The us wartime Involvement in China



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The US Wartime Involvement in China

The first US officer to visit Yenan was an intelligence officer called Carlson who was very impressed with the Communist troops, seeing them similar to minutemen and idealizing their relationship to the people – “the Eighth Route Army is like the fish and the people like the water.” 596 The US saw the Communists as the most disciplined force in Northern China, where the Soviets would probably enter the war, so military advisors wanted an observer mission sent to the area. Finally on 23rd June 1944 Roosevelt pressured Chiang to allow an observer there. They arrived as the Dixie Mission in July 22 and August 7th in Yenan with their aim being to assess the potential Communist contribution to the war effort. Barrett found that they were excellent guerrilla fighters but could not fight toe-to-toe with the Japanese. In August 1944 Service had an interview with Mao where he said that he did not want civil war but that the US would have to force Chiang to compromise. The US would have to liberate China as Soviet aid would be limited due to the war effort and when the Americans did Communist help would be crucial . It was a report ignored by the Americans.

The US though preferred to continue to deal with Chiang and hope he could reform his government to outflank the Communists. If possible they wanted to incorporate Communist forces in the struggle against Japan.

The next American observer in Yenan, Davies, concluded that “the Communists are in China to stay. And China’s destiny is not Chiang’s but theirs.” 598

Even so Davies advised against abandoning Chiang as doing so would lose more than they could gain.

The US observers were very impressed with the Communists and thought that they could win the coming war. Even Roosevelt’s special emissary in China, Patrick Hurley, saw the Communists as “the only real democrats in China” arguing that they were “not in fact Communists; they are striving for democratic principles.” 599 The US ambassador Clarence Gauss thought that they would win and favoured “pulling the plug and allowing the show (the Nationalist government) to go down the drain.”

US OSS advisors led by General Wedemeyer favoured training 25,000 Communist guerrillas to attack selected points. But US naval intelligence – conservative and pro-Nationalist – broke the news to Chiang. Wedemeyer disowned the plan and blamed Barrett who subsequently missed out on being promoted to brigadier general and suffered other humiliations.

The Yenan experience was vital to Communist success allowing Mao to experiment with a mass line and impressing foreign observers. It achieved quasi-international recognition and by 1945 it comprised almost one million square kilometres of land and 100 million people with one million party members and almost as many troops. “Mao had in fact created another China in competition with the Nationalist government for the supreme power of the Chinese state” and Ch’en argued that no policy of Mao’s was more responsible for the Communists ultimate success than “that of the United Front in the context of the Resistance War.” 599


Wartime Diplomacy and US involvement in China
From 1937 to Pearl Harbour the Chinese fought alone against the Japanese. “While it received sympathy, moral support and small loans from Western powers, the Soviet Union was the only country that extended China substantial material aid.” 600

The USSR offered China a non-aggression pact in 1937, “volunteer” pilots and loans of $250 million. By the end of 1938 the Soviet Union had sent 1,000 planes, 2,000 pilots and 500 military advisors to China including some of their best military brains. 600

Western aid was very small totally combined only $263.5 million, although the US did buy 350 million ounces of silver worth $252 million to help pay for the crushing military expenses. But until the end of the US-Japanese commercial treaty in 1939 the US also bought Japanese silk and supplied them with oil, scrap iron and automobile parts also meeting 40% of Japan’s needs for metals, cotton and wood pulp.

The beginning of the war in Europe in September 1939 changed the situation. Russian assistance ceased, while France and Britain leaned backward to avoid irritating Japan. In June 1940 the French shut the rail service from Vietnam to France and a month later Britain closed the Burma road. In 1941 the US made lend lease available to China and $26 million was lent which was a small (1.7% of total to all countries) but significant start.


The attack on Pearl Harbour transformed the situation. “Anglo-American declarations of war against Japan and similar Chinese actions against the Axis powers turned the war in Asia into part of a world-wide struggle against aggression and totalitarianism.” 601 The US established a China-Burma-India theatre of war with Chiang as the supreme commander of the Chinese theatre. General Joseph Stillwell, trained as a language officer in Peking, was appointed as Chiang’s chief of staff, and the American “volunteer” flying tiger pilots active in Kunming since August 1941 were incorporated into the US Fourteenth Airforce under Chennault.

