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

Reactions of Secretaries Acheson and Dulles

During this period the leadership of the State Department (and the administrations of Harry S Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, more generally) was notably weak, rendering it largely unable to defend its dedicated FSOs against the right-wing onslaught.  Under broad attack by anti-Communist elements in Congress in the nervous early days of the Cold War, the Department established its own Loyalty Security Board to carry out internal investigations, and in the end proved willing to sacrifice a few of its own in order to fend off or lessen suspicions and outright attacks against the institution as a whole.

Although Secretary of State Acheson directed the August 1949 publication of a China White Paper, which concluded that the wartime reporting of the China hands had been balanced, incisive and prescient – and had had no impact on the outcome of the Chinese civil war – the furious reaction to that report and the deepening anti-Communist hysteria that accompanied the outbreak of the Korean War led him to avoid further actions in defense of his own officers.  He subsequently acquiesced to the Loyalty Security Board recommendations that John Stewart Service and O. Edmund Clubb be removed from the Department. 

Eisenhower’s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who insisted on ideological orthodoxy and “positive loyalty” from his FSO subordinates, was even more unwilling to overrule the findings of the Loyalty Security Boards.  He forced John Carter Vincent to retire in 1953 and fired John Paton Davies outright in 1954. The latter action, which disgraced a man widely known as a strong anti-Communist, came just as the reckless witch hunts conducted by Senator Joseph McCarthy had reached their apex and his own star was headed for precipitous decline.  However, even into the latter part of the 1950s and throughout the Kennedy and Johnson years, when the State Department was led by Secretary Dean Rusk, an avid foe of Chinese communism, there was little rehabilitation of these China hands.  Unfortunately, their expertise remained unavailable to policy makers dealing with momentous issues such as the Sino-Soviet split and the deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnam, which was widely but mistakenly viewed as a Chinese “client state.”


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.