Richard Baum: China Watcher

In his new book, China Watcher: Confessions of a Peking Tom, Richard Baum, professor of political science at UCLA recounts his personal experiences over 40 years of involvement with China as an academic and policy advisor and looks back on the history of China watching. China Beat has posted an excerpt, in which Baum talks about his creation and management of an influential email listserve, ChinaPol, which includes hundreds of eminent scholars, journalists, government officials and others working with China:

For more than a decade, Chinapol has been the primary information network linking the growing global community of China watchers. With its large multinational, multiprofessional and multidisciplinary membership base, and its ethos of open information sharing and candid discussion of controversial issues, Chinapol has gained a unique reputation for promoting intellectual synergy, cross-fertilization, and critical analysis. Scholars in their offices can instantly communicate with colleagues in the field; journalists can gather background material and conduct timely interviews on breaking stories; diplomats and policy-analysts can access expert opinion on issues affecting foreign policy decisions. Information about fast-breaking news stories — such as the March 2008 Tibetan unrest and subsequent Sichuan earthquake disaster — has often been made available first on Chinapol, forming the basis for timely reporting and analysis in the international media.

…While the vast majority of Chinapol discussions focus on issues of immediate political or diplomatic concern, every so often a conversation will jump the tracks and become, well, downright surreal. Not long ago, a disagreement arose among several group members on the question of exactly what had — and had not — been decided with respect to the legal status of Taiwan during WWII, at major allied conferences held in Cairo, Potsdam, and Yalta. The conversation began innocently enough, when one member asserted that Taiwan had been recognized as an “inalienable part of China” at the Yalta Conference of March 1945. Then the fun began. (Be advised: the people quoted below are eminent China specialists; names have been withheld to protect their reputations.)

Professor A: By international treaty, at Yalta in March ‘45, Taiwan was recognized as an inalienable part of China. . . .

Professor B: Yalta did not discuss Taiwan. This was a three-way conference [Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin] at which Chiang Kai-shek was not present. The Potsdam Declaration (where Chiang was present) said nothing about Taiwan’s status. . . .

Journalist C: I am very sure Chiang Kai-shek was not in Potsdam, but he signed the Potsdam Declaration “by wire”. . . .

Professor D: It does not seem so strange that Taiwan was not taken up in the declarations at Yalta and Potsdam. That was because it had been conclusively settled at the Cairo Conference, with the participation of Chiang Kai-shek.

Professor E: The view that Chiang Kai-shek was not present at Potsdam [has been] raised recently in Taiwan. . . . But the majority are still convinced of his presence there because of the famous photo that included the three leaders — Chiang, Stalin, and Roosevelt. . . . Could that photo have been doctored with the technology of sixty years ago?

Journalist C: The famous picture that you refer to must be the one of the Cairo meeting in 1943 of Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang, No Stalin! Chiang never met Stalin. . . . If there is a picture of Chiang and Stalin with Roosevelt in circulation . . . it must be a forgery. . .

Professor F: And of course Roosevelt was dead by Potsdam.

Professor G: You are right that Chiang was not at Potsdam, and neither were Roosevelt (he was dead) nor Churchill (he lost the election). The meeting you are talking about was Cairo. Chiang was . . . at Cairo.

Professor H: Churchill WAS at Potsdam. The meeting at Potsdam . . . included Truman, Churchill, Stalin and others, but NOT Chiang. . . .[It] ended on 26 July with the Potsdam Declaration, to which Chiang assented by radio. Churchill resigned as British Prime Minister the same day. . . .

Professor I: Thank God none of our students can see how confused we are.

Thank God, indeed!


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