unmatched by any academic China watcher I have read. That knowledge not only shines through in the main text but it is testified to in a notes section full of sources and corroborating detail.
What I particularly like about this book is its uncommon commonsense. Mann refuses to be swept off his feet by the "romance of China" -- a romance that repeatedly over the last century has discombobulated the thinking of American policy-makers, business executive, scholars and journalists. Stolidly eyeing the authoritarian reality behind all the fine words and sumptuous banquets that Beijing bestows on influential visitors, Mann constantly reminds us how sorry has been China's record on human rights in recent decades -- and how cravenly Washington has sought to sweep that record under the carpet.
This book is important too for its worldly wisdom in repeatedly showing the ease with which the Chinese system can manipulate America's money-driven and short-sighted political system. None of this is particularly surprising to those of us who have been watching U.S.-Japan relations in recent decades -- but it is rare for China experts (and still rarer for Japan experts) to highlight how the East runs rings around our Western democratic institutions.
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