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February 5, 2010 in The China Beat


Copyright February 5, 2010 Jeffrey Wasserstrom. Used by permission.


While trying to keep up with the latest twists and turns of U.S.-China relations, something I recently wrote about for Time magazine’s Asian edition, I learned that a new edition of a book on the topic that I’ve learned a lot from, and also assigned in a recent undergraduate class, is about to come out from Columbia University Press. The book is Warren I. Cohen’s America’s Response to China: A History of Sino-American Relations, and this will be its fifth edition. Given the current interest in interactions and tensions between Washington and Beijing, I decided to ask Cohen (whose name should be familiar to many readers of this blog due to his books, his reviews and commentaries at, as well as perhaps his contribution to a past China Beat feature on “Presidential Reading Recommendations” ) a few questions about this new edition—and previous incarnations of the volume.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom: To begin with a brief history of the book, can you fill our readers in on when exactly you wrote the first edition and tell us some things about the state of U.S.-China relations was at the time?

Warren I. Cohen: I wrote the first edition 1969-70 while on sabbatical in Japan. It was published just before Kissinger’s famous trip to Beijing. I had anticipated a change in policy because of the resumption of ambassadorial talks, easing of trade and travel restrictions, and Nixon’s December 1970 remark that we had to have relations with Communist China, but the book was nonetheless dated weeks after it appeared.

JW: Looking back at the four times you revised it, what would you say was the revision that required the most dramatic updating?

WIC: Two things: 1) most obviously the rise of China to great power status. The last chapter of the new edition is titled “America in the Age of Chinese Power.” 2) the emergence of democracy in Taiwan. I had lived there 1964-1966 and grew very hostile to the regime there. I never expected the political changes that came in the 1980s and had no qualms about the island reverting to Beijing’s rule. I had to change my approach to the Taiwan issue, especially after the Tiananmen massacres.