This thesis presents a detailed account of The New York Times’ editorial views on China’s relations with the United States and the Soviet Union, and China’s domestic affairs during the twenty year period from 1949 to 1969. It reveals that the views are distinctively different from those displayed publicly by American policymakers during the pre-Korean War and the 1960s periods.
In the period between the Chinese Revolution and the outbreak of the Korean War, American policymakers’ views of Communist China displayed a blend of paternalism and contempt while the Times’ views exhibited more hostility toward Chinese Communists. The Times rejected the Truman administration’s strategy to provoke the Chinese Communists’ nationalism to break their bond with the Soviets. The Times rejected the strategy, believed the Sino-Soviet alliance was monolithic, and followed the Republican Party, advocating a more hard-line policy to contain the Chinese Communists. After Communist China’s intervention in the Korean War in October 1950, American perceptions of China from both policymakers and the Times converged on a similar outlook of fear and animosity, thus encouraging the American public to view China in a critical way.
The two off-shore islands crises in 1955 and 1958 reinforced the negative and hostile views held by the Americans towards China, and perceptions of the Communist regime as irrational and militant. During the second half of the 1950s, American policymakers and the Times continued to view the Sino-Soviet alliance as monolithic. Signs of serious discontent between the two Communist superpowers began to emerge in 1956; and this discontent was seen as a major factor influencing China’s domestic politics as internal division within the Chinese Communist Party had surfaced over the issue of Soviet model for China’s economic management.
At the beginning of the 1960s, perceptions of China by American policymakers and the Times began to diverge. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations maintained the public perception of Communist China as a threat and displayed an attitude based on a predisposition that the Sino-Soviet split was merely pretending. The China containment and isolation policy, adopted by successive American administrations since the Korean War, intensified during the escalation of the Vietnam War. The Times, however, adopted a different view, exhibiting more sympathy and paternalism toward China. Since the early 1960s, the Times editorials began to advocate for a change in American policy in the Far East, suggesting that the United States should establish some form of trade and diplomatic relations with Communist China. The Times argued that the China containment and isolation policy had divided the West, causing the United States to drift apart from its major Western allies including Great Britain and France; that Communist China, a nuclear power since 1964, had to be within the world community to behave sensibly; and that American trade embargos against China were no longer effective, but instead merely obstructed American businesses from inserting a wedge of influence into the Chinese market. The Times further argued that the Sino-Soviet alliance had shown signs of serious fracture since the early 1960s despite a contrary opinion displayed publicly by American policymakers. The Times now believed that the Chinese Communists’ nationalism was the key factor which caused the split between the two Communist superpowers. Since the Cuban crisis in 1962, the Times emphatically suggested that the Soviet Union was the United States’ real enemy, not Communist China.
On China’s domestic front, the Times argued that the successive campaigns of the Hundred Flowers, the Great Leap Forward had indicated that the Chinese leadership was divided over the issue of Soviet revisionism. The Times suggested that Communist China, despite its verbal bellicosity, had been weakened economically and politically because of the Party dispute during these campaigns. The Times believed that some flexibility in American policy toward such a weakened and divided China could influence the outcome of its internal dispute. In 1966, Mao staged the Cultural Revolution to settle the dispute and Communist China openly rejected Soviet revisionism.
During the 1960s, American public opinion continued to side with policymakers. Predominately negative attitudes were displayed toward China until 1969, even though there were signs of positive change in the public view around 1967. It was not until the first year of the Nixon Administration that Sino-American relations began to thaw after the Americans moved to de-escalate the Vietnam War. As the United States and Communist China were making moves toward reconciliation, American policymakers began to change their public views on China.
Although the Times’ liberal views on China during the preceding years did not precipitate an immediate change in American public opinion, this work suggests that the Times’ representations of China - which reflected a diversity of contemporary opinions among American elites on China’s issues - made contribution to the China debate. This thesis contends that these representations, along with the views from the American Congress in the late 1960s, assisted the process of softening the attitude of the American general public toward China, thus facilitating the Nixon administration’s move towards reconciliation with China.