The Turning Point: Perceptions and Policies Concerning Communist China during the Kennedy Years
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When analyzing the policies of the John F. Kennedy administration towards the People’s Republic of China, previous historians have focused on the lack of substantive change, emphasizing the continuity of action with the prior polices of the Dwight D. Eisenhower administration. At the same time, a number of historians have noted that it was during the years Kennedy was in office that a majority of the American people began viewing communist China as a greater threat to world peace than the Soviet Union. However, none have sought to explain this sizeable shift in public opinion, or analyze its potential impact on policy. This thesis incorporates archival materials with contemporary print and visual media to make a connection between the sources of public opinion shifts and a change in the assumptions upon which U.S. China policy was based. Almost from the moment the new president assumed office, Robert Komer at the National Security Council and Chester Bowles at the State Department began pushing for changes in China policy based on the assumptions that the communist regime was not a “passing phase,” would only become more powerful and over time constitute an inexorable greater threat to U.S. interests in Asia, and that rapprochement, rather than isolation, was the best means of ameliorating this threat. Together with James Thomson, Roger Hilsman, and eventually Walt Rostow, they pushed for the adoption of what A. Doak Barnett would later term “Containment Without Isolation.” While the Sino-Soviet split accentuated charges of Chinese anti-white racism and the Great Leap Forward reinforced the sense of Mao’s irrationality, the Sino-Indian War confirmed both rising Chinese power and their leadership’s capacity for rational calculation. Meanwhile, in the popular culture, particularly motion pictures, the Yellow Peril enjoyed a revival as Chinese villains stepped to the fore, beginning to free themselves of their Soviet masters. However, while foreign Chinese were feared as never before, Chinese in America gained new acceptance. Laying the groundwork for the next five decades of China policy and enemy images, Kennedy’s Thousand Days constituted a turning point.
John F. Kennedy
Crean, Jeffrey 1977- (2012). The Turning Point: Perceptions and Policies Concerning Communist China during the Kennedy Years. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from