Who Lost China?
Anne W. Carroll
In this thought provoking article, Anne Carroll examines the U.S.
policy towards Nationalist China during the Chinese Civil War. She
carefully reveals as a result of her historical research a serious
lack of vision on the part of U.S. policy makers. It is an important
study which points the way towards a sounder American policy in the
The loss of China to Communism is one of the great tragedies of our
century, and the key question that rapidly emerges from any study of
the Chinese Civil War is "Who lost China?". There are many who think
they have the answer. Brian Crozier blithely entitles his biography
of Chiang Kai-shek .1 During the early days
of the Cold War, the answer immediately given by conservatives was
the U.S., or more specifically the U.S. State Department China Hands
with an assist from General George Marshall. Liberals just as
immediately replied, "China was not ours to lose." The more
thoughtful authors have recognized a complex of causes, though the
majority of them ultimately blame Chiang and the Kuomintang (KMT) and
either ignore the U.S. role or exonerate the U.S.
But no one concerned about the U.S.'s relationship with anti-
Communist Freedom Fighters around the world today can afford to
ignore America's part in the loss of the world's largest country to
Communism. To fully understand the U.S. role, however, the whole
complex of factors surrounding Mao Tse-tung's victory in China must
be understood. Let us first examine factors contributing to the fall
of China that are mostly independent of Chiang and U.S. officials.
Most historians agree that Chiang's best chance to build a just
government in China and to defeat the Communists was from 1931-1937.
Arthur N. Young, financial adviser to China from 1929-1947, explains
how close Chiang was to establishing a stable Chinese government:
Whatever the government's weaknesses, by 1937 it survived a series of
acute crises, consolidated its position in most of the country after
putting down regional separatists, developed the nucleus of a strong
army under central control, was able to speak internationally for
China, built up the revenues almost from scratch to about C$1 billion
(about US$300 million), organized a budgetary and administrative
system, developed a market for international borrowing, settled most
debts in arrears, reformed the currency system and coinage on a
nationwide basis, organized and developed a central bank,
rehabilitated and improved transportation and communication, began
agricultural reforms, and had under way a growing and promising
program of development in which both domestic and foreign capital and
technical aid participated.2
Militarily, according to Lyman P. Van Slyke, "the Kuomintang had
almost defeated the Chinese Red Army."3
But the accomplishment of these military and domestic goals (which
were, of course, interrelated), was postponed because of concern
about the Japanese, who had seized Manchuria in 1931. James P.
Harrison, who is no admirer of Chiang, writes that the Chinese
Communists were saved from annihilation on the Long March "as much by
unrelenting Japanese pressure on China" as by the March itself.4
Then the kidnapping of Chiang at Sian, which forced him to join the
United Democratic Front against Japan, and the renewed Japanese
aggression in 1937 made the achievement of both goals impossible.
From 1937 on, the deleterious effect of Japanese aggression was not
simply a matter of tying up troops which could have been used to
defeat the Communists, but the loss of civilian life and property,
the bombing of every sizable city and town, the large numbers of
refugees, the prevalence of malnutrition, the loss of property and
labor to the enemy, and the prevention of any economic recovery
because 95 per cent of Chinese industry was in Japanese hands.5 The
length of the war drained Nationalist China economically and
eventually made it more dependent on U.S. aid.
Since Chiang agreed to the United Democratic Front only because of
the Sian Incident, whereas the Communists appeared to enter the
agreement willingly, the Communists were able to gain far more
propaganda advantage from the Sino-Japanese War after 1937 than the
Nationalists were,6 even though all sides agreed that Chiang was the
only man with enough stature to lead the struggle against Japan.7
Chiang, believing that the Communists were a far greater enemy than
the Japanese because the West would eventually help him defeat Japan,
husbanded his resources for the eventual final struggle with the
Communists.8 Most of the Japanese attacks were launched against
Nationalist-held territory, not Communist.9 Thus Chiang's policy of
giving up territory and not launching counter-attacks was interpreted
as lack of will to fight Japan.
Mao, on the other hand, was successful in portraying the Communists
as determinedly anti-Japanese,10 though the People's Liberation Army
actually did very little against the enemy.11 In fact, in August
1937 Mao told the Eighth Route Army, "We should use seventy per cent
of our energy on our own expansion, twenty per cent on compromising
with the Nationalists and ten per cent on fighting the Japanese,12
and in reality the Communist army "was powerless in the face of the
Japanese army."13 Even Ernest Hemingway, no friend to conservatives,
reported to Harry Dexter White in 1941 that the part played by the
Nationalists in the war against Japan had been "a hundred times
greater" than that of the Communists.14 According to Robert C.
While co-operating nominally with Chiang Kai-shek and his government,
the Chinese Communists expanded, trained, and battle-tested their
armed forces; developed border region governments as proving grounds
for administrative techniques and structures; proclaimed the so-
called New Democracy as a theoretical framework; and carried out the
Cheng Feng or "ideological remolding movement," which enabled them to
adapt Russian theory to Chinese practice and at the same time to
tighten the ideological discipline of the whole Communist movement in
In addition, because Mao was under much less pressure from the
Japanese, he was able to institute selected land reform programs to
get and keep the peasants on his side. He usually ordered rent and
tax reduction rather than outright confiscation because he also hoped
to keep the landlords' support until such time as he was in full
control of the country.16 Though the land reform did not always go
nearly so smoothly or produce such spectacular results as Communist
propaganda would have the world believe,17 the opinion of the general
public was that the peasants were happy in Communist-held areas and
supported the People's Liberation Army.18
Therefore the Sino-Japanese War had these important results:
preventing Chiang's defeat of the Communists at the time that he was
strongest and they were weakest; allowing the Communists to create
the image of determined resisters to Japanese aggression; preventing
Nationalist reforms while allowing the Communists to make those
reforms which would be to their immediate advantage; and draining
Nationalist resources so that they would be unavailable to defeat the
Communists when the Sino-Japanese War ended.
During World War II, the Soviet Union gave no appreciable assistance
to the Chinese Communists. Locked in a deadly struggle with Nazi
Germany, Stalin could spare little thought for Mao and the People's
Liberation Army (PLA). After World War II ended, Stalin concluded
the Sino-Soviet Treaty with Chiang (August 14, 1945). These facts
tend to obscure the significant role the Soviet Union played in Mao's
ultimate victory over Chiang.
The Soviet Union declared war on Japan on August 8, 1945, and Japan
accepted surrender terms on August 10. The Soviet army made no
contribution to the Allied victory over Japan, but its entry into the
war made a major contribution to the Communist victory over Chiang.
The Soviet army occupied Manchuria and confiscated large quantities
of Japanese arms. Though the Sino-Soviet Treaty obligated the
Soviets to turn Manchuria over to the Nationalists, the Soviet troops
timed their withdrawals from Manchurian cities in such a way as to
facilitate PLA occupation.19 The Soviet army would not allow the
Nationalists to land at the main Manchurian ports for five weeks,
thereby preventing the Nationalists from occupying key Manchurian
positions.20 Though the Nationalists finally drove the PLA out of
the cities in 1946, the Communists retained their hold on the
countryside, which turned out to be crucial.21 In addition, the
Soviets turned over the captured Japanese arms to the PLA.22 These
arms "must supply the reason why the Communist forces, so poorly
armed before the autumn of 1945, appeared to be so well-provided in
the subsequent campaigns."23 Communist control of Manchuria
guaranteed their continued control of north China and gave them a
significant strategic advantage in the civil war.
Besides the immediate benefits gained by the Chinese Communists
because of the Soviet occupation of Manchuria, Stalin's government
provided additional assistance to Mao. The Soviets rebuilt Lin
Piao's Fourth Field Army and transferred into it 100,000 North Korean
troops with supplies.24 Soviet military advisers assisted the
Chinese Communist army, and the Soviets supplied 1,276 artillery
pieces and 369 tanks, reversing the early Nationalist superiority in
In its own propaganda literature, the Soviet Union is more than
willing to take full credit for the Chinese Communist victory:
When the USSR entered the war against Japan the People's Liberation
Army of China was in an extremely difficult position.... After
Northeast China was liberated, the Soviet Commander handed over to
the People's Liberation Army the weapons and equipment of the former
Kwantung Army, and later, Soviet weapons too. The materiel captured
by two Soviet fronts alone included more than 3,700 guns and mortars,
600 tanks, 861 aircraft, and nearly 680 military depots. The USSR
helped to form, equip and train an 800,000 strong army which played
the decisive role in routing the Kuomintang counter-revolutionary
Though allowances must be made for the exaggerations of propaganda,
the basic facts of Soviet aid are confirmed by other sources.27
Soviet intervention was not the only reason for the Chinese Communist
victory, but Russian aid made it much easier for the Chinese
Communists to win the civil war.
