China and the Cold War

The Communist victory in China dominated the Cold War in the years after 1949. The United States had supported Jiang Jieshi in the civil war. After Jiang fled to Taiwan, the United States continued to support the Nationalist government there, providing military and economic aid as it faced shelling from the mainland. For decades, the United States refused to recognize the People's Republic of China, or, as many Americans called it, “Red China.”

An Uneasy Alliance with the Soviet Union

Despite a treaty of friendship between China and the Soviet Union, the two communist giants were uneasy allies. In fact, Chinese communism differed from Soviet communism. In the 1950s, Stalin sent economic and technical experts to help China modernize. But he and Mao disagreed on many issues, especially on Marxist ideology. A key difference was the role of the peasantry. Mao believed that peasants were the major force behind communist revolution, while Soviets trusted in a “revolutionary elite” of urban intellectuals and workers.

Photo of a field of farm workers, who are seated and reading small books. Inset is an inscription in Chinese, and a photo of a balding man in a simple suit.

Mao Zedong's “Little Red Book” of quotations became required reading for all Chinese. Here, peasants take a break from their work in the fields to read it.


Why do you think the picture of Mao is displayed?

By 1959, border clashes and disputes over ideology led the Soviets to withdraw all aid and advisors from China and end their alliance. Western powers welcomed the split, which eased fears of the global threat posed by communism.

China and the United States

The rift between the United States and China deepened when they supported opposing sides in the Korean War. For years, the United States tried to isolate China, which it saw as an aggressive communist power seeking to expand across Asia.

As the Cold War dragged on, however, the United States reassessed its policy towards China. There were strategic advantages to improving relations with China after its split with the Soviet Union. By “playing the China card,” the United States might isolate the Soviets between NATO in the west and a hostile China in the east.

In 1971, China won admission to the United Nations. A year later, American President Richard Nixon visited Mao in Beijing, opening the door to improved relations. Formal diplomatic relations finally came in 1979.

The Nationalists in Taiwan

During the Cold War, Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) exercised authoritarian rule over Taiwan, hoping one day to regain control of China. By the early 1990s, however, Taiwan had made the transition to democratic government.

Cartoon of a dragon with a man’s face labeled China with a hammer and sickle, breathing fire at a bear also bearing the hammer and sickle.

Analyze Political Cartoons

The Soviet Union and China, both communist, had a tense relationship. In 1978, China rejected a Soviet proposal to improve relations. Who does the bear represent? Who has the upper hand in this cartoon?

End ofPage 793

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments