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China and the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 (The New Cold War History) by [Zhai, Qiang]
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As groundbreaking as it is clear.

"Intelligence and National Security"

A must for those working within the field of Cold War history.

"Journal of Peace Research"

The key role of Mao's China in arming and guiding the thirty-year struggle has only now been clarified by . . . Zhai.

"London Review of Books"

"Fair-minded, clearly written, and deeply researched, Zhai's study supersedes all previous works on the subject .

"Journal of Military History""

An engaging account of the thoughts and actions of the decision makers on both sides of the Sino-Vietnamese connection.

"American Journal of Chinese Studies"

Fair-minded, clearly written, and deeply researched, Zhai's study supersedes all previous works on the subject .

"Journal of Military History"


In the quarter century after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, Beijing assisted Vietnam in its struggle against France and the USA. Drawing on newly released Chinese archival sources, memoirs and diaries, and documentary collections, this book offers a comprehensive exploration of Beijing's Indochina policy and the historical, domestic and international contexts within which it developed. Zhai examines China's conduct towards Vietnam, providing important insights into Mao Zedong's foreign policy and the ideological and geopolitical motives behind it. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he shows, Mao considered the United States the primary threat to the security of the recent Communist victory in China and therefore saw support for Ho Chi Minh as a good way to weaken American influence in South East Asia. In the late 1960s and 1970s though, when Mao perceived a greater threat from the Soviet Union, he began to adjust his policies and encourage the North Vietnamese to accept a peace agreement with the United States.

