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Invitation from the Dragon: Chou En-Lai and the Opening of China, 1968-1972

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Research paper

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Whether a satisfying historical perspective and dimension will ever be imparted to the mystery that is Chinas post-war internal political history is unknown. It is less likely that the individual roles and motives of Chinas various leaders will be any more clearly discerned in the future than they are today by reading between the lines of carefully veiled public polemics. Yet the figure of Chou En-lai stands in stark relief to this unrelenting ambiguity. His tenure as Foreign Minister of the Peoples Republic of China for a period spanning three decades has left his unmistakable imprimatur on Chinas difficult postwar history. When all is said and done, it is he who will be described as the skillful architect of Chinas successful acceptance as a modern nation into an international community ideologically hostile to the premises of its very existence. Moreover, it is a feat he managed with no compromise or sacrifice to Chinas clarity of dedication to its Marxist-Leninist roots, and in a manner that resulted in the ultimate redress of many outstanding grievances -- United Nations admittance, U.S. recognition, avoidance of a two Chinas policy -- and the successful stalemate of an increasingly belligerent Soviet Union. How long the duality that now exists in China can persist is unclear. But it was Chou En-lais efforts that set those forces in motion. Whether Chou saw the unique constellation of political forces coming together at the end of the 1960s clearly enough to orchestrate them to achieve longstanding goals, or whether he simply recognized the imperatives of the threats facing China both internally and externally and skillfully seized the opportunities which were presented, is unclear. What is clear is that his efforts provided the fundament upon which the current China is predicated. China re-emerged as a full-fledged member of the family of nations, but on its own terms, immune to external pressures for internal reform.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Humanities and History

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