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 role of the American Foreign Service Association

The Foreign Service Association (later called the American Foreign Service Association, or AFSA), in those days essentially a professional club dominated by senior FSOs, largely stayed out of the fray, though individual members were clearly appalled by what was happening.  To its credit, the Foreign Service Journal of that period contained occasional editorials and other pieces supportive of Service, Clubb, Vincent and Davies – and some of those included explicit endorsements by the Association’s Board of Governors.

In 1973, a much more activist AFSA, under the leadership of “Young Turks” like William Harrop, Tom Boyatt and Tex Harris, decided to give belated recognition to those fellow FSOs whose perceptive reporting 30 years earlier had led to the destruction of so many careers and reputations.  The luncheon event, broadcast to a nationwide audience and given widespread print coverage, was held on January 30, 1973, before a full house in the State Department.  Those in attendance agreed that it was high time to set the record straight and give proper credit to a cadre of extraordinary officers whose wartime reports from China reflected the highest professional standards expected of America’s Foreign Service Officers.

The 10 China hands given prominent attention by Kahn were:

  • Oliver Edmund Clubb
  • John Paton Davies, Jr.
  • Everett F. Drumright
  • Fulton Freeman
  • Raymond P. Ludden
  • James K. Penfield
  • Edward E. Rice
  • Arthur R. Ringwalt
  • John Stewart Service
  • Philip P. Sprouse
  • John Carter Vincent


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.