The Harvard Review: Communist China

From the Shelf

The Harvard Review's issue on consciousness-expanding drugs turned out to be a veritable gold mine, as the Review spread as far as the opium dens of Hong Kong. Anything following was bound to be something of an anti-climax, although the editors tried to soften the anticipated thud by focusing on Communist China, a topic fascinating in its own right. Yet the fall-winter edition of the Review is disappointing even by pre-drug issue standards.

In keeping with the Review's official policy, the University community has supplied the material for most of the issue. Theoretically, this material, coming as it does from such a fertile intellectual source, should contain the fresh viewpoints of active researchers or policymakers. But for Harvard East Asian scholars travel to the Chinese mainland remains a forbidden luxury. Perhaps the staleness of the Review's issue on China comes primarily from the second-hand quality of most of its articles.

Only two of the contributors have actually been in Communist China, and their contributions are too short and sketchy to be much more than frustrating. Edgar Snow's photographs of healthy and hard-working Chinese are appealing (there are many more in his book The Other Side of the River, along with 900 pages of first-hand experience). But the comments that go with them convey little more than a vague impression of post-Revolution advancement.

William W. Hodes '66 describes something of life in Peking from 1954 to 1959, including the years of the Hundred Flowers campaign and the Great Leap Forward. To him, then, as a high school student in a foreign land, streetside markets were just as strange and exciting as "criticism and self-criticism" sessions. The innocence of his teen-age impressions is refreshing, a reminder that Peking, despite its revolutionary fervor is, after all, only another city.

The other articles on China, while longer and more scholarly, say little that is new. R. Randle Edwards '56, for instance, in an article on Communist Chinese views of international law, arrives at the carefully pondered conclusion that China, like other nations, respects, even promotes, international legal commitments whenever it is in her interests to do so.

Dwight H. Perkins, an instructor in economics, has written a good summary and analysis of mainland China's economic fluctuations. Perkins points out that China's growth, although erratic, has been substantial. But by treating China's present economy in test tube isolation, he fails to classify just what his "substantial" means. There is little sense of China's progress relative to Asian countries or even to pre-revolutionary days.

For everyone who has not taken Rice Paddies (Soc. Sci. 111) Professor Fairbanks' terminology might be a little awe-inspiring; but his analysis of cultural and nationalistic strains in Chinese Communist ideology and politics adds a historical perspective that is vital for understanding Chinese policies

Additional articles deal with mainland China's influence on other Asian countries. Philip W. Moore III '64, except for a few lapses into cliches like the "un-clever" Thais and the "wily" Chinese, writes skilfully about the overseas Chines in Thailand. Such Chinese control the commerce of most of Southeast Asia, although many of them support the mainland regime.

In general this issue of the Harvard Review fails to explore some of the most interesting questions about Communist China--her progress relative to India, her foreign economic relations, her nuclear arms policy. And it never even attempts a description, much less an analysis, of the social changes taking place on the Mainland.