244. Memorandum From Alfred Jenkins of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant (Rostow)1


  • The Next Chinese Dynasty and U.S. Policy

A. Failure of Mao’s Supreme (and Last?) Effort at Purification

The turning point in the Cultural Revolution in the past three weeks has probably been a decisive one. There are still many imponderables, but the following seems fairly certain:

Insofar as the Cultural Revolution was to be an ideological remolding campaign, it has failed. Even as a purge device it appears to have failed far short of Mao’s extravagant objectives, but it may well have succeeded for Chou En-Lai’s.
The prestige and authority of the Party have been damaged, but dissolution has stopped short of wrecking the Party’s machinery; the concept of revolutionary communes, which Mao seems earlier to have envisaged as supplanting the Party, has been shelved. “Three-way alliances” are a far cry from “Paris communes,” and are consonant with Chou’s policies of stability and reason.
The damage to industry and agriculture is doubtless considerable, but will probably not be ruinous if present efforts to restore order are successful. Much depends upon peasant—and Army—reaction to increased Army participation in production. We should know more about the extent of damage in another month or so.
As expected, the Army is playing the crucial role in the Revolution’s apparent denouement. The Army earlier would not back Mao’s revolutionary rebels’ take-overs, but is now backing Chou’s efforts at preservation of nationhood and attention to the economy.
“Regionalism” is not a likelihood: the Army wouldn’t have it.
The Army’s crucial loyalty proved to be not to Mao and Lin, but to stability—to the status quo. Most elements of the society seem to be preponderantly of like mind—and the status quo is “creeping revisionism.”
However, the battle is far from over. The prestige of Mao himself is probably still high; support for Maoism is obviously less, but of unknown proportions. Clearly, however, the actions of Chou are currently eclipsing the thought of Mao, even while the two leaders are professing to be in league—an accommodation which Mao had to make, not Chou. Chou’s great problem is that the state of the nation is such that even his policies will require Army insurance for their implementation. This is dangerous. He may not succeed.

B. Has the Succession, in Effect, Taken Place?

There are those who believe that Mao is still fully in charge, and that he now purposefully desires to halt at the present “Half-way House” with Chou as its major domo. I doubt the validity of both assumptions. Mao has simply been unable to carry out his announced policies, and reports of ill health are increasingly convincing. The recent Albanian report of Mao’s partial incapacitation is more credible than the Mauritanian one that he is in good health. The Mauritanians, who had never seen Mao previously, could have met a double. This would not have been possible with the Albanians. Furthermore, the Albanians have no reason to invent ill-health for Mao—quite the contrary. True, Maoism, under whatever—doubtless complex—auspices, ran the Cultural Revolution as long as it ran, but it has about run down. Some elements will surely continue to push for reforms in line with Mao’s doctrinal purity, but their cause has received an impressive rebuff and we may have seen the last determined effort.

Prior to the sudden ascendancy of Lin Piao, the only three contenders other than Chou for Mao’s mantle were Liu Shao-Ch’i, Teng Hsiao-P’ing and P’eng Chen. The latter three seem to be no longer in the running, and Liu’s status is at least problematical. Furthermore, the policies which Chou has long advocated now appear to have military backing. Mao may be able to weather this embarrassment, but Lin may not.

So long as Mao’s extreme policies were in command, the Army did not assist in the purging of provincial leaders. (The Army’s role in the Peking purges is not clear.) Reports from the recent trouble spots of Inner Mongolia, Sinkiang, Szechwan and Kwangtung now suggest compromises, with strong hints that some of the top leadership have been replaced, with Army acquiescence or connivance. Those involved are mostly Liu and Teng men, whose political demise both Mao and Chou would probably applaud. It will be interesting to see whether Chou men take their places. The top men in running the economy now appear to be Li Hsien-nien and T’ao Chen-lin, both of whom are long-time associates of Chou. Certainly they have not secured or retained influence because of adherence to a particular policy line, for Li is far to the right within the lop-sided Chinese Communist spectrum, while T’ao was one of the most [Page 529] zealous of the Great Leapers. Chou himself appears lately to have a strong hand in running the military establishment.

