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Cold War in Asia

Lesson Author
Required Time Frame
Two 45-minute periods or one 90-minute block
Grade Level(s)
Lesson Abstract
The purpose of this lesson is to link the Communist Revolution in China (1949) to subsequent Cold War events, including Korea and McCarthyism.

Brief Lecture, Document Analysis, Document- Based Debate

Rationale (why are you doing this?)

The purpose of this lesson is to link the Communist Revolution in China (1949) to subsequent Cold War events, including Korea and McCarthyism.


Lesson Objectives - the student will
  1. Students will evaluate the significance of the Chinese Civil War to American Cold War policy.
  2. Students will enhance their abilities to analyze primary sources.
  3. Students will assess the value of opposing viewpoints in history as applied to Cold War policy in Asia and Truman’s response to the Chinese Civil War.
District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met

Missouri Show-Me Standards: This lesson meets the following state standards:


  • Social Studies 2:  continuity and change in the history of Missouri, the United States and the world
  • Social Studies 5:   the major elements of geographical study and analysis
  • Social Studies 7:  the use of tools of social science inquiry


  • Goal 1.5:  comprehend and evaluate written, visual and oral presentations and works
  • Goal 2.3:  exchange information, questions and ideas while recognizing the perspectives of others
  •  Goal 3.6:  examine problems and proposed solutions from multiple perspectives
  •  Goal 3.8:  assess costs, benefits and other consequences of proposed solutions
  •  Goal 4.1:  explain reasoning and identify information used to support decisions


Benchmark 3: The student uses a working knowledge and understanding of individuals, groups, ideas, developments, and turning points in the era of the Cold War (1945-1990).

1. (K) explains why the United States emerged as a superpower as the result of World War II.

2.(A) analyzes the origins of the Cold War (e.g., establishment of the Soviet Bloc, Mao’s victory in China, Marshall Plan, Berlin Blockade, Iron Curtain).

Benchmark 5: The student engages in historical thinking skills.

1. (A) analyzes a theme in United States history to explain patterns of continuity and change over time.

2. (A) develops historical questions on a specific topic in United States history and analyzes the evidence in primary source documents to speculate on the answers.

4. (A) compares competing historical narratives in United States history by contrasting different historians’ choice of questions, use of sources, and points of view, in order to demonstrate how these factors contribute to different interpretations.

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed

Document Analysis Worksheet

World Map Outline

Primary sources needed (document, photograph, artifact, diary or letter, audio or visual recording, etc.) needed

China White Paper (excerpt), Major General Clair L. Chennault’s speech on the Chinese Civil War -- May 1949

NSC-68 (excerpt)

Fully describe the activity or assignment in detail. What will both the teacher and the students do?
  1. Students will have read the text selection on the Cold War in Asia prior to class.  (The text used in this lesson is America Past and Present, by Robert Divine, revised 6th edition, 2003.)  The selection focuses on events in Korea while briefly mentioning the Chinese Civil War.
  2. Briefly review reading and earlier lesson on the origins of the Cold War and post-war aid to Europe.  Discuss the European emphasis of Cold War --- a tendency of historians to focus on events in Europe, particularly divided Berlin, as well as the tendencies of the Truman Administration to focus on Europe at the onset of the Cold War. 
  3. Brief lecture:
    1. Post-war occupation of Japan and removal of Japanese from China
    2. Division of Korea; no division of Japan (review end of WWII in Pacific and role of Soviet Union, bomb)
    3. Soviet occupation of Manchuria
    4. Marshall’s visit to China to mediate Civil War – explain Marshall’s role, the efforts he made with both Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Tse-tung
    5. Marshall’s problems in China, report of no success to Truman
    6. Truman commissioned the China White Paper – a study of what America could and should do to prevent communist takeover in China
  4. Document analysis
    1. Individually, students will complete document analysis form over excerpt from China White Paper and Chennault’s speech on the Chinese Civil War.  Both documents were released before Communist takeover and defeat of Chiang Kai-shek. (This probably will take at least 30 minutes – may be assigned as homework.)
    2. In small groups, students will discuss the key ideas of the documents, as well as the various perspectives from which the authors were writing. (China White Paper authors were government officials; Chennault comes from a military perspective.)
    3. Document-based debate

                                                              i.      Divide the class into thirds.  One third will support White Paper, one third will hold to Chennault’s views and remaining third will act as members of Senate Foreign relations committee.  

