The Hoover Institution Archives has recently acquired the papers of Michel Oksenberg (1938–2001), a renowned political scientist and China expert who played a crucial role in the negotiations that led to the normalization of US-China relations in early 1979.

Oksenberg earned his B.A. from Swarthmore College, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from Columbia University. He began his career at Stanford University in 1966, moved to Columbia University in 1968, and then went on to the University of Michigan in 1973, where he was on the faculty for twenty years. He served as president of the East-West Center in Honolulu from 1992 to 1995 and then as senior fellow at the Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford until his death, in 2001.


Oksenberg (right) talks with a local resident during his field trip to rural Shandong Province in the summer of 1989.

From 1977 to 1980, Oksenberg took a leave of absence from Michigan to serve as a senior staff member on the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter, overseeing issues involving China and East Asia. After President Richard Nixon's historic visit to Beijing in 1972, the United States and the People’s Republic of China agreed to set up liaison offices in each other's capitals, but not embassies, as the United States continued to recognize the government of the Republic of China on Taiwan. Oksenberg advised the Carter White House to continue the Nixon policy of improving Sino-American relations by normalizing dealings with Beijing. In May 1978, Oksenberg accompanied the national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, to Beijing, where, with the help of Leonard F. Woodcock, head of the US liaison office there, they laid the groundwork for the full normalization of relations, announced in mid-December 1978. The agreement involved severing full diplomatic relations with Taiwan by substituting a liaison office for the embassy in Taipei. Oksenberg helped negotiate an intelligence-sharing arrangement with the Chinese when China's top leader, Deng Xiaoping, visited Washington in early 1979.


Jimmy Carter (second from left) and Oksenberg (middle) interact with a group of local people in Zouping County, Shandong Province, 1997.

The acquired papers consist of interview transcripts of US and Chinese officials involved in the normalization of relations, along with research notes, rare Chinese maps, newspapers and local gazetteers of Shandong Province, and photos and slides of Oksenberg’s activities in China (including Jimmy Carter’s 1997 trip to Shandong Province) in the late 1980s and the 1990s. The collection complements other Hoover collections, such as the Marshall Green papers, the Pardee Lowe papers, the John Lewis Papers, and the personal diary of Chiang Ching-kuo, in providing a broader landscape of US-China normalization as well as the intricate Washington-Beijing-Taipei triangular relationship from the early 1970s to the 1990s.



Hsiao-ting Lin

Curator, Modern China Collection / Research Fellow

Hsiao-ting Lin is a research fellow and curator of the Modern China collection at the Hoover Institution, for which he collects material on China and Taiwan, as well as China-related materials in other East Asian countries.

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