Suitcase Diplomacy: The Role of Travel in Sino-American Relations, 1949-1968

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This dissertation examines U.S. travel in the context of Sino-American relations between 1949 and 1968. Building on recent scholarship on tourism and foreign relations, this dissertation argues that historians cannot develop a comprehensive understanding of the U.S. relationship with the People's Republic of China (PRC), Taiwan, and Hong Kong without establishing travel and travelers as significant agents of historical change. Using tourism as a centerpiece of historical inquiry, moreover, adds complexity to the traditional Cold War narrative and suggests that other forces, aside from East-West struggle, defined the international climate in the post-World War II period.

      The post-1945 boom in recreational tourism did not materialize uniformly around the world. On the mainland of China, swept up in civil war, travel was difficult and unappealing. The emergence of Cold War tensions in the region added a new obstacle to tourism as Washington imposed restrictions on American travel. Using the founding of the PRC as a starting point, this dissertation follows the course of American travel and travel policy in the region. As opposed to being marked by isolation and disengagement, the period from 1949 to 1968 saw incredible activity in the area of travel. In terms of U.S.-PRC relations, travel served as a medium of engagement and both sides showed a willingness to initiate travel exchanges and reforms to travel policy as a means of feeling out the opposing camp. Moving beyond the mainland of China, U.S. officials, private industry, and individual travelers perceived Taiwan and Hong Kong as "alternatives" to the PRC and both destinations experienced huge booms in tourism.

      In all these realms, travel developed both as a crucial element of U.S. containment policy and as a phenomenon that seemed disconnected from Cold War strategy. Using government archival material, travelogues, travel guides, records from international tourism associations, and popular advertisements, this dissertation demonstrates that tourism was not always the most efficient channel for foreign policy. The expectations and motivations of individual tourists, the overwhelming belief in a "right to travel," and the unpredictable impact of tourism on local economies, all worked to add complexity and nuance to the Sino-American post-World War II relationship.