C. Policy Implications

It is too early to decide that Chou is comfortably in the saddle and likely to remain there. The power struggle could continue for some time. Furthermore, we cannot be sure that Chou wants the top job. However, at the moment he is more in the saddle than anyone else and there is no one yet visible who is likely to challenge him successfully. Even if Chou does not want the top job he may have to rule, in fact if not in name, during a “holding in trust” period.

It is not too early to try to divine what sort of China we might have if Chou is to dominate the scene. This is a murky area in which to prophesy, for Chou has been an executor rather than an initiator, but it is worth the effort. The transition to some new course, which is now bound to come under whatever leadership, is likely to take quite a few more months. The outlines of the new course may be apparent by about May, however, and it is conceivable that we may be faced with some hard decisions by summer.

It seems to me that if Chou is running things we may expect something like the following:

Pragmatic, somewhat “revisionist,” and increasingly effective economic policies, with heavy emphasis on agriculture.
An emphasis on “expertness” over “redress,” with favorable effect on the economy and defense, after the effects of the Cultural Revolution can be overcome.
A China tending more to look to its own needs, possibly to the extent of being predominantly isolationist for a time, except for considerations of 4. and 5. below.
A foreign policy less ambitious, more realistic and rational, and therefore at the same time more effective. Something of the “Bandung spirit” could return.
Attempts to capitalize on rationality and moderation to gain international acceptance, prestige and legitimatization.
Continued, but less frenetic, anti-Americanism. Post-Vietnam, chance greater for some accommodation.
Possibly a slow papering over of Sino-Soviet differences, but short of fraternal alliance. Chou has never loved the Russians.
Continued support for North Vietnam, but less obduracy in the event Hanoi should want to call a halt.
If the Gimo should die, a wooing of the GRC toward a “deal”—in the expectation it will be softened up for such by its bleak future qua GRC resulting from Peking’s successes in 5. above at Taipei’s correlative expense.

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If something like the above is in the offing, we have some hard policy decisions to make at some as yet unpredictable point. They all relate to two very basic decisions:


What sort of Taiwan (among the likely viable varieties) is it in the U.S. interest to have eventuate? How can we contribute to bringing it about?

Can the GRC, as such, survive the prospect of a “moderate” mainland regime which may be virtually universally accepted? Will it even attempt to, or will it make a deal with a moderate Peking giving promise of progress, thus yielding not only to “inevitability” but to deep Sinocentric urges—especially if it seems to be a case of faute de mieux? Would the Taiwanese permit this? Should the UN interest itself in the status of the Island if such a conceivably bloody test appeared likely?


What should be our posture toward a more moderate mainland China?

Since the post-Maoist regime (with or without Mao as “Chairman Emeritus”) is likely, at least for a time, to continue to be anti-American and to rebuff advances from us, should we fight its acceptance by others? Should we read this putative regime’s near-universal acceptance as being inevitable and make a try for the supposed advantages of early overtures, in the hope of a new day in Sino-American relations? Even if ultimate near-universal acceptance appears inevitable, is there merit in our delaying overtures until we appear to be swept along (because of GRC or other considerations)? Has the combination of China’s “madness” and its growing power reached the point where we should seize upon the first good excuse to get China better articulated with international problems?

To what extent should we discuss these vital questions with certain allies before the time of decision? This applies especially, perhaps, to our Asian allies, and among them most particularly Japan. Since in the quest for a stable Asia the overriding desideratum is a reasonably promising balance of power, where does the Soviet Union, as a Pacific power, fit into the scheme?

These are some of the questions to which, it seems to me, the Government Community should now be addressing itself, and concerning which I hope to have something to say in future memoranda.

Alfred Jenkins
  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, China, Vol. IX. Secret. Copies were sent to Jorden and Ropa. Rostow sent this memorandum to the President with a March 7 covering memorandum noting that he was inclined to agree that “in their own peculiar way the Chinese have turned the corner towards a ‘moderate’ domestic and foreign policy,” although he thought its emergence might be slow and tortuous. He concluded: “But they started at the possibility of famine and drew back; and that’s a beginning at least.”