Most historians agree that Chiang Kai-shek himself was not personally
corrupt,28 but no one denies that Kuomintang officials in the
government and the military were inefficient, greedy, dishonest and
selfish. Among the evils of the KMT commonly cited are the
following: The KMT was dominated by factionalism;29 the rich and
privileged were able to avoid conscription;30 taxes were not honestly
collected;31 treatment of draftees was deplorable, soldiers' pay
mostly went into the pockets of their officers, and the soldiers
almost never had enough to eat;32 there was profiteering on U.S. aid
to China;33 military officers received positions and were promoted on
the basis of loyalty to Chiang alone, without regard to ability;34
the KMT was overbureaucratized;35 provincial and local governments
defied orders coming from the central government,36 especially
regarding land reform.37 Chiang himself said of the KMT in January
1948, "To tell the truth, never, in China or abroad, has there been a
revolutionary party as decrepit and degenerate as we are today; nor
has there been one as lacking in spirit, in discipline, and even more
in standards of right and wrong as we are today."38
The officials responsible for this corruption made it virtually
impossible for such reforms as Chiang attempted to be carried out.
They would simply not obey his orders. Chiang did not force them to
institute these reforms because he had to give top priority to his
two-front war and because he believed that if he lost their support
his government would fall.39 The KMT officials weakened the military
and the government, created discontent among the people and gave the
Communists a propaganda weapon.
Though current sources agree that none of the evils of KMT
government, except those relating to the military, have been
eliminated by the Chinese Communists, and are in fact in some cases
far worse,40 it is still true that KMT corruption made it much easier
for the Chinese Communists to triumph.
Now we can consider the role of "the man who lost China," if the U.S.
State Department's White Paper on the fall of China is to be
believed.41 Whatever else may be said about the Nationalist leader,
Chiang Kai-shek understood the Communist menace as did few men of his
time and therefore never stopped fighting it. In the early years of
the KMT, Chiang cooperated with the Communists. But his 1923 visit
to the Soviet Union caused him to see the true nature of Communism.42
Though he still used the Soviet Union to his advantage--mainly in
their establishment of the Whampoa Military Academy, which he
directed--he was just biding his time until he could move against
them.43 From then until the day he died, Chiang Kai-shek fought the
Communists. Though criticisms might be leveled against the
effectiveness of his strategy and tactics against them, there is no
question that he knew the evil of Communism and was determined to
prevent its conquest of his country. Furthermore, the very fact that
72 per cent (14,000) of the Chinese prisoners of war chose to live in
Taiwan rather than be returned to the mainland after the Korean War
shows that, when given a choice, men preferred living under Chiang to
living under Mao.44
The main criticism that can be leveled against Chiang is that he did
not make the reforms which would have strengthened the Nationalist
government and armed forces so that he could defeat the Communists.
This failure is not wholly his fault. As we have already seen, he
had to contend with Japanese aggression, Soviet intervention and
Chinese corruption. It would have been enormously difficult for him
to have made all the political and economic reforms which his critics
urged on him (and which he did in fact make on Taiwan45) in view of
the obstacles he faced.
Nevertheless, the Communist-Nationalist struggle was at the end a
military struggle. There were reforms he could have undertaken in
the military, with U.S. help, which would have made it more likely
that the Nationalists would have won the war. He could have cut down
the size of his army and therefore been able to feed it better,
provided rations directly to the men instead of to their officers so
that the men would actually get their full rations, required
sanitation procedures such as delousing, taken care of his draftees
so that they wouldn't die before they even entered combat. Ability
as well as loyalty could have been taken into account in officer
appointments and promotion. Chiang should not have tried to direct
the war in detail, issuing orders from headquarters which were
obsolete by the time they reached the front. Though General Joseph
Stilwell (Chiang Kai-shek's American-appointed Chief of Staff from
January 1942 until October 1944) antagonized Chiang unnecessarily,
the reforms he (and later General Albert Wedemeyer, who replaced
Stilwell) recommended for the Chinese army were worthwhile and should
have been pursued vigorously.
Chiang did not pursue them, and the Nationalists lost.
Marxists believe that history is determined by the inevitable
revolutionary dialectic, but Christians know that history is made by
the free will choices of individuals. Therefore to determine if the
United States "lost China," we must examine the role of key
individuals in the U.S. to see the role they played in the fall of
General George C. Marshall is the single person most frequently
charged by conservatives with the responsibility for the loss of
China. Marshall was sent by President Truman as his personal
representative to China, arriving on December 20, 1945. His specific
instructions from Secretary of State Byrnes were to insist on a
coalition government as a condition for continued aid to the
Nationalists.46 Because the Truman Administration had made a firm
decision not to provide U.S. combat troops to Chiang,47 and since
Marshall was convinced that Chiang could not win without U.S. troops,
he therefore agreed with the decision to insist on a coalition
government as the only alternative,48 though Marshall later stated in
his testimony in the 1951 Senate hearings on the fall of China that
he never had any doubts that Mao's forces were Marxist Communists.49
Marshall held frequent meetings with Chiang or his delegates and with
Mao's representative, Chou En-lai, and arranged two separate cease-
fires in the civil war, in January and June of 1946. When Chiang
would not cooperate with Marshall's efforts to set up a coalition
government, Marshall ordered an arms embargo, in effect from July 29,
1946 through May 26, 1947 (though no new arms arrived until November
Though the cease-fires were somewhat to the Communist advantage,
enabling them to move troops into better positions and regain
strength,50 since both sides violated the cease-fires almost at will,
their ultimate effect was not crucial. Of far greater controversy is
the arms embargo. There is no question that Chiang was winning the
majority of battles fought before the arms embargo, that he continued
to win in the fall of 1946 before the full effects of the arms cut-
off would have been felt, and that he won almost no battles after
that. Was the embargo the deciding factor in this military reversal?
