The Author's Thesis. Hunt's view of history and the world's events is that as an historian, he should go beyond researching "historical simplicities" - and that by grasping a more "authentic version" of history, a historian and his informed society can "better cope" with today's - and future - dynamics. Further, Hunt believes that there are "relatively narrow limits" within which one country can expect to "bring its influence to bear" on another nation. Also, he continues, a "realistic definition" of those "narrow limits" of influence "presupposes" an equally realistic understanding of the nation being affected. And the bottom line to his thesis is that the U.S., and its diplomats with contacts in China, and its policymakers with reference to China, have "traditionally slighted" the Chinese. This "misjudgment" on the part of America towards China should be - and in his book, certainly is - brought out with clarity by historians who have the courage to be "critics" and not merely "chroniclers" of the U.S. failures in this regard. And so, Hunt concludes, his book was written while he had "one eye open for the misconceptions and prejudices of American statesmen and diplomats," and the other eye following the "Chinese side of the story."
3) Did I find the author's thesis convincing - and did he prove this thesis? Yes, the author's thesis was quite convincing, from several points-of-view. For one, whatever influence the U.S. has attempted to bring to bear on nations in the Far East, turned out to be, in most cases, to quote his thesis, "usually entails unforeseen consequences and unjustified costs." And moreover, the U.S., as documented through Hunt's book, has not shown a "realistic definition" (ix) of the "limits of national influence" on Far Eastern nations.
B. Body of the Essay
1) Did the author demonstrate an awareness of previous research done by scholars on this subject? Why did they believe they had something new to present to the academic world? Much of the material that the author presented as having been part of his research was used strategically in his careful analysis; his noting of previous historical documentation was meticulous, and, of course, when he summarized others' research, he made clear whose view he was promoting.
Although Hunt did not present a wealth of previous research material - contrary or supportive of his positions - woven into his narrative, he appears to have been exacting and thorough.
After all, one must remember, Hunt claims - and even emphatically asserts - that there have not been many books or scholarly works published which have looked into the issues he is tackling with regard to U.S. policy and China / Manchuria. And he said, in his thesis, that he is quite impatient with histories of American political involvement with China, because they did not always show a "realistic" view of the arrogance [my word] the U.S. has displayed toward the East, in general.
Meantime, as to his thoroughness as a researcher, readers can quickly see that he goes to great lengths to back up his presentations of apparently factual data, dates, names, treaties, speeches and governmental actions. For example, in his 8th chapter, "Crosscurrents in American Policy" (138-151), Hunt used a total of 55 footnotes. He is exceedingly careful to footnote any documents that he used to back up his contentions. And within his footnotes, more than just giving the source of the document, he also explains that certain pages of reference works he uses - such as on page 139, footnote #2, in which case an analysis of President Theodore Roosevelt's policy on Japan - is "of particular interest." That is Hunt's way of saying, what I am writing can be verified through previous verified, historically documented sources.
2) What kind of evidence did Hunt present to prove his thesis?
As was mentioned previously, this is not the kind of book - such as a psychology book or a review of literature - where other authors with opposing or contradictory views can be presented, in juxtaposition to the author's opinions. Unlike a literary symbol in a novel, which can be interpreted in several ways, history is much less subjective. And indeed, even in the more objective genre of history, this book follows a path that is "less chosen," one might say; it's a path that other researchers have decided not to tread, and therefore, there are not many editorial positions in opposition to what Hunt is concluding. But Hunt does a good job of selling his case, when selling needs to be done.
An example of Hunt's effort to prove his thesis can be found in the (143-144) salesmanship of his position, which was written in the context of the U.S. "Open Door Policy" with reference to China, Manchuria, and Japan. The issue at hand was the building of the Chinese Eastern Railway, and what role, if any, Japan and Russia would play, since the railway would leave China and enter Manchuria. Hunt does a fine editorial job of putting the pieces of the puzzle together so the reader can see the clearest picture possible.
The Secretary of State under President Roosevelt during the early 20th Century was Elihu Root, who, with his young, activist staff, saw "patronage" with China as a way "to establish an informal American empire in East Asia." This policy was doomed to failure, though, as Hunt points out on page 138 - heaping emphasis on his thesis that Americans have not really understood China nor its history and culture - because "the activists thought of China in conventional stereotypes and lacked a coherent and detailed body of knowledge about either China or Japan to guide them."
Adding fuel to the fires set by Root's narrow vision - and lack of cultural understanding - of China was the fact that Root (in 1905) brought into his department "forceful personalities" who had a "broad conception" of the U.S. role in the Pacific and a "strong anti-Japanese bias." One of these young "Turks" was Willard Straight, who, like his aggressive State Department colleagues, had developed a "contempt for 'Orientals'," and a taste "for power and the diplomatic game." Hunt goes to some length to paint a picture of Straight that builds Hunt's case as it was stated in the thesis: the real history of U.S. involvement in the Far East is a shameful, arrogant story, that needs telling by historians such as himself.
Straight had traveled through China, Korea, and Japan, Hunt explains, in search of the "romantic, elusive goal he pursued," i.e., a "Kiplingesque desire to play the man of action in a strange land." (Much of the detail of Straight was taken from Straight's diary, and from letters written by Hunt to family and colleagues, all quite well footnoted by Hunt.) Straight was also a racist, an anti-Asian demagogue, according to documents dug up by Hunt; and meantime, the larger question has to be, how did a man so ignorant of Chinese culture, so wrapped up in his own fantasy of being a "man of action" and so poorly schooled in diplomacy, arrive at such a prestigious position in the U.S. State Department? "I now find myself hating the Japanese more than anything in the World...[which is due] to the constant strain of having to be polite and to see favors from a yellow people" (144).
Having painted this initial picture of Straight, Hunt then points out that Straight received a consular appointment to Mukden (Manchuria), to assist in the promotion of American interests, namely business, there. And, once again working to prove the point he made at the outset of the book - that America has fumbled numerous diplomatic and market opportunities in the Far East - Hunt describes Straight's "likely" intentions.…