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

What happened to them

As a result of their reporting, most of the China hands faced retribution in the form of intrusive and repeated security investigations (often before “Security Loyalty Boards” if not also hostile Congressional committees), expulsion from the Foreign Service (John Stewart Service in 1951 and John Paton Davies in 1954), forced retirement (Oliver Edmund Clubb in 1952 and John Carter Vincent in 1953), exile to posts far from East Asia, missed promotions, denial of senior appointments that would have required approval of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and other indignities smearing their judgment and loyalty.  Only two of the FSO China hands highlighted by Kahn emerged relatively unscathed from the witch hunt: Everett Drumright, who became Consul General in Hong Kong in 1954 and was ambassador to the Republic of China on Taiwan from 1958 to 1962, and Edward Rice, who became Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs in 1962 and Consul General in Hong Kong from 1964 to 1967.  Also, though banished from duty in East Asia, Fulton (Tony) Freeman eventually prospered, becoming ambassador to Colombia and Mexico.

O. Edmund Clubb, beginning in 1929, served in Hankow (Hangzhou), Tientsin (Tianjin), Nanking (Nanjing), Shanghai, Chungking (Chong Qing), Urumchi (Urumqi), Mukden (Shenyang) and Changchun, as well as Peking (Beijing), where he was the last Consul General before its takeover by the Communists in 1949. In 1951 he was vilified before the House Un-American Activities Committee for alleged pro-Communist sympathies and relationships with known Communists, and was forced into retirement in February 1952. He later became a noted scholar and prolific author of works on China while at Columbia University’s East Asia Institute.

John Paton Davies, was cleared by eight previous investigations but fired by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles in 1954 after a ninth inquisition, this one by a special Security Hearing Board, for “lack of judgment, discretion and reliability.” Davies, who had gotten to know well Mao Tse-dung and Chou En-lai, was an exceptionally able writer, a noted foe of communism (in part from his service in Moscow at the end of the war) and a man of great prescience.  His accurate prediction that nationalist forces in China and Eastern Europe would lead to deep fissures in the Communist bloc was ridiculed by those who denied the force of nationalism.  In late 1953 Senator McCarthy said that the State Department clearly had not properly cleaned itself up 11 months into the Eisenhower administration, because its payroll still included Davies, who was part of the “group which did so much toward delivering our Chinese friends into the Communist hands.”  The firing of Davies led to a firestorm of critical comment by editorialists and prominent correspondents such as Arthur Krock and Eric Sevareid.

John Stewart “Jack” Service was the first and longest-serving officer assigned to Yenan.  In the course of his duties, he developed many close relations with the Communist Chinese leaders, including Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai.  For having had these relationships and for his candid reporting from the scene, Service was investigated over and over again, abused mercilessly and suspended from duty in late 1945 on the grounds that he had illegally shared information with a correspondent of Amerasia, a magazine characterized as having pro-Communist leanings.  Fired by Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1951, he was reinstated into the Foreign Service in 1957 but sent to languish in Liverpool as Vice Consul until he retired in 1962.  Service’s oral history, excerpted in detail in Nancy Tucker’s China Confidential and available in full on the Library of Congress' American Memories website, makes gripping, albeit depressing, reading.  Service, representing all of the China hands, was the featured speaker at a special luncheon hosted in their honor by the American Foreign Service Association on January 30, 1973.

John Carter Vincent, forced to retire in 1952 by Secretary Acheson, was serving as “diplomatic agent” in Tangier at the time that he was excoriated during hearings by Senator McCarran’s Subcommittee on Internal Security.  Having served as a senior member of the staff in Chungking, he was well known as a sharp critic of the government of Chiang Kai-shek, with views very close to those of General Joseph Stilwell, whose rocky and controversial relationship with the Generalissimo has been documented by historian Barbara Tuchman in her Stilwell and the American Experience in China. The December 12, 1952, statement of censure by Civil Service Loyalty Board Chairman Hiram Bingham (father of Hiram Bingham, IV, one of the “Examples of Excellence” on this website) presents an unfortunate example of the character assassination all too common during that period.


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.