Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations 3
These books have yet to receive skeptical re-evaluation from a post-Cold War “now we know” view. This panel moves to end that neglect. We explore how decades of political change in China and new thinking in the West have undercut or rehabilitated each book’s argument. We show how its reception on the left, as with Isaacs and Hinton, or right, as with Wittfogel, relates to Cold War narratives or to pre-1949 conceptions of China. Our papers point out skeptical questions about Hinton and Wittfogel but find Lifton and Isaacs still useful, though in new ways. More important than whether they are “right,” however, is that these books still stimulate interesting debate.
Our books all aimed for audiences outside the university or across disciplines; none are standard academic monographs; several were published only after rejections, but all were reviewed in middle-brow media then in scholarly journals, sold well, and are still in print. Our panel still asks what it specifically means to be a “Cold War” book. Is the category “Cold War” more than a necessary convenience? Isaacs and Wittfogel were started in the 1930s and published or revised later. All politically situated themselves in post-war America in different ways, but not all examine the America in which they wrote.
We compare how the books work as books: what rhetorical strategies are employed and to construct arguments with terms, metaphors, categories, and emplotment. Each writer had a distinct voice and different claim for authority: eye-witness, Marxist theory, social science, or Sinology. All were men -- white ones, at that -- and drew on youthful experience in China or Japan. Wittfogel, Isaacs, and Hinton drew on Marxist traditions, though for quite different purposes. “Modernization” and “Revolution” meant different things to each of them and could mean continuity with, rupture from or adaptation of “tradition.”
The panel has no formal commentator; each panelist will comment on the other papers.