China Hands

“The pro-Communist group in the State Department… promoted at every opportunity the Communist cause in China.”

Senator Robert A. Taft (R-Ohio), quoted in Dean Acheson's Present at the Creation


“We have gathered to honor a group of Foreign Service officers – represented in the person of Jack Service – whom history has recognized as having been right…. For having been right many of them were persecuted, dismissed or slowed or blocked in their careers, with whatever damage done to them personally outweighed by damage done to the Foreign Service of the United States.”

Historian Barbara Tuchman, at American Foreign Service Association “China Hands”
luncheon, January 30, 1973 – Foreign Service Journal, March 1973

China Hands under attack

The reports of these officers often contained information and analyses critical of the Kuomintang (KMT) government of Chiang and, particularly after FSOs were assigned directly to Yenan, detailed accounts of the growing power of and popular support for Mao and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  Cables suggesting that American support to Chiang was doomed to failure were particularly unwelcome to many elements of official Washington, including the Congressional supporters of Chiang and his popular U.S.-educated wife, Soong Mei-Ling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek).  The latter had been a guest at the White House and had addressed a rapturous joint session of Congress on February 18, 1943.

Heavy criticism of the China hands began in earnest following President Harry Truman’s firing of Ambassador Patrick Hurley in late 1945.  Hurley lambasted his embassy staff for alleged pro-Communist views, charging in November 1945 that “the weakness of the American foreign policy [sic] together with the Communist conspiracy within the Department are reasons for the evils that are abroad in the world today.”  The first major attack on an FSO’s personal integrity was the suspension of John Service in 1945 for inadvertently passing information to a suspect publication, Amerasia.  As it heated up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the pillorying was led by members of the so-called “China lobby” headed by Congressman Walter Judd and by conservative Senators such as William Knowland, Styles Bridges, Patrick McCarran and Joseph McCarthy.

Many conservative Americans castigated the China hands’ reporting for reflecting naïve thinking if not outright pro-Communist attitudes.  Although the China specialists were frequently accused of calling the Communists mere “agrarian reformers,” there is no evidence that any of them ever used that term.  Ultimately charges of leftist leanings were amplified to blame these FSOs for contributing directly to “the loss of China” to the Communists in 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was established and Chiang and his followers were forced to retreat to Taiwan.


Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Frontline Diplomacy—Country Readers: China. Arlington, VA: ADST Foreign Affairs Oral History Program, 2000 (CD-ROM) (contains oral histories of Everett Drumright and John Service, as well as many China Hands of subsequent years)

bookKahn, E.J., Jr. The China Hands: America’s Foreign Service Officers and What Befell Them. New York: Viking Press, 1975.

bookMay, Gary. China Scapegoat: The Diplomatic Ordeal of John Carter Vincent. Washington, New Republic Books, 1979. (Introduction by John King Fairbank)

bookTucker, Nancy. China Confidential: American Diplomats and Sino-American Relations, 1945-1996. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.