Some historians offer other explanations than the embargo itself.
Among them are the following: Chiang was winning in 1946 because the
Communist Chinese army was not yet fully operational.51 The troops
winning the early battles were the American-trained and equipped
troops; later reinforcements were much less effective.52 PLA general
Lin Piao allowed the Nationalists to occupy cities in Manchuria with
little opposition because he knew that it would spread the
Nationalist army too thin.53 In spite of the arms embargo, Chiang's
armies had enough weapons and ammunition, but lost because of other
causes, among them poor generalship, a defensive rather than an
offensive strategy, low morale, and desertions.54
A Nationalist Chinese source, "Recollections and Evaluations of
Important Communist-Suppression Campaigns" prepared in 1950 by
seventeen high-ranking Nationalist officers, concludes: "We have
never heard it said that our military defeat in recent years resulted
from a lack of ammunition or an insufficiency of other supplies.
Rather, we inadequately understood bandit-suppression and anti-
Communism; we had insufficient morale; and our government, economy
and programs completely failed to provide close support for the
bandit-suppression military effort."55 The report also blamed poor
troop training and discipline, the overextension of forces, the lack
of an offensive strategy, factionalism among commanders, and poor
intelligence.56 Nationalist General Chao Chai-hsiang, writing in
1952, agrees that the PLA was superior in leadership, troop
management, intelligence and treatment of POW's.57
Other authors and witnesses believe otherwise. Richard C. Thornton
makes a strong case that Chiang's defensive strategy began only
because of the arms embargo.58 General Wedemeyer persuasively
testified that the loss of morale was indeed a cause of the defeat,
but that the arms embargo and other U.S. failures to support the
Nationalists, as well as the constant anti-Nationalist propaganda,
were a cause of poor morale.59 Admiral Oscar Badger, General Claire
Chennault, and Brigadier General Francis Brink also regarded the arms
embargo as a significant factor in the loss of China.60
Marshall's arms embargo, therefore, certainly played a major role in
the Nationalist defeat, but, especially in view of the Nationalist
sources quoted above, it seems unlikely that the arms embargo was the
sole deciding factor in that defeat. It was, however, indicative of
a broader U.S. policy, and that broader policy must now be examined.
American policy in China was largely shaped by the so-called "China
Hands" in the State Department: John Stewart Service, John Paton
Davies, John Carter Vincent, and others. Their defenders say that
they were loyal patriots who understood the problems of China better
than anyone else, proposed the right solutions, and unjustly suffered
at the hands of the McCarthyites.61 Their critics say they were pro-
Communist at best and disloyal at worst.62
Neither extreme is borne out by the facts. The China Hands were not
disloyal. But neither did they suffer unjustly. They deserved to
lose their positions--not for disloyalty, but for incompetence,
because they didn't do their job.
First of all, it was their job to understand the true nature of
Communism. Though this article is not the place to explore it, there
was more than enough evidence at the time to know what Communism in
the Soviet Union was really like. Even lacking that, a careful
reading of Marx and Lenin would have shown that the characteristics
of Communism--the dialectic, denial of human worth, atheism,
materialism, espousal of revolution--were sufficient reason for
resolutely opposing Communism.
It was their job to know that Mao was a Communist and was not just
"red outside and white inside" as some believed.63 Mao was present
at the founding of the Chinese Communist Party64 and had always
followed the Soviet propaganda line.65 The 1934 Constitution of the
Chinese Soviet Republic stated that the "Chinese Soviet Government
has the goals of eliminating the feudal system... It has the further
goal of eventual nationalization of all land."66 At the Senate
hearings on the fall of China, General Omar Bradley testified that he
had no doubts that "Mao himself is a Communist and was a Communist
many years ago,"67 and Dean Acheson added that the State Department
had "very little doubt that these [Mao and his followers] were
Moscow-trained Communists."68 A report prepared for the U.S. War
Department in July , declared, among
other things, "The Chinese Communists Communists." The report
added that the Communists were more rigidly controlled than the KMT,
allowed no opposition groups to exist in their areas (in contrast to
the KMT), and were part of the international Communist movement.69
General Chu Teh, commander in chief of the Chinese Communist Army,
said, "Chinese Communists are Marx-Leninists... The Chinese
Communists will certainly continue to apply and develop Marxism-
Leninism dialectically in accordance with our own conditions."70
Both Protestant and Catholic missionaries could have provided
information on the persecution of religion in the Communist-held
It was their job not to be misled by Communist propaganda into
thinking that a coalition government would solve all China's ills.
