Book Discussion: Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations With Russia and China in the Twentieth Century

October 13, 2009 // 12:00pm1:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States

At a book discussion on 13 October 2009 cosponsored by the Kissinger Institute and the Kennan Institute, Eugene Trani, President Emeritus and University Distinguished Professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, and Former Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center, discussed the dichotomous nature of U.S. perceptions of Russia and China as presented in his book, Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations with Russia and China in the Twentieth Century.

"The varying policies of support for China and lack of support towards Russia go all the way back to 1891," remarked Trani. While George Kennan's book on the Siberian slave labor system painted Russia in a cruel and unjust light, American diplomat W.W. Rockhill's "euphoric travelogue of China" did just the opposite. Trani explained that these works serve as the origins of U.S. perspectives on Russia and China, and that they have remained embedded in the America psyche ever since.

Trani noted that among U.S. university faculties, the most well-known scholarship on China is done primarily by sympathetic Americans, whereas critical Russian and East European émigré scholars dominate the field of Russian studies. In addition, Trani described how journalists enamored with socialism would return from Russia disillusioned and hateful towards the Soviet regime, whereas journalists venturing to China would often return impressed with the country's grand history, culture, and progress.

"A superpower rivalry is evolving between the U.S. and China over economics, but we are still not cautious," stated Trani in his discussion of U.S. policy towards China. Trani further feared that the U.S. will drive Russia and China together, provided these two long-standing rivals can get past their racial prejudices toward each other. "If Russia and China recognize what they can do together, they will end U.S. hegemony in the world," concluded Trani.

Written by Larissa Eltsefon

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