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

The China Hands

According to E.J. Kahn, Jr., whose The China Hands is an excellent source of detailed information on this episode, there were in all perhaps three dozen FSOs of the period who could be called “China hands” (or “old China hands”).  Kahn gives special attention to 10 FSO China specialists, plus John Emmerson, a “Japan hand” who reported exclusively on the Japanese in Yenan but nonetheless became tarred with the same brush as the China specialists.

Several of the China hands (including John Paton Davies and John Stewart Service) were born in China, while others became proficient through language study early in their careers.  Many had served at one of the numerous consulates (China had more than any other single country) scattered all around China in the 1930s to advance U.S. trading and missionary interests.


Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. Foreign Affairs Oral History Program, 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.