That they were in fact misled can be seen in a few representative
quotes. John Paton Davies, June 24, 1943: "The Kuomintang and
Chiang Kai-shek recognize that the Communists, with the popular
support which they enjoy and their reputation for administrative
reform and honesty, represent a challenge to the Central Government
and its spoils system."72 John Stewart Service, July 30, 1944:
"...the Communists base their policy toward the Kuomintang on a real
desire for democracy in China under which there can be orderly
economic growth through a stage of private enterprise to eventual
socialism without the need of violent social upheaval and
revolution."73 Service, August 3, 1944: "...the Communist Party
becomes a party seeking orderly democratic growth toward socialism--
as it is being attained, for instance, in a country like England--
rather than a party fomenting an immediate and violent revolution."74
John Carter Vincent in a memo to Secretary of State Byrnes, December
9, 1945, called for broadening the base of the Chinese government to
include "so-called Communists."75
The "Dixie Mission" to PLA headquarters in Yenan in the summer of
1944, including John Stewart Service and Raymond Ludden of the State
Department and General David Barrett of the U.S. military mission,
was a coup for the Chinese Communists, giving them respectability.76
The Potemkin Village show put on by Mao fooled the American observers
into thinking that the Communists were in fact the democratic hope
for China's future.77 Gunther Stein's
reported that the Dixie Mission was delighted by the "active, natural
Yenan atmosphere and those cheerful, warm-hearted, practical Eighth
Route Army men" and their wives "without lipstick and society
manners."78 In his report on the Dixie Mission, Service stated on
July 28, 1944, "There is everywhere an emphasis on democracy or
unlimited relations with the common people."79
The China Hands were not traitors--there is no evidence, for example,
of the kind of treasonable activities engaged in by the British spies
of this time--but because of the liberal bias endemic in the State
Department, they did not face the reality of Communism. Because they
knew the Chinese language and had been in China for years, their
recommendations carried much weight, and they played a major part in
the fall of China.
Also playing a part in the formation of U.S. policy on China were
members of the Institute for Pacific Relations, authors and reviewers
of books on China, and others in the media, who contributed to the
favorable image of the Chinese Communists. During the Senate
hearings on the IPR, 46 persons connected with the IPR were
identified as Communist Party members.80 Their publications were
clearly pro-Communist. Yet the IPR and its publications were the
main source of information on the Far East. At the IPR hearings,
Owen Lattimore testified, in response to a question on IPR influence
in the 1930's, "I believe that in those years, to the best of my
recollection, the publications of the Institute for Pacific Relations
were the only ones that not only specialized on the Far East but were
confined to the Far East."81 An IPR resource packet was adopted by
1300 public school systems, and the War Department purchased over
three quarters of a million IPR pamphlets for instructing military
Popular books gave a distorted view of Chinese Communism. Edgar
Snow's created the myth of Mao as a simple
agrarian reformer.83 Owen Lattimore's and
spoke of the Chinese Communists as supporting
self-government and elected representatives,84 expanding because of
reforms not because of force,85 and representing a broad base.86
was a Book of the Month Club selection which
presented Chiang as a dictator and Yenan as a far more pleasant place
to live than Nationalist China.87 The book's authors, Theodore White
and Annalee Jacoby, knew that the Maoists were Communists, but said
that there was such "great affection for the Communists" that there
"is little likelihood of their returning to a policy of ruthless land
confiscation or terror in the village except under the sharpest
Infected with the liberal bias which characterized the China Hands,
the IPR, and the widely-read authors, American policy-makers helped
to create a difficult if not impossible situation for Chiang and the
Harry Dexter White in the Treasury Department played a key role in
sabotaging U.S. economic aid to the Nationalists, as even his
friendly biographer admits. In a December 9, 1944 memo to Treasury
Secretary Morgenthau, White wrote, "We have stalled as much as we
have dared and have succeeded in limiting gold shipments to $26
million during the past year. We think it would be a serious mistake
to permit further large shipments at this time."89 The U.S.
government had made a commitment to Chiang in writing to supply $200
million in gold to curb inflation in Nationalist China.90 White's
policy prevented the shipment until it was too late to be effective
in stemming the inflation, a contributing factor to loss of American
confidence in Chiang and thus to Chiang's defeat. White also
supported the propaganda line favorable to the Communists. Reporting
to Morgenthau on the Dixie Mission on October 16, 1944, White wrote
that the interests of the Chinese Communist Party "."91
With White, unlike the China Hands, there is evidence that he was
involved in Communist groups. Both Elizabeth Bentley and Whittaker
Chambers named White as a member of Communist cells, the Silvermaster
and Ware groups respectively, though both testified that they did not
know if White was actually a Communist.92 Investigations were never
completed because White died of a heart attack in August 1948.
