‘Reactionary imperialist’ ICWA fellow interviews Chinese communist convert in 1949

A. Doak Barnett was on the ground in China as an ICWA fellow during the most pivotal years of the Chinese Civil War and Cultural Revolution. From 1947 to 1955, he traveled throughout the country avoiding danger, and sometimes seeking it, to take the pulse of society. Nevertheless, he “never had a single long conversation with a Communist during six months in Communist [Beijing].”

In one of his newsletters, Doak finally finds someone willing to talk about his Communist ideology. Most startling about the interview aren’t the textbook definitions and Communist doctrine the young student espouses, but the fact of his ideological transformation in front of his interviewer. A former Christian, the young man has found “a new faith” in Communism. Although Doak often questions whether old cultural habits can be completely dissolved, here he finds an example of a seemingly total metamorphosis.

After his fellowship, Doak worked for the State Department and Ford Foundation before becoming a professor at Columbia University. He later spent thirteen years as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution before going on to lead China studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. A firm believer in the importance of productive Sino-American relations, he played a critical role in fostering the Nixon-Kissinger opening to China.

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