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1656 KB
  • Print Length: 324 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press; 1st New edition edition (21 Oct. 2005)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x99616b04) out of 5 stars 13 reviews
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x996f2708) out of 5 stars good summary but... 16 May 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Mr. Zhai's contribution to Cold War history is a worthy addition to any CW buff's collection, since China's role in the conflict has always been a mix of "Yellow Peril" paranoia, rumor and biased commentary. It is a sound summary of the initially cozy, then increasingly frosty relations between the two communist Asian nations. However, being familiar with many of the observations made in this book from other sources, I was hoping for a more cogent analysis of the synergy between the radicalization of Mao's vision of perpetual revolution and the Indochinese wars. For example, did the Cultural Revolution hinder or help the Vietnamese, and what were their perceptions? Did China encourage Pol Pot's intransigence vis-a-vis Hanoi because of ideological affinity or just plain spite? How did the Ussuri River clashes affect the Soviet supply link to Hanoi? This is a good volume for factual summary of the events, but a more profound reading of the new archival sources needs to follow.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a338eac) out of 5 stars Cooperation & Containment in Sino-Vietnamese Relations 8 Oct. 2000
By Steven S. Berizzi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In the introduction to this scholarly and impassive, but very interesting, study of China's relations with Vietnam during the height of the Cold War, Author Qiang Zhai, professor of history at Auburn University Montgomery in Alabama, explains his rationale for writing this book: "The rise and fall of the Sino-Vietnamese alliance is one of the most crucial developments in the history of the Cold War in Asia in general and Chinese foreign relations in particular." According to Zhai, he drew on "fresh Chinese documents to present a full-length treatment of the evolution of the Sino-DRV relationship between the two Indochina wars, focusing on its strategic, political, and military aspects." During the course of his research, Zhai found "a complex blend of motives behind Beijing's Indochina policy," and one of his main premises is that the "Beijing-Hanoi relationship was composed of both agreements and contradictions, cooperation and confrontation."
China and Vietnam had a complicated relationship long before the Indochina wars of the mid-20th century. According to Zhai, the Vietnamese "had a tradition of looking to China for models and inspirations," but there also were "historical animosities between the two countries as a result of China's interventions in Vietnam." Zhai writes that Mao Zedong was "eager to aid Ho Chi Minh in 1950" because Mao believed "Indochina constituted one of the three fronts (the others being Korea and Taiwan) that Mao perceived as vulnerable to an invasion by imperialist countries headed by the United States." When the Viet Minh army headed toward the decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, they were accompanied by a Chinese "general military adviser," and China furnished the PAVN with antiaircraft guns, as well as engineering experts and large quantities of ammunition. The Viet Minh won the battle but were bitterly disappointed by the peace which followed. According to Zhai, China's approach to the Geneva conference was motivated by fear of the United States' designs in Indochina: "To prevent American intervention, [Zhou Enlai] was ready to compromise of the Laotian and Cambodian issue," and he formally proposed "withdrawal of the Viet Minh troops from Laos and Cambodia." Zhai writes: "For the Vietnamese Communists, the Geneva Conference served as a lesson about the nature and limits of Communist internationalism," and both Beijing and Moscow pressured the Viet Minh "to abandon its efforts to unify the whole of Vietnam."
Zhai makes the controversial assertion that, in 1961, President Kennedy "set out to increase U.S. commitment to the Saigon regime." In response, according to Zhai, Mao Zedong "expressed a general support for the armed struggle of the South Vietnamese people," but China's leaders "were uneasy about their Vietnamese comrades' tendency to conduct large-unit operations in the south." Zhai writes: "The period between 1961 and 1964 was a crucial one in the evolution of Sino-DRV relations....Its urgent need to resist American pressure increased its reliance on China's material assistance." According to Zhai: "The newly available Chinese documents clearly indicate that Beijing provided extensive support (short of volunteer pilots) to Hanoi during the Vietnam War and in doing so risked war with the United States." In Zhai's view, although Chinese leaders were "determined to avoid war with the United States," Beijing warned that "if the United States bombs China[,] that would mean war and there would be no limits to the war." According to Zhai: "Between 1965 and 1968, Beijing strongly opposed peace talks between Hanoi and Washington and rejected a number of international initiatives designed to promote a peaceful solution to the Vietnam conflict." "Above all, Mao and his associates wanted the North Vietnamese to wage a protracted war to tie down the United States in Vietnam." When the Paris negotiations began in May 1968, Beijing was "unenthusiastic." In less than three years, the international situation changed. Zhai's lengthy discussion of the complicated internal and international events leading up to the crisis in Cambodia in 1970 is a case study in Machiavellian politics and diplomacy. By 1971, according to Zhai, Chinese leaders were "keen to see an early conclusion of the Vietnam War in order to preserve American power and contain Soviet influence." After President Nixon's historic trip to China in 1972, according to Zhai, the North Vietnamese "drew a bitter lesson from Nixon's handshake with Mao that China's foreign policy was concerned less with Communist unity than with the pursuit of China's national interest." In Zhai';s view: "Nixon's decision to normalize relations with Beijing nullified the hitherto basic rationale of the Vietnam War, namely to contain and isolate Communist China." According to Zhai: "Mao and Zhou Enlai viewed with satisfaction the conclusion of the Paris Peace Agreement." In September 1975, just a few months after Saigon fell and Vietnam was unified, Zhai writes that Mao told a Vietnamese visitor, in effect, "Hanoi should stop looking to China for assistance." "The long historical conflict between China and Vietnam...had returned to life."
In conclusion, Zhai asserts that "[t]here were two strands in China's policy toward Vietnam during the two Indochina wars: cooperation and containment;" "From the 1950s to 1968, the cooperation side of China's policy was predominant; and "From the late 1960s, particularly between 1972 and 1975, the containment side of China's policy became more prominent." In my opinion, the most important aspects of this book is its demonstration that international Communism was not monolithic in the 1960s and 1970s. Zhai makes clear that the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China encouraged and aided Vietnam's struggle for independence from France and its war for national unification against the United States, but the Communist powers were motivated more by national interests than by revolutionary solidarity. The history of Chinese-Vietnamese relations between 1950 and 1975 must be viewed within the broader contexts of growing Sino-Soviet competition for primacy in the international Communist movement and of China's eventual, if only limited, rapprochement with the United States. Zhai's book is, therefore, an important contribution to the literature about the most controversial foreign war in American history.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9c2904e4) out of 5 stars Full of facts, but lacking North Vietnamese viewpoint 29 Sept. 2012
By HistoryBuff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
China & the Vietnam Wars, 1950-1975 examines the relationship between Communist China and Communist Vietnam in the course of the two wars in Vietnam: The first Indochina War and the Vietnam War (the second Indochina War). The author provides many interesting insights on this love/hate relationship over the two decades with documentary support from Chinese archival sources and published collections.