On the question of economic aid in general, the U.S. did not
adequately support Chiang. His critics say that he wasted vast sums,
but the fact is that U.S. aid to China was relatively small during
World War II. Though "China, for the war period as a whole,
contained on the average something like half of Japan's troops
overseas,"93 the total Lend Lease aid to China from 1941-1946 was
only $1.5 billion, three per cent of the total Lend Lease aid we
supplied to all countries.94 Thus we did comparatively little to
help the Nationalists bear the ravages of the war with Japan, so that
they were less able to defeat the Communists.
General Joseph Stilwell, in his key position as Chiang's Chief of
Staff, poisoned the well. While he had many good ideas which could
have helped the Nationalist army, they were never fully implemented,
largely through his own fault. Unlike Chennault and Wedemeyer,
Stilwell had no understanding of the Oriental mentality, believing
that he could deal with Chiang as he would another American. He made
no secret of his contempt for Chiang,95 a contempt which he
communicated to Marshall.96 Furthermore, Stilwell had an obsession
with his own plans for reopening the Burma Road which caused him to
show a lack of understanding, not just of the Chinese, but of other
forces under his command as well.97 Thus Chiang became more
determined to keep total control of his army and less likely to trust
President Harry Truman's instructions to Marshall to support a
coalition government meant that America was precluding a Nationalist
victory because we would not support a government that did not
include Communists, even though Mao had publicly said in 1945 that a
coalition would result in the defeat of "reactionary American
imperialism."98 Yet President Truman did not show such blindness in
Europe. Without committing U.S. combat troops and without supporting
a coalition government, the Truman Doctrine saved Greece from
Communism. Greece received weapons and financial support and, most
importantly, operational advisers at the battalion level, who ensured
that American aid was used effectively. Marshall himself testified
that such aid might have worked in China, but General David Barr's
military mission to China was specifically instructed not to supply
this kind of assistance.99 General Wedemeyer recommended this
approach in his report on his 1947 fact-finding mission, but Marshall
personally suppressed the report.100 Chiang believed that the Truman
Doctrine would be extended to China, and ordered an offensive as soon
as word of the new policy reached him.101 But there is no evidence
that Truman at any time intended to make an all-out effort to save
China from Communism. Chiang warned Truman of the consequences of
his decision. In the summer of 1946, Truman told Chiang to be more
willing to compromise. Chiang replied that first the Communists must
abandon "their policy to seize political power through the use of
armed force, to overthrow the government and to install a
totalitarian regime such as those with which Eastern Europe is now
being engulfed."102 Exactly such totalitarianism, of course, did
The United States' role in the fall of China, then, was not any one
particular mistake, but a broader failure of U.S. policy. During
World War II almost everyone in United States policy-making positions
blinded himself to the reality of Communism because the Soviet Union
was our ally in the war against the Nazis. It would have taken men
of great vision and courage to have been able to say, in the
atmosphere of necessary and justified determination to destroy Nazi
Germany, that the Communists were the greater enemy and that we must
never lose sight of the moral imperative of helping countries avoid a
Communist takeover. But it is in such vision and courage that
historical greatness consists. Precisely the opposite happened,
however. At the Teheran and Yalta conferences the U.S. and Great
Britain gave Stalin all he asked as a means of keeping him in the war
against Germany (it was never a realistic possibility that he would
make a separate peace) and bringing him into the war against Japan
(in which, as we have seen, the Soviets made no contribution to
victory). After the war, it was not until the Truman Doctrine that
the U.S. faced up to the reality of Communist imperialism, but only
in Europe, not in Asia, though there was a chance that China could
even then have been saved. Therefore the responsibility for the U.S.
role in the loss of China cannot be placed on the shoulders of any
one individual person or policy. The responsibility lies with all
those in our country who have refused to face the reality of
Communism. For the choice was not, as some wanted to believe,
between democracy and anti-democracy, or even between Communist
authoritarianism and Nationalist authoritarianism, but between
Chiang's anti-Communism, corrupt and inefficient as it might be, and
the revolutionary destruction which is Communism. The contrasting
histories of mainland China and Taiwan since 1949 clearly show the
true nature of the choice.
