John Paton

Wu Ningkun


INTERVIEWER: This is tape 10492, the eighth of February 1997, New York City, interview with Mr. Wu Ningkun. Mr. Wu, thank you very much for consenting to talk to us today for our series on the Cold War.

WU NINGKUN: My pleasure.

INT: Can I just start off by asking you just to tell us very briefly where you were - I know you were in America - but tell us where you were and what you were doing in America when the People's Republic of China was proclaimed in October of '49.

WN: In October 1949, I was a graduate student or [inaudible] candidate at the University of Chicago. So we were very excited about the founding of the People's Republic. So some of the activists solicited sick natures for a cablegram, a congratulatory cablegram sent to Beijing and I signed it. [Laughs]

INT: Why did you...


INT: What was it then that made you decide to leave a successful academic career or potentially a successful academic career and return to China in 1951:

WN: Well, in 1951, I returned China, to accept a teaching appointment at Yenching University. I was urged to come home and take a post vacated by a departing American professor, because of the Korean War. But the reason I accepted it was not so simple. In my background there was always this desire to see strong and prosperous China, also a free and democratic China, coming to being. Now the Communists seemed to be doing that all my friends and relatives in China urged me to come home and not become a White Russian in the States. [Clears throat], ever since my childhood or boyhood, China was subjected to the perennial humiliation of being invaded by the Japanese and other foreign powers. We didn't celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas but we always commemorated the national humiliation days. So in other words, we were probably, to put simply, very nationalistic. So now is a time to do something for my nation and my people.

INT: And when you returned to China, how did people regard you, how did people look at you, as somebody who had lived for some years in the United States?

WN: When I first returned to China, the Yenying University, it in general was a mission, American missionary college. So in that environment I didn't feel too much pressure. As a matter fact, when I first landed in Kuanjo , I was welcomed by the government, you know, feted and... escorted to different sites, they probably had bought my train ticket. but not long after I returned to Yenying University, I began to discover there was a rising anti-American hysteria, especially because Yenying was an American college, American missionary college.

INT: So what were some of the slogans that were being used at that time, remembering that we're now in the peak, the heyday of the Korean War itself?

WN: Yeah, well at the time, we shouted slogans, such as 'Down with US Imperialism' and 'We must not be pro-American or be fearful of the US Imperialist, despise the US Imperialists'.

INT: Did people really feel at that time that America was a military threat, that MacArthur and the US army would actually cross the Yalu and enter China itself?

WN: At the time, I don't think the Chinese people really know what was happening outside of the boundaries, outside of the borders. So probably very few people worried about it, they just did what the new rulers wanted them to shout the same slogans, to send their children to Korea. People in general didn't really fear anything against America.

INT: Who did people feel was the real enemy in the Korean War? Was it South Korea? Was it the United Nations or was it the United States?

WN: During the Korean War, the Chinese government regarded the United States as a real enemy, they didn't believe in the United Nations...

INT: Now during that War, there were tremendous Chinese casualties, a large number of dead and wounded, do you remember the impact at all that those casualties had on ordinary Chinese people?

WN: We heard of the casualties through the grapevine, but the casualties were never, never reported in the media. Therefore the people, except the private families I suppose who were involved, never heard what was really happening, we just heard of the victories, victory after victory. How we dealt blow after blow at the US Imperialists. And the few famous names are held as national martyrs.

INT: I believe Mao's son himself was killed in the early stages of the War, was that widely reported or did that have an impact on people?

WN: The death of Mao's son was never reported.

INT: Very interesting, very interesting. Moving on... Sorry, just one final point then on the Korean War. When the armistice was finally negotiated and signed in July 1953, did people in China regard that as a victory or as a sort of neutral truce?

WN: It was the signing of the armistice was publicized as a great victory and the people naturally believed it.

INT: What did you think at the time about the armistice?

WN: Oh, I just sigh long sigh of relief, because of the on-going Korean War that I was a suspect, you see. Although they didn't say that much, but I could feel it, that I wasn't trusted.

INT: Tell us a little bit more about that then. What were the grounds of your feeling that people began to mistrust you because of your associations with the United States, how did you sense this?

WN: Soon after I returned to Beijing, the movement of the campaign of ideological remolding of the intellectuals began. So everybody had to confess their past, especially their American contacts or relations over the years at Yenying University. So when my Communists bosses and my colleagues learned of my past... part of my past, they began to suspect me. Not my friends at the time, but the government did, because they asked me all sorts of questions, you know. They... When I wrote an autobiography, as required, the professor in charge at the time called me into his home and said, 'Why you did write informative autobiography, but aren't there more important things that you probably forgot? Would you like to reconsider?' [Laughs] So I said, 'There is nothing to add.' He started lecturing me, you know, our policy is this and that, you know, so long as you tell all, we won't mete out any punishment. I said, 'I came out to home not to make confessions, good-day.'