The relationship between the PRC and the DRV was complex because of the influence of the Soviet Union over Vietnam and the role of the United States in the Cold War period. North Vietnam was able to take advantage of the Sino-Soviet conflict to receive aids from both masters, perhaps thanks to the U.S. escalation of the war which was perceived as threat to both China and the Soviet Union.

Chapter One: This chapter reviews the history of the Sino-Vietnamese relationship through the early contacts between Ho Chi Minh and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). During this time, Ho Chi Minh's Vietminh seized power in Hanoi in 1945 and began the war against the French, starting the first Indochina War. The CCP was fighting against the more powerful Chiang Kai-Shek's KMT forces. There was limited mutual assistance between the CCP forces and the Vietminh. Subsequently, after Mao founded the PRC in 1949, Ho vigorously sought assistance from the CCP and the Soviet Union. In their meeting in 1950, "Stalin told Ho that assisting the Vietminh was primarily a Chinese business" (p. 17). The author believes that the reason why Mao was eager to help Ho was Mao's vision of revolutionary internationalism when China was at the time also supporting North Korea. China's assistance to the DRV included both military and advice on land reform program.

Chapter Two: With military assistance from China and their advice on mobilizing a huge peasant support for the war against the French, the Vietminh defeated the French after the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Zhou Enlai worked together with Soviet leaders in shaping their strategy regarding the Geneva conference. Under pressure from Zhou, North Vietnamese accepted the 17th parallel as the demarcation line dividing Vietnam into North and South, but this pressure might be perceived unfavorably by North Vietnamese negotiators (p. 63). While it is clear that without Chinese assistance, the DRV could not defeat the French, this period also started the beginning of friction between the two.

Chapter Three: China continued its military and economic assistance to the DRV, but the "increasing animosity between Beijing and Moscow caught the DRV in a dilemma" (p. 86). Ho "decided to talk directly with Chinese and Soviet leaders to appeal for unity" (p. 87) but Ho's mediation was "obviously not successful" (p. 88). Eventually, North Vietnam couldn't maintain a strict neutral position in the Sino-Soviet split and "would move closer to Beijing in its ideological orientation" (p. 91).

Chapter Four: The Geneva Conference on Laos brought a minor crisis. "Beijing and Hanoi increased their involvement in Laos" while "Moscow completely disengaged from the country" (p. 110). "Sino-North Vietnamese competitions in Laos constituted one of the reasons for the eventual breakdown of Beijing-Hanoi cooperation" (p. 111).

Chapter Five: Despite their minor friction over Laos, "Hanoi moved closer to Beijing in the Sino-Soviet dispute" (p. 123). Soviet's indifference regarding Southeast Asia further pushed North Vietnam closer to China. "Le Duan commended Mao's theory of revolutionary war" (p. 125). "Moscow's economic assistance and exports to North Vietnam dropped in 1964" (p. 128).

Chapter Six: The U.S. began escalating its military assistance to South Vietnam and attack on North Vietnam after the Gulf of Tonkin incident. At North Vietnam's request, China increased its military assistance significantly. "The total number of Chinese troops in North Vietnam between June 1965 and March 1968 amounted to over 320,000" (p. 135). This might reflect Mao's sense of insecurity regarding the American aggression. During this time, Hanoi was able to get "Beijing and Moscow to agree on a new arrangement for transporting Soviet arms through China to the DRV" (p. 154).

Chapter Seven: Johnson's escalation of the war created a dilemma for the Soviet Union because Moscow didn't want "a direct confrontation with the United States over Vietnam" (p. 158). Kosygin proposed to the DRV and China a peaceful solution but Beijing rejected the Soviet proposal. China continued condemning "Moscow's cooperation with the U.S. scheme for `peace talks' on Vietnam" (p. 167). In turn, China clashed with the DRV's "strategy of negotiating while fighting" (p. 168) even though Hanoi might be only interested in "trick[ing] Washington into halting its bombing" (ibid.).