From 1942 to 1945 the US lent China $500 million, Lend lease rose to $1.3 billion, making a total of 3% to all countries. 601

The Allies lost in Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma and the Philippines and the Chinese performance now looked a lot more respectable. Secretary of War Stimson told Roosevelt “the brilliant resistance to aggression which the Chinese have made and are making, and their contribution to the common cause, deserve the fullest support we can give.” 601

In 1943 the US persuaded Britain to renounce all the unequal treaties of the last century. Despite Soviet and British opposition the US wanted Chinese elevated to the Big Four accepting the Chinese as co-signers of the Moscow Declaration of November 1, 1943 in which the four powers agreed to persecute the war to its end, disavowing separate treaties.

Roosevelt wanted the four leaders to meet but Chiang did not want to meet Stalin, embittered by the Japanese-Soviet neutrality pact of 1941 and Soviet aid to the Communists. Roosevelt and Churchill then arranged to meet Chiang at Cairo and Stalin at Tehran.

In strategic terms Europe came first, the Pacific second, and China third. Chiang talked to Roosevelt at Cairo and to Churchill’s annoyance “Chinese business occupied first instead of last place at Cairo.” 602

Chiang’s request for the return of all lost territories was backed by Roosevelt, and later by Churchill and Stalin. The President agreed to increase Chinese supplies over the hump, and to give them a high place in a future United Nations organization. The Cairo declaration demanded the unconditional surrender of Japan, return of all Chinese territories lost to the Japanese, and Sakhalin and Kurile islands to Russia and some Japanese mandates in the Pacific to the United States.

One problem was Stillwell who lacked the diplomatic qualities of tact his position demanded. On September 6th 1943 he asked Chiang to lift the military blockade of Communist areas in the Northwest and to allow the Communist 18th Route Army to fight the Japanese alongside Nationalist troops. “The American embassy in Chungking estimated that at least 20 divisions, or perhaps, as many as 400,000 of Chiang’s best troops were relegated to blockading the Communist areas when they could have been fighting the Japanese.” 603

Chiang wanted his recall but Madam Chiang warned that would be unpopular in the United States. Japanese troops in the 1944 Ichigo offensive captured Kweilin in Kwangsi province and Stillwell requested Communist troops be used to fight the Japanese but Chiang refused.

Worried by the Chinese question Roosevelt sent Vice President Hurley to China and instructed the ambassador in Moscow to press Stalin about the need for friendly relations with China. Stalin and Molotov argued that the Chinese Communists were “cabbage Communists”, red on the outside but white on the inside. 603

Chiang argued that they were in fact more Communist than Soviet Communists. Nonetheless he told Wallace he would use political means to solve the Communist question, hoping that the CCP would give up its independent army and territory and merge with the Nationalist government. 604

Chiang tried to bypass Stillwell by trying to establish direct contact with the White House.

In 1944 as the Japanese offensive got close to Chungking, the US Joint Chiefs were persuaded by Stillwell to get the President to ask Chiang to hand over command of all Chinese troops to him. Chiang, bitterly hurt, said he would agree if:


  1. Stillwell’s authority was clearly defined,

  2. Communist troops were not included in his command

  3. Chiang still controlled Lend Lease aid and its distribution. 604

Hurley gained Chiang’s agreement but he insisted on retaining the final say on strategic decisions. Stillwell then demanded “unrestricted command” of Chinese forces of Chiang would have to accept “personal responsibility” for the deteriorating situation in China. Chiang felt like he had been struck in the solar plexus.

Chiang then stated he would accept an American commander but not Stillwell who he could not cooperate with. Stillwell then backed down and said he agreed to drop his demand to use Communist forces, but the die was cast.

Hurley concluded that Chiang was open to persuasion but not to force. As he wrote to Roosevelt “There is no issue between you and Chiang except Stillwell. My opinion is that if you sustain Stillwell in this controversy, you will lose Chiang Kai-shek and possibly you will lose China with him.” 605

Stillwell was recalled in October 1944.

