USA-China Perspectives

Jean Kuo Aitchison

Jean Kuo Aitchison was born in Zhengzhou in the Province of Henan, China in 1936, and died in Palo Alto, USA in 2021. She left China in 1949, when her father, who was a diplomat in the Nationalist government, brought the family to Hong Kong after the Communist Revolution. In 1950 the family emigrated to the USA. Jean studied at Hunter College, New York, and won a scholarship to Duke University, North Carolina, where she earned a Master's degree in chemistry. She met her physicist husband Ian Aitchison while they were both working at Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island, New York. They settled in Oxford, England in 1966. In 1983 Jean successfully submitted her PhD thesis to the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University. The thesis title is "The Chinese Maritime Customs Service in the transition from the Ch'ing to the nationalist era: an examination of the relationship between a western-style fiscal institution and the Chinese government in the period before the Manchurian incident." After a successful business career involving partnerships with organizations in China, Jean retired in 2007 and moved with her husband back to the USA, where she once again took up her interest in Chinese history and government. For the last seven years of her life she was working on a book on Chinese history and government, written with western readers particularly in mind. She had become deeply concerned by the increasingly confrontational nature of the relationship between a rising China and a dominant USA, and she wanted to give western readers a better understanding of Chinese history, and of the Chinese point of view generally, in the hope that this would help to promote peace between the two nations she cared so much about. Her motivation is well expressed in the draft Preface she wrote for the book:

"As an American of ethnic Chinese background, the thought of the two countries, to which I am deeply attached, falling into an adversarial position against one another troubled me greatly. There is a great need for the peoples of America and China, having evolved from different civilizations, to build bridges of understanding to help them not only co-exist in peace but also cooperate in meeting new challenges in this nuclear-armed and globalized world. My desire to join the bridge-builders, together with my belief that insight into China's past is indispensable for understanding present-day China, prompted me to use my training in Chinese history to carry out research and collect materials for writing a book about China's journey from its Neolithic beginnings to the country it has now become, a book aimed at the English-speaking public, and from the perspective of a Chinese-American who can see both sides of the issues between them."

Sadly she was able to leave only a first draft of this major project, which was not suitable for immediate publication. It has been edited by Ian Aitchison, with the assistance of Ying Cheng and Hilary Tan, and is expected to be published in 2024 under the title "A Political History of China", in two volumes. The first volume covers the dynastic period, and the second the period 1905-2013. The chapters of the book are posted here. Items A1 - A7 are the chapters of the first volume, items B1 - B9 those of the second volume. In addition, there are pdf versions of two talks she presented, and some short articles, all labelled with a C.

You can view the currently posted writings here:

A1 The Early Dynasties
From the ancient three dynasties to the Qin dynasty (c. 2070-206 BCE). The Han dynasty (206 BCE-9 CE, 25-220 CE). Short-lived dynasties and the Great Disunion. The Sui dynasty (581-618 CE). The Tang dynasty (618-907 CE).
A2 The Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE)
The Song and the nomadic empires. The Jin. Political reforms. Neo-Confucianism. Technology. The economy, money, intellectual life.
A3 The Mongols and the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 CE)
The Mongols. Chinggis Khan. Ogodei. Mongke. Khubilai. Characterization of the Yuan dynasty. Insurgencies.
A4 The Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE)
Zhu Yuanzhang (Hongwu Emperor). The Yongle Emperor. Zheng He's voyages. The decline of the Ming. European incursions.
A5 The Foundation and Rise of the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1840 CE)
The defeat of the Ming and the founding of the Qing. The emperors Chongde, Kangxi and Qianlong. Qing expansion.
A6 External and Internal Challenges to the Qing (1840 - 1870 CE)
The Opium Wars. The unequal treaties. The Taiping Rebellion. Other uprisings.
A7 The Depredations of China; the Fall of the Qing (1870 - 1912 CE)
International settlements. The Sino-Japanese war. The Boxer Rebellion.
B1 Sun Yat-sen, Yuan Shikai and Chiang Kai-shek: Towards a United Republic (1905-1928)
Post-Qing governance .
B2 The Decade of Nationalist Rule in Nanjing (1927(8) - 1937(8))
Chiang Kaishek's Guomindang government. Hostilities with the Communists. The Long March.The united front against the Japanese.
B3 World War II in China (1937-1945)
China alone against Japan, 1937-1941. The Rape of Nanjing. China allied with USA, 1941-1945.
B4 The Chinese Civil War, and the First Phase of Communist Rule (1945-1953)
The Civil War, the Korean War, and the start of Communist rule.
B5 Early Economic Development of the PRC, and the Great Leap Forward (1953-1962)
'Gradual' versus 'radical' (Mao) collectivization; the catastrophic failure of the GLF.
B6 The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976)
The second major mistake of the Mao era.
B7 From Reform and Opening Up, to Tiananmen Square (1977-1989)
Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms, led by Zhao Ziyang; political reform, supported by Zhao but opposed by Deng; Deng and Tiananmen.
B8 The Jiang Zemin Era (1993 - 2003)
Ten years of stable government, high GDP growth, and modernization.
B9 Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao (2003 - 2013)
The Hu-Wen leadership aimed for steady economic growth, taking into account social justice and the environment.
C1 America's Response to China's Rise
Written by Jean Aitchison in 2017. References not complete.
C2 China and Africa Talk
A talk which Jean Aitchison gave in April 2021 as part of the "Great Decisions" program.
C3 China as a Multiethnic Nation and Its Effort to Preserve National Unity
An essay by Jean Aitchison.
C4 Greening China's deserts
A short article written by Jean Aitchison in 2017 about China's efforts to fight desertification and transform deserts into productive land.
C5 Hong Kong
Drafted by Jean Aitchison in 2015-16. British intrusion into China; the Opium Wars; cession of HK and lease of the New Territories; HK and the modernization of China; return of HK to China; democracy.
C6 Taiwan
Focuses mainly on the delicate triangular relationship between China, the U.S. and Taiwan, since 1949.
C7 The Story of Shanghai_The Modernization of China in Microcosm
A talk which Jean Aitchison gave in 2016.
C8 The US Challenge to China on Human Rights and China's Responses
Written by Jean Aitchison in 2016.
C9 Tibet
Old Tibet; modernization and development of Tibet since 1949; role of the Dalai Lama in relation to the U.S. and China; use of Tibet as a geopolitical tool by the U.S. Drafted by Jean Aitchison in 2015-16.
C9a US-China Relations
The draft of an article written by Jean Aitchison in 2020-2021.
C9b Xinjiang and the Uyghur Challenge
The modernization and development of Xinjiang. The Uyghur separatist movement and US support for it. China's response.