John Paton Wu Ningkun
INTERVIEW WITH INTERVIEW WITH JOHN PATON DAVIES - 14/1/97
INTERVIEWER: If I could start, not in the order that I wrote these questions out, but...
JOHN PATON DAVIES: Yeah.
INT: Why was there such a strong feeling in the United States, a strong feeling by Americans that China was somewhere that... there was a close relationship with, such that when the communists took over, people felt they'd lost China? I'm going to stop there... Right, OK.
JPD: Generally speaking, I think people who are interested in the subject attribute it to the missionary influence. There were thousands of... and I am a product of a missionary family... thousands of missionaries from the United States who went to China to do the work of conversion, and they adopted the Chinese, as it were, and felt a very proprietary interest in them, and they would then transfer that to political patronage of the Chinese.
INT: So were the people who were most upset about the communist take-over the people who had been missionaries?
JPD: Not necessarily. Some of the most upset were politicians, who saw the issue of the future of China as a policy on which to attack the existing administration in Washington. But it is true that many missionaries were strongly anti-Communist; they'd had a bad time at the hands of the communists. On the other hand, there were certain liberal missionaries who championed the communist cause, and who had... when the communists changed their pattern of behavior towards foreigners during World War II, there was sort of a feeling of friendship among the Chinese communists and the missionaries.
INT: When you were in China in the 1940s, what were the relationships like between the United States delegation, the United States officials and the Chinese nationalists - were they close?
JPD: They were close. Many of them, many of the Chinese officials who dealt with foreigners were American-educated, and therefore there was a sort of a ready p-partnership, as it were. There was exasperation in the American representation in China with many of the problems of dealing with the Chinese, but by and large the Chinese officials and the American officials got along very well.
INT: And what about the communists, how well did you get along with the communists?
JPD: Well, there was really no contact until the... United Front was formed in China between the communists and Chiang Kai-shek and the Guomindang to fight the Japanese invasion. And then the communists had representation at the capital in a small delegation which had formal contact with American officials. But there was no across-the-board collaboration.
INT: Once the Japanese had been defeated and it became a civil war, what were the sort of relations like between the American officials and the communists then?
JPD: After the defeat of Japan, the relationship soured greatly, because the Chinese communists felt that the United States had intervened in what was essentially a civil war, and therefore they resented it. There was an American contingent of Marines that helped Peking for the nationalists and held the Japanese, because the nationalists were not there in sufficient strength to take over, and so we were doing Chiang Kai-shek's work and denying the communists, who were also there, the chance of taking the Japanese surrender.
INT: What was your impression of Chiang Kai-shek or opinion of him? Because quite clearly there were quite a lot of people who felt that he was the one who was corrupt and not worthy of support.
JPD: Well, Chiang was a product of a Japanese military academy. He worked with the Russians later, when there was an attempt by the Guomindang to take over China and to unify China. He had Russian advisers whom he used as he would, not necessarily as they t-told him to do. And then he began to show his real character when he came to power in the Central China, and he was a... well, he was... let's not say a dictator, because he did not really control the country, but he was certainly an authoritarian type. He was a poor general, by all accounts and he was dependent upon manipulating a series of corrupt generals and politicians to maintain his supreme position - nominally supreme.
INT: So did you feel it would have been a better policy for the United States to have tried to form better relations with Mao and the communists than to go with Chiang Kai-shek?
JPD: Well, that's a highly relative question, because this depends on whether the communists would take power, and how competent they would be.
INT: When it became clear that they were going to take power, though?
JPD: Ah, when it became clear that they were going to take power, I think the American officials in China were of different minds: there were some who felt that Chiang should be supported to the last ditch, and there were others who felt that Chiang had served his purpose, he could not rule effectively, the communists would win anyway, and that therefore there had to be established a working relationship with the communists. This would not have been an unusual situation in China, because prior to the communists taking power in China, there were warlords in various parts of China with whom the US Government maintained relations. That is to say, the Consul in Manchuria, for example, dealt with the Manchurian warlords and yet nominally recognized that Manchuria was part of China and that Chiang Kai-shek was therefore the president or ruler of Manchuria. But in fact, it was an acceptance of a de facto situation which enabled the American Government to deal very flexibly with local situations. And the communists would have been one of those situations.
INT: So why didn't it happen, do you think?
JPD: Oh, because the communists were identified as being part of the Soviet bloc, and that was impossible, because the Russians were regarded as the aggressors in Asia.
INT: But did everyone take that view? I mean, were there people who argued against that, or was that...?
JPD: I don't think anyone took the position that the Soviet Union had benign intentions in Asia, as well as in Europe. This question of the Chinese relationship with Moscow... the orthodox position which was formulated by the Russian specialists in the Department of State was that any communist party was subject to the rule from Moscow, the Comintern and from the Kremlin - the Comintern being an agent of the Kremlin - and that there was no such thing as national independent communist parties. This view with regard to China was in error, because the Chinese communists had not been penetrated, as had the European and many other Asian communist parties... been penetrated by Kremlin agents. The Chinese communists held territory, they had their own army, they had their own secret police around in the person of Mao, and Moscow couldn't exert leverage directly into the Chinese apparatus. Moscow had to work externally, through external pressures on the Chinese communists.
INT: Presumably you knew that at the time.
JPD: I knew that at the time.
JPD: I differed from what had been the orthodox view. Kennedy, as the outstanding Russian specialist ... he came around to the view pretty much, I believe, that the Chinese background was unique.
INT: How popular was that view, that the Chinese position was unique, and why didn't that position that you held prevail?
JPD: It was not at all popular until events finally proved it; and even then... Events proved it when the Chinese communists and the Russians went into border battles in the, what?, Sixties, and even after that, I remember Dean Rusk, whom I greatly respect, saying to me ... this must have been in the Sixties... that, did I really believe that the Chinese communists were independent of Moscow? So that that point of view continued.
INT: Right. So basically, Truman was being advised by most people that the communists were a monolith, and that therefore any attempts to deal with the Chinese Communist Party by America would fail?
JPD: Oh, I think that was certainly the case. This was particularly the case with most of the military advisers that he . It was certainly MacArthur's view; it was the view of General Shenault, the Air Force general. It a widely held view, and it was held by some in the State Department.
INT: What initially was Truman's view about Taiwan? Because Acheson didn't initially have it as part of his defensive perimeter, did he?
JPD: This was affected by the Korean War, the outbreak of the Korean War, and then the intervention of the Chinese in the Korean War, on the side of North Korea. That alarmed the United States greatly, and Taiwan then became... the attitude towards Taiwan changed greatly, and we became very defensive about Taiwan.
INT: What had the attitude been before?
JPD: It was rather... as I remember, it was rather in limbo. Taiwan had been given at the Cairo Conference, in 1944, I guess, to China. It had been Japanese, and it was returned to China. And so we regarded it as part of China.