Monday, August 19, 2019

Book review: The China Mirage

As the US China relations worsen steadily, it's more critical than ever that the American public pick up a copy of James Bradley's "The China Mirage," lest America's tragic history in Asia is repeated by the present White House, unguided by facts and cultural understanding.

Armed with comprehensively thorough research and meticulous documentation, the author described a history, beginning from the Japan's Meiji era to present day, that the American leadership has never understood Asia and repeatedly made erroneous assumptions about the Asian countries and Asian culture.

Theodore Roosevelt admired Japan because the emissary from Japan was one of the unusually rare (at the time) individuals that graduated from Harvard. From his friendship with Baron Kaneko, Roosevelt became convinced that Japan as the most westernized country in Asia will lead an enlightened Asia to join the western world. He acted on his impression by secretly agreeing with Japan that the US would not stand in the way of Japan's invasion and occupation of the Korean Peninsula. Thus the fate of millions of Koreans was sealed by a US president who never set foot in Japan.

Franklin Roosevelt was similarly influenced by the Soong sisters and their brother T.V. Soong. This family was also educated in the US, spoke flawless American English and furthermore were apparently devout Christians. They convinced Franklin that Chiang Kai-shek, who married the youngest of the Soong sisters, and the Kuomintang would lead and transform China into a western democracy.

State Department officials based in China during WWII reported that Chiang enjoyed virtually no popular support, contrary to Mao Tse-tung and the Communist Party that had become a viable fighting force against the Japanese. These were officials that spoke fluent Chinese and kept in frequent contact with both sides. Their reports were ignored.

The book described a litany of mistakes made by Washington that also led to the Korean War and later the Vietnam War. The common root of all these mistakes was decisions made based on total absence of any knowledge of Asian culture and history and the presumption that Asian countries all desperately want to become democracies just like America.

Author Bradley not only relied on usual published sources but he also dug deep from obscure references and personal papers rarely visited by others. That he has assembled his findings into an entertaining narrative should not diminish the importance of his findings and the lesson from history that we must not ignore.

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