Chapter Eight: The Tet Offensive contradicted to Mao's military doctrine and "revealed the independent nature of the decision making in the DRV" (p. 179). Sino-Soviet relations continued to deteriorate while Nixon "showed his desire to end the breach with China" (p. 181). The situation in Cambodia created tension between China and North Vietnam.
Chapter Nine: "China's détente with the United States might push Hanoi further into the arms of the Soviet Union" (p. 195). The 1972 Spring Offensive showed Hanoi's miscalculation of the ability of Washington to react (p. 204). "Relations between Beijing and Hanoi continued to worsen during the remaining years of the war" (p. 208). In April 1975, North Vietnam succeeded in the war against the South. "In 1975, Beijing reduced aid to the DRV while increasing assistance to Cambodia" (p. 213). Tensions between China and North Vietnam were fully revealed during Le Duan's visit to Beijing in September 1975.

The author believes that "it was not just the United States that lost the Vietnam War. China also failed in Vietnam." (p. 220). Mao was preoccupied "with the Soviet factor in the making of China's foreign policy" (p. 222) and that might explain the reason for Mao's willingness to tolerate North Vietnam's sometimes recalcitrant behavior.

The author painted a vivid picture of the love/hate nature of the Sino-North Vietnamese relationship through the ups and downs of the world geopolitics during the 25 years from 1950 to 1975. The author took the view that the Vietnamese "had a tradition of looking to the Central Kingdom for models and inspiration" while trying "to preserve their independence and cultural heritage" (p. 6). This view is overly simplistic in light of the historical tradition of the Vietnamese animosity against China over a thousand years.

The author did a good job in presenting the Sino-North Vietnamese relationship over the period in question. Without Chinese and Soviet assistance, North Vietnam would not be able to defeat the French in the first Indochina War (p. 62). During the Vietnam War, the Chinese assistance to North Vietnam was also much more significant than the DRV wanted to admit. The author provides a one-page description of all the military items provided by China to North Vietnam from 1964 to 1975 (p. 136). However, the overall presentation is mostly one-sided from China's point of view with only superficial treatment on what went on within the DRV leadership. In totalitarian regimes, personalities of leaders contribute significantly to an understanding of the history. In this context, "Hanoi's War" by Lien-Hang T. Nguyen is a good complement to fill this gap. In addition, "Behind the Bamboo Curtain" edited by Priscilla Roberts should also be consulted.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a1869a8) out of 5 stars Interesting but lacking 15 April 2007
By Seth J. Frantzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This is very important history. For much of the last 50 years the history of Vietnam has mostly been one of the history of the Vietnam war, there has been little attention paid to the history of the country or its relations with its other neighbors such as Cambodia or China. Yet the Chinese relationship is immensely important. Even during the Vietnam war the relationship was very complex, especially in light of Detente. By the high point of Detente in 1973, Vietnam and China had many differences, not onyl culturally and historically but also in terms of power-politics. Vietnam became mostly an ally of the U.S.S.R. After the fall of Saigon and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia things changed again and China demonstrated along the Vietnamese border and invaded the country for a few kilometers to teach it that China was the boss of southeast Asia, not Vietnam. After all Vietnam ousted China's ally, Pol Pot, from Pnomh Penh. However this book does not make light of this, it ends in 1975 and for that this book is a shame for it should have continued the story.

Nevertheless this is an important book and an important contribution.

Seth J. Frantzman
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x996f2bc4) out of 5 stars An excellent book on SE Asian Cold War from PRChina POV 15 May 2009
By Phil Lee - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Everybody already is familiar about the Berlin Wall and the Euro Cold War with the USSR. The Cold War with PR China in SE Asia, especially concurrent with the Korean Conflict in the early 50s, is not so well known.

Using "declassified" Mao Ze-dong, Zhou En-lai and Deng Xiao-ping documents in PRC archives and CCP biographies and memoirs recently published in Chinese, China History Professor at Auburn U, Alabama, weaves a compelling, readable and understandable history of the early Vietnam War, especially before the January 1968 Tet Offensive.