Is the answer to the question "Who lost China?" then "All of the
above"? To say that would be to take the easy way out. Even
admitting all the other factors and Chiang's considerable
responsibility, the fact remains that the U.S. could have done far
more to save China than it did. Even an excellent Chinese leader (a
Chinese Jonas Savimbi, for example) wouldn't have been able to defeat
the Communists without any U.S. aid, given all the obstacles he
faced. With full-scale aid, based on the premise that the Communists
must be defeated, Chiang could have won. Therefore U.S. aid was
crucial. America was the one country that could have prevented the
Communist conquest of China, but we didn't know why we should and so
What could we realistically have done? During World War II, we could
have made it clear to Chiang that we supported him in his anti-
Communism. We could have built up his army on a large scale as
Stilwell and Wedemeyer did on a small scale. We could have given
economic aid on a basis in exchange for practical
reforms. As soon as the Sino-Japanese War was over and the Chinese
Civil War resumed, we could have given all-out aid to Chiang as we
did to the Greek anti-Communists. There is no question that dealing
with Chiang would have been difficult and often frustrating, but a
clear anti-Communist determination could have carried us through.
What lessons do we learn from this experience?
1. The U.S. needed and still needs a consistent anti-Communist
policy. We have opposed the Communists on an basis here and
there, but that is not enough. We need to understand the nature of
the Communist system--the dialectic, the denial of individual worth,
the espousal of revolution. If we know what it is, we will know that
it must be fought.
2. We need to help those who are fighting Communism when they ask for
our help, even if their government or leader isn't all that we want.
Right now, we need to help the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, UNITA in
Angola, RENAMO in Mozambique, the Contras in Nicaragua. Whatever
weaknesses these resistance groups have, they would in every way be
preferable to Communism and deserve our support.
3. We must realize the power of the media to shape our perceptions
and not allow it to bemuse us into ignoring the reality of Communism.
The day that the barbed wire barriers come down and free emigration
from Communist countries is permitted, the day that land ownership is
returned to the people, the day that full religious freedom is
granted, the day that all the gulags are forever closed, the day that
free elections and a multi-party system are allowed: when that day
comes we can stop worrying about the Communists, because they will no
longer be Communists. Until that day, America must always stand on
the side of those who fight for freedom for themselves and for their
1 Crozier's biography is one of the few books that is not
unremittingly hostile to Chiang, but even he blames Chiang for the
loss of China.
2 (Stanford, 1977), pp. 428-429; see also Barbara
Tuchman, , 1911-45
(New York, 1971), p. 133.
3 (Stanford, 1968), p. 2.
4 (New York, 1972), p. 239. References
cited in this article are for the most part those which are not
5 Arthur N. Young, (Cambridge, 1963),
pp. 420-421; Claire Lee Chennault, (New York,
1949), p. 85.
6 See, for example, Brian Crozier, (New
York, 1976), p. 395.
7 Suzanne Pepper, , 1945-
1949 (Berkeley, 1978), p. 7.
8 Jacques Guillermaz,
(London, 1972), pp. 296, 299; Van Slyke, p. 3; Tuchman, p. 168.
9 Van Slyke, p. 115.
10 See, for example, John Gittings, (New York,
1974), p. 101.
11 Guillermaz, p. 274; Albert C. Wedemeyer, (New
York, 1958), p. 283.
12 "Eric Chou, (New York, 1980),
13 Guillermaz, p. 332.
14 David Rees, (London,
1974), p. 119.
15 (Stanford, 1963), p. 181; see also
Steven I. Levine, (New York, 1987), p. 22.
16 Guillermaz, p. 340.
17 See, for example, Pepper, pp. 290ff, 329; William Hinton,
York, 1966), pp. 224ff; and Jane L. Price, "Chinese Communist Land
Reform and Peasant Mobilization, 1946-1948," in F. Gilbert Chan, ed.,
(Boulder, CO, 1980), pp. 229-232.
18 See, for example, Levine, p. 88. Of course, all land was
collectivized in the 1950's, so even such land as the Communists had
redistributed became the property of the state.
19 Levine, p. 82.
20 Tang Tsou, , 1941-1945 (Chicago,
1964), p. 330.
21 Harrison, p. 380.
22 James Reardon-Anderson, (New York,
1980), p. 107; Tang Tsou, p. 331.
23 Max Beloff, (Freeport,
NY, 1953), p. 55.
24 Richard C. Thornton,
(Boulder, CO, 1982), p. 206.
25 , p. 207.
26 Dmitri Yefimov, (Moscow, 1988), pp. 82-83.
27 See, especially, Richard C. Thornton, cited above.
28 Crozier, p. 9; Forrest C. Pogue, ,
1945-1959 (New York, 1987), p. 61.
