A Force So Swift : Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949
by Kevin Peraino and Paul Michael

Overview -
A gripping narrative of the Truman Administration's response to the fall of Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949—an extraordinary political revolution that continues to shape East Asian politics to this day.


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More About A Force So Swift by Kevin Peraino; Paul Michael

A gripping narrative of the Truman Administration's response to the fall of Nationalist China and the triumph of Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949—an extraordinary political revolution that continues to shape East Asian politics to this day.

In the opening months of 1949, U.S. President Harry S. Truman found himself faced with a looming diplomatic catastrophe—"perhaps the greatest that this country has ever suffered," as the journalist Walter Lippmann put it. Throughout the spring and summer, Mao Zedong's Communist armies fanned out across mainland China, annihilating the rival troops of America's one-time ally Chiang Kai-shek and taking control of Beijing, Shanghai, and other major cities. As Truman and his aides—including his shrewd, ruthless secretary of state, Dean Acheson—scrambled to formulate a response, they were forced to contend not only with Mao, but also with unrelenting political enemies at home. Over the course of this tumultuous year, Mao would fashion a new revolutionary government in Beijing, laying the foundation for the creation of modern China, while Chiang Kai-shek would flee to the island sanctuary of Taiwan. These events transformed American foreign policy—leading, ultimately, to decades of friction with Communist China, a long-standing U.S. commitment to Taiwan, and the subsequent wars in Korea and Vietnam.

Drawing on Chinese and Russian sources, as well as recently declassified CIA documents, Kevin Peraino tells the story of this remarkable year through the eyes of the key players, including Mao Zedong, President Truman, Secretary of State Acheson, Minnesota congressman Walter Judd, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the influential first lady of the Republic of China.
Today, the legacy of 1949 is more relevant than ever to the relationships between China, the United States, and the rest of the world, as Beijing asserts its claims in the South China Sea and tensions endure between Taiwan and the mainland.

  • Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
  • Date: Sept 2017

From the cover
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2017 Kevin Peraino


October 1, 1949, Beijing

Bodies jostled, elbow to elbow, angling all morning for a spot in the square. Soldiers clomped in the cold—tanned, singing as they marched, steel helmets and bayonets under the October sun. Tanks moved in columns two by two; then howitzers, teams of ponies, gunners shouldering mortars and bazookas. On the flagstones, in front of the imperial gate, men and women craned their necks toward a platform above a portrait of Mao Zedong, painted in hues of blue, hanging beside tubes of blue neon. Underneath, a sprinkling of yellow streamers rippled in the crowd. Nearly everything else in the frenzied square was red.

Shortly after three p.m., a tall figure in a dark woolen suit stepped up to a bank of microphones atop the gate. He lifted a sheet of folded paper, pursed his lips, and glanced down at a column of Chinese characters. A double chin rested against his collar; heavy jowls had long since submerged his cheekbones. Although Mao was still only in his mid-fifties, he was not in good health. He rarely went to bed before dawn. For years he had punished his body with a masochistic regimen of stewed pork, tobacco, and barbiturates. Occasionally, overcome by a spell of dizziness, he would suddenly stagger—one symptom of the circulatory condition that his doctors called angioneurosis. Still, he had retained into middle age what one acquaintance described as "a kind of solid elemental vitality"—a kinetic magnetism that photographs could never quite manage to convey.

On this day, Mao's speech, delivered in his piping Hunanese, was nothing particularly memorable: a few lines praising the heroes of the revolution and damning the British and American imperialists and their stooges. But the celebration that followed, marking the birth of the People's Republic of China, was a cathartic spectacle. Mao pressed a button, the signal to raise the flag—yellow stars against a field of crimson—and a band broke into "March of the Volunteers," the new national anthem, with its surging chorus of "Arise, arise, arise!" An artillery battery erupted in salute; a formation of fighter jets slashed across the sky.

The sun set, and the party went on: fireworks raced toward their peaks, rockets of white flame—then fell, smoldering but harmless, into crowds of giddy children. Red gossamer banners billowed in the evening breeze, undulating like enormous jellyfish; to one witness, the British poet William Empson, they possessed a kind of "weird intimate emotive effect." Lines of paraders hoisted torches topped with flaming rags; others carried lanterns crafted from red paper—some shaped like stars, some like cubes, lit from within by candles or bicycle lamps. Slowly, singing, the glowing procession bled out into the city.

Among the marchers was a boy of sixteen, Chen Yong. He held a small red flickering cube. He had been twelve years old when he joined Mao's army, though he had looked even younger—a year or two, at least. He had studied Morse code, one of the few jobs for a boy his age, then joined a unit that fought its way through Manchuria. As the long civil war was coming to a close, Chen's father had thrown his boy back in school. But on this night no one was studying. The war was over; Mao had won. Chen carried his lantern into the dark.

Nearly seven decades after this celebratory light show, I visited Chen Yong at his home in Beijing, an unfussy apartment block in one of the city's western neighborhoods. Chen was now in his early eighties; his hair had gone white, and a...

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