Not shy in sharing his sources, Zhai shows that both PRC and USSR were heavily involved in supplying arms, supplies and training with the North Vietnamese Liberation Army under Ho Chi Minh during the 50s and 60s. And Ho was clever in playing off PRC and USSR to get the best deals.

After the NVA strategic 1968 Tet Offensive, Nixon attempted an end run with the PRC; starting with "Ping Pong" diplomacy p194 and the historic first US Presidential visit onto mainland China soil during Feb 21-28, 1972. Ho's relationship with Mao quickly soured, he turned to the USSR for assistance, and eventually declaring the Sino-Vietnamese conflict of 1979. Vietnam was united and free from foreign influence at last.


Professor Zhai was a PRC native and began becoming a China history scholar at Nanjing U (near Shanghai) in the 80s. Then he earned his PhD in history from Ohio U, Athens in 1991. After more research, this is his second book covering PRC history since end of WWII. In the Acknowledgments section on p.xi-xii, he lists his mentors and collegues that he has collaborated with since the 1996 and 1998 Asian Cold War / Diplomacy History Conferences at U of Hong Kong.

This Reviewer recommends that using another book published at the same time to get fresh, fair and balanced POV of US-Vietnam war in the historical record. For example, Kenneth Conboy & Dale Andrade book titled "Spies and Commandos: how America lost the secret war in North Vietnam," was published by UKansas in 2000. Conboy and Andrade uses recently declassified CIA and DoD archives, where Ft Leavenworth, Kansas is the center for Army Command, Intelligence, and War College.

Additionally to understand the Vietnam Conflict at the highest political level, watch former Secretary of Defense McNamara's autobiographical memoir video "The Fog of War (2004)," where Director, Errol Morris, won an Oscar for best documentary film. McNamara, 85 yrs old at the interview, was a bombing analyst during the WWII Japanese war theatre for Army Air Corp General LeMay and SECDEF for Pres Kennedy and Johnson. He had forecasted that the VN War was unwinnable, was fired by Johnson for his belief, and proved that it was indeed a Viet civil war at a Council on Foreign Relations Conference in Hanoi, Nov 7, 1995 that included China and North VN delegates and war generals, especially Vo Nguyen Giap. All books and DVD should be in large university library collections.


This scholarly book has 9 chapters and covers only from 1950 through the "Fall of Saigon" on April 30th, 1975. It includes the French loss at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (53) and Geneva Accords dividing the country in 1954. CIA and Army support of the SVN Diem gov't and resulting PRC entanglements supporting NVN Ho Chi Minh. US-PRC Peace talks regarding VN 1965-68.

Prof Zhai's book is illustrated with a map of the entire IndoChina peninsula and detail map of North VN, however, does *not* include the transport and supply routes from southern Chinese provinces, cities, and military supply depots and ports to support details mentioned in his book. His book does not include infographics that military campaigns and timelines that are in most US war books, such as from Time-Life World War II series.

His book includes 16 pixs, usually diplomatic pixs of meetings. And there is one Table p136 which summarizes CN military aid to NVN by year. Aid items include guns, artillery, bullets, shells, radios, telephones, tanks, ships, aircraft, vehicles, and uniforms.

It also includes 320K troops PRC sent to NVN between 1965 thru 1968, for defense, building infrastructure, and training. A total of 1.1K casualties and 4.2K wounded was incurred by the PRC Army. A secret depot was built in PRC's Hainan Island and Yen Bai in NVN p137 and connecting network of roads, river, and rail lines from the Yunnan Province border into NVN, Laos and down the border into Cambodia.

The last quarter of the book covers an extensive 42-pgs of Notes and 27-pg Bibliography of sources, including many PRC articles from diplomatic memoirs and military documents, divided between English and those written in CN. There is a 9-pg Index.

Conclusively Prof Zhai book is a book based upon great scholarship, yet gives a quite readable narrative for understanding VN-PRC history, and gives a new and comprehensive view of PRChina's substantial role in supporting Ho Chi Minh during his War with America.
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