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


During the Second World War, as the United States sought maximum Chinese assistance in the struggle against Japan, a remarkable cadre of China specialists within the Foreign Service reported on conditions in that country.  The cables of these Foreign Service Officer (FSO) “China hands,” as they were called, came from both the Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist headquarters in Chung King (Chong Qing) and after 1944, from Mao Tse-tung’s Communist base in Yenan.  Their astute reports reflected deep knowledge of Chinese language, culture, history and politics, and provided Washington with an invaluable portrait of wartime conditions in China.  Though no evidence of deliberate bias, incompetence or disloyalty was ever proven against any of these men, they were soon to be subjected to vilification and to having their careers and reputations destroyed for reporting unwelcome truths about the people and circumstances at their post of assignment.  Agents of their persecution, abetted by media pundits, were in the Executive Branch as well as in the Congress.  Those in the White House and the State Department who might have defended them – and the professional standards they exemplified – conspicuously failed to do so.  This egregious use of a post-hoc ideological litmus test to judge the reports and integrity of Foreign Service Officers cast a pall over the profession for many years.  The chilling effect was felt not only during the worst days of McCarthyism, but also before and after Senator Joseph McCarthy’s emergence as the most insidious and irresponsible of the anti-Communist witch hunters of the early 1950s.


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.