29 Chan, pp. 32-33.
30 Robert A. Kapp, "The Kuomintang and Rural China in the War of
Resistance, 1937-1945," in Chan, p. 171.
31 Ibid., p. 169.
32 William Morwood, (New York, 1980),
p. 300; Tuchman, pp. 264-265; Dun J. Li, ed., (New York, 1969), pp. 223-226.
33 Sterling Seagrave, (New York, 1985), p. 400.
34 Samuel B. Griffith,
(London, 1968), p. 84, quoting General Albert Wedemeyer.
35 Hsi-Sheng Ch'i, , 1937-1945 (Ann Arbor, MI, 1982), p. 170.
36 , p. 172.
37 Chan, p. 81.
38 Lloyd E. Eastman, (Stanford, 1984), p. 203.
39 Hsi-Sheng Ch'i, p. 225; Eastman, p. 223.
40 See, especially, Fox Butterfield, (New York, 1982), and Steven W. Mosher, (New York, 1983).
41 Tang Tsou, p. 507.
42 Crozier, p. 62.
43 , pp. 86-88.
44 , p. 360.
45 , pp. 352, 363.
46 Pogue, pp. 65-66.
47 Tang Tsou, p. 356.
48 , p. 364.
49 , Hearings before the
Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Foreign Relations,
U.S. Senate, 82nd Congress (Washington, 1951), p. 377.
50 Guillermaz, p. 445; Thornton, p. 192.
51 Levine, pp. 103-104; Thornton, p. 206, who stresses that it was
the Soviet Union that made the PLA battle-ready.
52 F. F. Liu,
(Westport, CT, 1956), p. 246. Liu is anti-Communist; therefore, his
evidence cannot be dismissed because of liberal bias.
53 Levine, p. 101; Tang Tsou, p. 434.
54 , p. 612 (General Marshall), p. 1013 (General
Bradley), p. 2960 (General Barr).
55 Eastman, p. 159.
56 , pp. 160-166.
57 Levine, p. 137.
58 Thornton, pp. 201, 203.
59 , pp. 2317-2318, 2329.
60 , pp. 2745, 2749; 2025; 2025.
61 See, especially, E. J. Kahn, Jr., (New York, 1972).
62 See, especially, Anthony Kubek,
63 Stilwell, for example, see Tuchman, p. 159; and Henry Wallace, see
Crozier, p. 254.
64 Dick Wilson, (New York, 1979), p. 60.
65 Tang Tsou, p. 213.
66 Ilpyong J. Kim, (Berkeley,
1973), p. 25.
67 , p. 1110.
68 , p. 1874.
69 Van Slyke, p. 1. Italics in the original.
70 , p. 13.
71 Alfred Bosshardt, (London, 1973); Raymond
DeJaegher and Irene Corbally Kuhn, (Garden City,
NY, 1952); Gretta Palmer, (New York,
1953); John B. Powell, (New York,
72 Kahn, p. 97.
73 , p. 118.
75 U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, (Washington, 1952), pp. 200-201.
76 Guillermaz, pp. 354-355.
77 In his post-war book, Barrett admitted he was naive to believe
"agrarian reformer guff" about Mao, since the Communists never "made
claim to being anything but revolutionaries." , 1944 (Berkeley, 1970),
78 Kubek, pp. 228-229.
79 , p. 230.
80 , p. 11.
81 , p. 76.
82 Kubek, pp. 350-351.
83 Tang Tsou, p. 232.
84 (Boston, 1949), p. 60.
85 (Boston, 1945), pp. 120-121.
86 , pp. 105-108.
87 Annalee Jacoby and Theodore White (New York, 1946), p. 104 and
88 , pp. 234, 236.
89 Rees, p. 326.
90 , p. 333.
91 Kubek, p. 199. Italics in the original.
92 Rees, pp. 12-13.
93 Young, , p. 417.
94 Rees, p. 164.
95 Crozier, p. 263.
96 Pogue, p. 52.
97 See, for example, Charlton Cogburn, Jr., (New
98 "On Coalition Government," address to the April 1945 Seventh
National Convention of the Chinese Communist Party, quoted in Kubek,
99 , p. 558.
100 Tang Tsou, p. 457.
101 Thornton, p. 208.
102 Tang Tsou, p. 429.
received her M.A. in English from New York
University. She is the author of
and Director of Seton School in Manassas, Virginia.
This article was taken from the Spring 1989 issue of "Faith & Reason". Subscriptions available
from Christendom Press, 2101 Shenandoah Shores Road, Ft. Royal, VA 22630, 703-636-2900,
Fax 703-636-1655. Published quarterly at $20.00 per year.
Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN