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Mark, The Everyday Cold War- Britain and China, 1950-1972, 2017

Chi-kwan Mark's book was reviewed by Tianxiao Zhu for the History of War discussion list. It's published here via Creative Commons license

May 10, 2017
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Chi-Kwan Mark.  The Everyday Cold War: Britain and China, 1950-1972.
London  Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017.  288 pp.  $114.00 (cloth), ISBN
978-1-4742-6544-7.

Neither Britain nor China was a central character in the Cold War. In
his new book, Everyday Cold War, Chi-kwan Mark argues that China
waged an "everyday cold war" on Britain, marked by diplomatic ritual,
propaganda rhetoric, and symbolic gestures; and Britain coped with
quiet diplomacy and persistent negotiation, rather than retaliation.
In other words, there was no serious confrontation between the two;
most of the time they just had different worldviews. In the
post-World War II years, Maoist China was anti-imperialist,
anti-American, and revolutionary, supporting the leftist actions in
the Hong Kong riots and hoping one day to take back Taiwan and its
United Nations seat, while Britain followed the guidelines of
American foreign policy and denied any accusation of being
imperialist. Eventually, both parties became fully aware of these
differences; as the British said, their relations were "normally bad"
but never bad enough to be on the path toward any real war. Normally,
these predictably bad relations meant that they had quite a good
understanding of how the other side was thinking, which did not push
them apart but actually drew them closer together--to normalized
diplomatic relations. The British even believed that the best way to
control China's nuclear program was to give the People's Republic of
China (PRC) a seat in the UN and sought international intervention.
In the end, Cold War for these two countries was not about who was
winning but about coexistence.

The book, organized chronologically, covers 1950 to 1972. The most
interesting discussion centers on the Cultural Revolution, and on how
to understand radical events, such as the smashing of the British
Mission in Beijing in 1967. Mark reveals that the British observed
inconsistency in the revolution: even though Red Guards and rebels
actively practiced rituals of the Mao cult in Beijing and London,
Beijing's foreign policy remained cautious with very little change.
Even in the most intense moment, the British government believed that
the Cultural Revolution was high in rhetoric but low in expectations.
The Hong Kong riots and hostage incidents were likewise characterized
more by political rituals and symbolic meanings than by actual
violence.

The author also argues that Taiwan was at the core of this everyday
cold war. It was the main obstacle in the normalization of relations
between China and Britain. The British had ceased to acknowledge the
Republic of China in the early 1950s, but they still retained a
consulate in Tamsui, and insisted that Taiwan's status was
undetermined. The PRC wanted the British to close the consulate and
admit that Taiwan is a province of China. Mark notes that the British
had no difficulty in closing the consulate, because Tamsui had very
little economic value for British foreign trade. But the British did
not accept Beijing's claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. Mark
emphasizes that the negotiation was not appeasement. The result of
negotiations was that the British acknowledged the PRC's position on
the Taiwan issue, and they only gave oral assurance to the Chinese
that the British would not publicly advocate the theory of Taiwan's
undetermined status, which probably left space for the British to
respect any possible decisions made by the Taiwanese people.

Drawing on the recently available diplomatic archives from the
British side, the book makes a significant contribution to the
studies of Maoist foreign policy and the Cold War. Since the PRC is
still very slow and reluctant to open its own diplomatic archives,
there is more space for future studies of the Maoist regime. Certain
issues, such as the refugees and defectors who escaped from mainland
China to Hong Kong due to the famine and political purges in the
1960s-70s, probably deserve more attention in this book as well. Even
so, the book represents a welcome progress in diplomatic history.

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Events

May 30, 2019 - 7:00pm
Los Angeles, California

Free screening followed by a Q&A with Director/SCA Alumna Nahnatchka Khan. 

May 31, 2019 - 10:00am
Los Angeles, California

This exhibit features photos, videos, publications, etc. from the East Asian Library to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the March First Movement in Korea and May Fourth Movement in China. (March 4 - May 31, 2019)