His replacement Wedemeyer was made commander of US forces in China and chief of staff to Chiang but not commander of Chinese forces. His softer nature was better appreciated by Chiang and American-Chinese relations improved immediately. Best of all with no action taken, Japanese action in China tapered off as Japanese troops were transferred to fight the Americans in the Pacific. No more major Japanese offensives were launched in China.

Hurley tried to mediate between the Chinese Nationalists and Communists. On November 7th 1944 with Chiang’s approval he flew to Yenan to meet Mao. The result was the call for the formation of a coalition government, a representative of the CCP on the United National Military Council, legal status for the CCP, civil and political freedoms, and the unification of all armed forces under a coalition national government. 606

Mao declared he had always wanted an agreement with Chiang Kai-shek and that Hurley’s mission had made it possible. Hurley concluded that “there is very little difference, if any, between the avowed principles of the National government the Kuomintang, and the avowed principles of the Chinese Communist Party.” 606

This five point plan was rejected by Chiang Kai-shek who put forward a three point plan asking the Communists to agree to Dr Sun’s Three Principles, and turn over their troops to the Nationalist government which would give them legal status, a place on the military council, and some political and civil liberties.

“In short, he asked Mao to turn over his guns and confide in Nationalist sincerity during the famous redistribution of political power.” 606

Mao said this meant, if he gave up his troops they would have freedom, but workers, peasants, students intellectuals and bourgeoisie had no army before and lost their freedom.

Chiang agreed to the formation of a National Affairs Conference of all parties and independents preparing the country for a coalition and the end of National tutelage. But in truth they did not want coalition government. On March 3rd 1945 the Nationalist government called for a National Assembly on November 12th to create a new constitution. As it had been elected in 1936 under Nationalist sponsorship the new constitution was guaranteed to favour the Nationalists. Chou En-lai said it was deceitful, Mao refused to accept the 1936 National Assembly and negotiations broke down again.

Local embassy officials now advised Washington to bypass the Nationalists and work with the Communists. But Roosevelt supported unconditional support for Chiang.


The Consequences of the War
The War had profound consequences in Asia with Hsu saying that China was now the leading power in Asia instead of Japan. It threw of its semi-colonial status and became one of the Big Five and a veto power at the United Nations. Never was its prestige higher. The Colonial powers of France, Britain and the Netherlands had lost their prestige. The US, due to its power in the Pacific, was now the dominant power in Asia.

The Chinese had played a key role in the war. From 1937-1941 the Chinese engaged 500,000-750,000 Japanese troops, half their total plus the 200,000-700,000 Kwantung Army troops. By the end of the war, 1.2 million out of 2.3 million Japanese troops were tied down in China. The war in China occupied 35% of total Japanese military expenditure. 396,040 Japanese troops were killed and more wounded.

On the Chinese side 14 million men were mobilized, with 3.211 million casualties including 1,319 million dead and 1.761 million wounded. China’s war debt was 1,464 billion Chinese dollars. Civilian casualties and property losses were incalculable.

“The Nationalist government, which bore the brunt of the fighting, was so depleted physically and spiritually, that it was manifestly incapable of coping with the new challenges of the postwar era.” 612

Spending was 5 to 6 times revenue for much of the war. The government managed by printing notes, with the amount of money increasing from Ch$ 1.9 billion in 1937, to $15.81 billion in 1941, to $1,039 billion in 1945. The result was terrible inflation with prices increasing from 40% to 240% in the war. “Ultimately inflation damaged army morale, destroyed administrative efficiency, ruined civilian lives, and reduced the middle class to destitution.” 613

It alienated the population and intellectuals who accused the government of mismanagement and irresponsibility.

“If inflation was a necessary evil to sustain the war, it had become a curse in the postwar period and undermined the very foundation of the government.” 613

By the end of the war the Chinese people were weary, and wanted peace, not war between the Nationalists and Communists. “They longed for peace and recuperation and when these eluded them they blamed the government and party in power.” 613



Mao took full advantage of this discontent. “No sooner had peace returned than he began to challenge Nationalist supremacy. Civil war clouds once again hovered ominously on the horizon, portending a future fraught with turmoil for the exhausted nation.” 613


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