                                                            ii.      Each team will prepare based on earlier document analysis – Senate Foreign relations committee should prepare questions for both sides while teams prepare arguments based on the documents. (In a 45-minute class, students probably will have just enough time after to organize their ideas and divide responsibilities within their groups.  They should prepare their arguments, based on the documents and outside information from lecture and text, as homework for the next class period.  In a 90-minute block, students probably will need 10-15 minutes to prepare, and the simulated Senate debate can occur in the same class period.)

                                                          iii.      Rules of presentation to Senate:

  1. White Paper supporters speak first without interruption.  They present arguments to the committee in support of the views expressed in the White Paper.  Committee members are the chief audience and may ask for clarification of points during the presentation, but debate begins following the presentation.
  2. Senate committee questions White Paper team.  After completion of questioning, Chennault reps may ask questions as well. This should lead to a debate between the two teams to be moderated by the Senate committee. (Teacher may take the moderator role if preferred.)
  3. Repeat procedure with Chennault supporters.
  4. Following debate, Senate asks questions to both teams for clarification, deliberates and announces position. (During Senate deliberation, other teams could be occupied by writing a summary of key points of the debate or hypothesizing the outcome in an informal class discussion.)
  5. Debrief – explain Truman’s decision and rationale for it
    1. Truman aided the nationalists, but not as much as Chiang Kai-shek needed or wanted. 
    2. Truman’s rationale was based on Marshall’s report of the war in China, as well as on the fact that he didn’t see Mao as a threat – he felt he could work with Mao better than Mao could work with Stalin.  This proved to be an underestimation of Stalin’s influence over Mao.
    3. Truman also saw the emphasis of the Cold War to be on Europe, and, in 1949, he had to consider public opinion regarding the potential for American involvement in another war, particularly in Asia.
    4. October 1, 1949 – Mao announced declaration of People’s Republic of China.  Soviet recognition October 2 made it impossible for Truman to extend recognition and work with Mao.
      1. Analyzing effects of Chinese Civil War on the Cold War

                                                              i.      Discuss American public opinion of Civil War in China; if possible, obtain newsreel footage of the war and discuss how Americans would respond, given the fear of Communism as well as the short time between the end of WWII and the “crisis” of China. (Would Americans see it as a crisis?  Would they support intervention? )

                                                            ii.      Document analysis of NSC-68 excerpt – what are the recommendations? What significance do such recommendations hold?  (Explain Truman’s refusal to adopt these suggestions until Korean War began)

                                                          iii.      Map analysis of geopolitical effect:  Throughout the Cold War unit, students keep an on-going map of the Cold War. By this time, they already have labeled divided Europe and Soviet bloc.  Now they will add China to the red Communist bloc.  Instruct them to find Korea and label divided Korea.  What does the fall of China mean to Asia, as well as Korea?  Preview the next lesson (Korean War) by discussing how Korea’s border with Communist China and proximity to the Soviet Union will shape alliances during the Korean War, as well as America’s interests in Korea.

Subsequent lessons on Korea and McCarthyism will come back to fall of China.  When discussing the Korean War, China’s communist regime and actions during the war are obvious components of the lesson.  When discussing McCarthyism, McCarran Act will tie to China, as will McCarthy’s assertions of President Truman being soft on Communism and using China as an example. 

Assessment: fully explain the assessment method in detail or create and attach a scoring guide

The primary assessments for this lesson will consist of an immediate assessment of the simulated Senate debate (followed by student reflection), and a later assessment tying the Chinese Civil War to other Cold War events.

  • Immediate assessment: 
    • Students will be scored on the quality of their arguments and questions, as well as reference to the documents, in the Senate Committee debate.  Scoring guide attached.
    • Following the debate, students will right a short, in-class reflection on the debate in response to the following prompt: Evaluate the arguments in support of and against President Truman’s policy toward the Chinese Civil War.  Without considering your knowledge of later events (including the outcome of the war), would you have made the same decision Truman made in 1949?  Support your position with specific arguments presented in the debate and in the documents.   The in-class writing will be scored in conjunction with participation in the debate.  Scoring criteria for the short writing appears on the debate scoring guide.
  • Long-term assessment:  At the end of the unit, students will write an essay exam in response to the following prompt:  Evaluate the impact of the following items in exacerbating Cold War tension:   Civil War in China, NSC-68, and the McCarran Act.  This essay will be graded according to the AP essay rubric (attached).  In addition to the criteria of that rubric, I will look for specific details in support of the thesis, including discussion of the China White Paper, details of the recommendations of NSC-68, and discussion of the cause-effect relationship between the Chinese Civil War and the Korean War, NSC-68 and McCarran Act. 

Additional assessments:  While I usually do not score items such as the map and document analysis sheets (instead having students use them as a study guide for long-term assessments), teachers may wish to collect these items and score them as well. 

Scoring Guide: