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Chungking: A Different Time and A Different Place

When the Japanese army captured Hankow in October 1938, Chiang Kai-shek moved the seat of Chinese government to Chungking, a city in the remote southwestern province of Szechwan. For the next seven years, until their abrupt surrender in 1945, the Japanese occupied communication routes and major cities in the rest of China. Principally in rural north China, the Communists developed anti-Japanese guerrilla bases, governing some ninety million people by 1945. Chiang for the most part waited out the war in Chungking, with the international press and diplomatic corps in attendance .

At Chungking, the ranks of American correspondents were expanded and reporting methods changed considerably, especially after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Living and working conditions were more primitive than they had been in Shanghai or Hankow. Arch Steele recaptured the mood of the initial Chungking years .

For the newsmen the move to Chungking was no cause for rejoicing. Situated on a steep, rocky tongue at the confluence of the Yangtze and Chialing rivers, China's wartime capital did indeed boast a setting of impressive natural beauty. Its other attributes, however, were mostly


negative. During the long wet season, the natural beauty was largely obscured for weeks on end by soggy, low-hanging clouds. And clear weather, when it came, brought something worse—wave upon wave of Japanese planes, dropping their bombs indiscriminately over the congested landscape. On those occasions, most of the population took to the tunnels that pockmarked Chungking's hillsides and sat miserably in the dank shelters until the all-clear sounded. Nightlife in Chungking was almost nonexistent except for the rats roaming the streets and sitting saucily on the great stone stairways leading down to the river's edge. Most of the decent housing in town had already been requisitioned for government officials and diplomatic personnel by the time the correspondents arrived, and we were assigned accommodations in a jerry-built government structure christened the Press Hostel. It served our basic needs.

Ironically, Pearl Harbor brought some improvement in our overall situation. All of a sudden Japan and the United States were at war, and beleaguered China had a powerful ally. Japanese bombers were too busy elsewhere to bother any more with Chungking. American military personnel began arriving to discuss ways of stepping up the movement of supplies into the blockaded country. But China was at the far end of the world's supply line and had a low priority on the Allies' shopping list, so the effect on the war's outcome of all the effort that ensued was probably negligible.

Principal news sources in Chungking included the government information office, presided over by Hollington Tong, and the Chinese Communist liaison office, where correspondents were often able to talk with Chou En-lai or one of his assistants. Despite the cease-fire that was supposed to exist between the Nationalist and Com-


munist forces, continuous jockeying for position led to serious armed clashes. Indeed, there were many times when the two camps seemed more interested in fighting each other than in fighting the Japanese. This was a source of despair to people like General Stilwell, who were interested only in getting on with the war. Stilwell was a favorite with the correspondents because of his down-to-earth approach to all subjects and his outspoken contempt for stupidity at all levels. He was in some ways a tragic figure. Interviews with Chiang Kai-shek or Madame Chiang, on the other hand, were usually arranged for correspondents through Hollington Tong, a man so in awe of his boss that I have seen him tremble visibly in the Gimo's presence.

Chungking had many facets. Annalee Jacoby [Fadiman] was new to China. Fresh out of Stanford and two years of writing movie scripts for MGM, she contrasted the "heroic" atmosphere of 1941 with the sordid Chungking of 1944 .

The Nationalists were living in mud and bamboo shacks. They were the most heroic, intelligent people. They were making do with nothing. Living conditions were terrible, the city was filled with rats, the food was dreadful, bomb craters everywhere. Everything was slimy, cold, wet, and mildewed. In the summer, the humidity was high and bugs flourished. There were spiders four inches across on the walls of your room. The press hostel had just been bombed. When they rebuilt it, it was just one storey, built of bamboo and mud with whitewash on the outside and oiled paper for windows, a wooden floor. All the water had to be carried up from the Yangtze River in wooden buckets and we had one little tin basin of water a day to bathe in, that's all. The rats chewed our boots and


through the telephone wires at night. They ate our soap. But though it was most uncomfortable physically, it was absolutely inspiring mentally. It was a great year!

By 1944 the situation had changed almost completely. Inflation had increased so that no one could afford to be honest any more, and all our old idealistic friends from 1941 had to do rather unsavory things in order to stay alive and feed their children.

Chiang Kai-shek was still appeasing warlords, still having to print so much paper money that it was worthless. The country was going down the drain of inflation. Chiang's troops were starving. Some didn't even have straw sandals to go into battle. Censorship was terrible, and by then there was something to conceal. We were working first through the Chinese censor, who couldn't let you say anything against his government and didn't want you to say anything that might hurt the feelings of the Americans. Then what was left of the dispatch—if anything—had to be taken up to the American military censor who wouldn't let you say anything that might hurt our allies' feelings and, of course, wouldn't let you say anything about mistakes the American military was making in the war. So almost not a word got back to this country for over two years.

Wartime Chungking could be dangerous. Peggy Durdin told of one moonlit night when Edgar Snow was a house guest of the Durdins. After waiting a while for the Japanese to begin bombing the city (they only attacked on bright nights), they decided to retire .

We all got into bed, and then the siren went off. It was law in Chungking that you had to go to the air-raid shelter. Soldiers could shoot you if you didn't. Ed—separated


from us by a thin wall of bamboo with some mud slapped on it—and Till lay in bed. But I was up, anxious to get to the shelter. I'm a physical coward.

I kept saying, "Get the hell out of bed!" and Ed said to Till, "How many houses do you think are in Chungking?"

"I don't know, a couple million. Why?"

"I was just thinking about the law of probability."

Till said, "That's fascinating!"

Ed said, "How many flights of Japanese planes? How many planes in each flight? Multiply that by the bomb load and multiply that by the number of houses in Chungking, and the chance of our house getting bombed is one in trillions."

All this time, I'm saying, "Just listen, get the hell out of bed!" So, sullenly, they got out of bed.

We all went to the shelter, and after five hours spent standing around complaining about the pointlessness and inconvenience of the trip, we returned to find our home had been leveled by a bomb blast. There was no wall, no house. We stood there. Till said nothing, but Ed turned around to me, put his arm around my shoulders, and said, "Peggy, I take back the whole goddamn law of probability."

That was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Of course, we lost everything in the house except one bottle of gin and a pair of Ed's underpants out on a bush. It taught me I didn't give a damn about anything except people.

How numerous on the China scene were women reporters like Peggy Durdin during the Chungking period? Steve MacKinnon noted that—at least relative to other parts of the world—there seem to have been a considerable number of American women in China in the 1930s,


such as Agnes Smedley, Freda Utley, and Anna Louise Strong. John Service offered a possible explanation .

I think it's a fact that of the American missionaries who went to China, 60 percent were women. And I think that we may find some correlation between the fact that many American women went to China as missionaries and the fact that they were in such numbers in the press corps. One reason probably was a difficulty in getting satisfying substantial jobs at home, but the other one was the fact that a revolution, a social revolution, was going on in China in which women's rights, changes in women's life, and so on were a very important part. I think that these factors helped to draw women there and that most of the women we see there were committed to these interests. People like Agnes Smedley and others.

Annalee Jacoby Fadiman took issue with the claim that women played a significant role during the Chungking years .

Regarding women correspondents, the War Department wouldn't let women go to China. I tried to get to Chungking in late 1940 as a correspondent, and the War Department refused permission. They finally let me in as a representative of United China Relief, which was the pet child of Henry Luce and David Selznick, the movie producer. I had been writing motion pictures at MGM for two years, and the War Department let me go under the guise of a United China Relief representative. Then in 1944 1 went back. That time Henry Luce was able to get me in because, he said, I was the only one who had been there in 1941. Agnes Smedley, Freda Utley, Anna Louise


Strong, Peggy Durdin, Shelly Mydans, Betty Graham, all of them were there before I arrived, and many came after, but the War Department prevented our coming during the war years, which was the only time I knew.

Mary Sullivan backed up Annalee's statements .

I was in China from 1946 to 1950, with the US Information Service, not as a correspondent, and then worked for the China Weekly Review after that. Natalie Hankemeyer was there with the World Church Religious News Service. Dorothy Borg, who will speak for herself, was there with the Institute of Pacific Relations. Betty Graham was in and out. The other ones were there because they were with their husbands, who were correspondents—not that they themselves were not qualified correspondents—I can mention Lee Martin, who was there with Pepper Martin, U.S. News and World Report; Ann Doyle, who was there with Bob Doyle from Time-Life; and Lynn Landman, who was there with her husband for the Overseas News Agency; and, of course, Peggy Durdin.

Henry Lieberman expanded on this theme .

One of the things that we forget, I think, is that women in journalism in the United States were not much in evidence until recent years. One of the things that struck me (I don't know whether it's true, these are just impressions) is that women writers in China were book writers for the most part. Anna Louise Strong and Agnes Smedley had connections with outfits like the North American Newspaper Alliance, which was not one of your major news organizations, but they were essentially writers of books.


There were exceptions, such as Peggy Durdin, who later became a correspondent for Newsweek in India.

I didn't get out to China until late 1944, so I don't have firsthand knowledge before that time. The first woman correspondent I ran into who did the kind of work that the staff reporters did, aside from Annalee, was Charlotte Ebener, who worked for International News Service (INS). She got to China because she offered to pay her own expenses [actually paid by the International Red Cross—ed.], and INS paid her salary. I remember late in the war, there was a woman correspondent out there for Vogue Magazine, Mary Jane Kempner. She was dealing with women's fashions and I found it very hard to figure out why. But my main point is that women journalists were in short supply in the United States until recent years, and that is conceivably one reason why there were so few women reporters in China. To be sure, the War Department frowned on their going to China, but I'm sure that if there had been a large number of women journalists in the United States and that if the atmosphere then had been what it is now, they somehow would have found a way to get to China or any other place.

Another feature that separated Chungking from Shanghai and Hankow was the presence of two distinguishable groups of journalists. Although some veteran correspondents, such as J. B. Powell and Randall Gould, remained in Shanghai, most made the trek to Chungking, where they were joined by a younger generation of new arrivals. Albert Ravenholt was one of them .

I'm basically a farm boy. I was working at the New York World's Fair in 1939 when the war started in Europe,


and I decided I did not want to go back to college. I didn't want to miss the war, so, like Till Durdin, I shipped at sea and took off for China. (Till, I think, shipped on deck, and I was the chief cook on the ship. I won't guarantee what the food was like.) Anyway, I settled down in Shanghai to study Chinese and Russian and worked on a radio station there. In June of 1941 Walter Briggs and I smuggled our way through the Japanese lines into the interior of China. Nobody was interested in news of the interior then, so I got a job with the International Red Cross supervising distribution of medical supplies throughout the interior. I traveled to northwest China and southeast China. After Pearl Harbor, the United Press became more interested in hiring young fellows, and I was hired to cover a number of the fronts in China, India, and Burma. I was bureau chief in India and Burma when Peggy Durdin introduced me to my wife. That was at the end of the war in China, Walt Rundle having gone home.

Another new face on the scene was Hugh Deane, who first visited China as an exchange student to Lingnan University from Harvard in 1936. He returned in 1940 as a string correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor and the Springfield (Massachusetts) Union and Republican.

In Shanghai I called on the Monitor' s chief correspondent, Randall Gould. He had been threatened by the Japanese, and the entrance to his house was protected by sandbags. Stopping over in Hong Kong I saw Guenther Stein, who also contributed to the Monitor, and he gave me a note to Ch'en Han-sheng (Chen Han-sen), author of Landlord and Peasant in China and other influential studies of the Chinese countryside. I saw Ch'en on the fly, because I


had a date to interview Eugene Chen, who was foreign minister in the Hankow government. Ch'en Han-sheng decided to give me a very quick education on China so that I could perform properly as a correspondent. "What's the most important thing about China?" he asked me. I mumbled and finally said, "Well, most of the people are poor." "That's not it," he said. "The most important single thing about China is that politics and economics are the same thing. If you keep that in mind, you'll do well."

Accompanied by my bride, I went to Chungking the hard way, through Haiphong and Hanoi and north through Kwangsi and Kweichow. In Chungking I was happy to have as companions two others who had gone to Lingnan University, Melville Jacoby, a Time correspondent, and Betty Graham, who was then working for Hollington Tong and was later a partisan of the Chinese Revolution. She was with the New Fourth Army in Shantung during the Civil War. Both died young, tragically.

Soon after I reached Chungking, I lucked into an interview with Yeh Ting, commander of the New Fourth Army. He was living disconsolately in a cheap hotel, frustrated in his effort to extract supplies for his army from the Ministry of Defense. I fired off a long story to the Monitor and got it back in print rewritten by Gordon Walker, later the Monitor correspondent in Tokyo. I learned how to write a news story by carefully studying the rewrites the Monitor sent me.

I learned a great deal from Jack Belden. He had come up from Shanghai having read Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed, from which he had drawn a series of twenty-eight or thirty questions to ask about the internal situation in Kuomintang China. He wasn't a Trotskyite. He just used Trotsky's works to get some basic knowledge about the nature of revolution. Belden sensed that I didn't


know very much. He took me in hand, and I went with him to a lot of interviews. He told me things and pointed me in the right direction. I think of him as my teacher.

And I must say Agnes Smedley contributed to my education, too. I know she could be prickly, but when she got to Chungking from the guerrilla areas in Hupeh, not at all well, she let me interview her most of an afternoon. She didn't think of me as someone who could take the edge off her story but as someone who could get important information out. I think the interview took place in the Butterfield & Swire house on the South Bank.

The younger correspondents seemed to mix well and learn from the more seasoned journalists, like James White, Durdin, Steele, and Belden. Many of the newcomers came as employees of the United States Office of War Information (OWI), set up by the veteran journalist and former UP bureau chief, Mac Fisher. Christopher Rand was a member of this "new breed." His biographer, son Peter, recalled:

I want to talk about some people who, I believe, set a new journalistic standard in China as the direct result of the involvement of the United States in China in the war against Japan. These are the young men who came out with the US Office of War Information. The OWI in China was charged, theoretically anyway, with the task of informing the Chinese people about the United States' war effort. The young recruits were people who either had China backgrounds or had backgrounds in journalism. Mac Fisher, who was the head of OWI in China, wanted men working under him who had grown up on a farm, because he believed that people who grew up on a farm knew how to fix almost anything if they had to, and did


not stop working at five o'clock in the afternoon. This seemed to have been particularly true of these men. When they did fix something, they made it work right. The men who came out were offbeat by temperament. They did not think of themselves as strictly journalists. They thought of themselves as writers, and some of them had already published books, although they were quite young. Graham Peck, who was in China when he joined the OWI, was the author of Through China's Wall, a superb travel account of China ending with a description of the Japanese occupation of Peking in 1937, in which he was very much involved. Jim Burke, the son of a missionary, wrote a biography of his father called My Father in China, which is fresh reading today. It's useful to us because it contains an intimate account of the rise of the Soongs to national prominence. These people were precocious and somewhat off the beaten track.

Christopher Rand also thought of himself as a writer. In the late 1930s he had helped to found a magazine in San Francisco called The Coast, modeled loosely on The New Yorker . It was a combination of nonfiction and short fiction which included among its regular contributors John Steinbeck and William Saroyan. Rand, when he worked for The Coast, was both an editor and a writer for the magazine. He subsequently worked for the San Francisco Chronicle .

Now OWI provided these men with an unusual opportunity to become China specialists. It gave them, first of all, a chance to travel around China, particularly around southeast China, around Chungking-held China, which was not that easy to do. They were civilians in the war effort, and they were very fortunate, as civilians, to be able to get around and see the countryside. They were also encouraged to learn rudimentary Chinese, and they were


paid to take language lessons. Rand, for example, took Chinese lessons every day while he was in China.

Christopher Rand was in Fukien Province for over a year. He ran a listening post behind Japanese lines and supervised a crew of twenty Chinese and three Americans. His job was really twofold. First, he distributed US news to about 141 Chinese regional newspapers in the four provinces under his control. The other thing he did, and this was somewhat unofficial, was to send reports to military intelligence in Chungking. He also wrote reports, which he sent along to the Chungking office and which were forwarded, of course, to Washington. These reports are good examples of hard news, hard information, detailed reporting about provincial China. They dealt, for example, with relations between the KMT and local governments, the youth corps, and data on Chinese armies and secret societies. The main problem that he tackled in these reports was doping out the truth behind Chungking news falsification. This was something that he and his colleagues in OWI were particularly alert to and which they carried with them into their careers as journalists reporting on the Chinese Civil War after World War II ended.

Also, as a result of their training and their experience in the business of information in China, they were very conscious of the importance of proof in reporting.

They saw how propaganda was used badly, how falsified information was sent out by Chungking to buoy up the Chinese people. They saw how putting a face on things boomeranged, and they were against it. This gave them an esprit de corps . They felt a great bond with one another and you could see this later in their letters during the Civil War. They kept in touch as best they Could, wherever they were in China. When they visited the States, they wrote to their friends in China.


Rand was very close to Graham Peck and learned a great deal about China from him. Peck had a good grasp of the Chinese people and also of the situation in China. The difference between truth and propaganda was something that especially concerned him. Later he wrote about it in Two Kinds of Time , which Rand helped him edit. My father was also close to Bill Powell. At one point, Bill went off to Yunnan with Sylvia for a honeymoon, and my father ran the China Weekly Review for him even though he was also working for the Herald Tribune at the time, as one of their correspondents in China. Jim Burke was up in Peking with his family, and his friends would gather whenever they visited Peking.

Now Christopher Rand believed that the readers were intelligent but were not being well enough informed. This idea, which he shared with friends who had been to gether in OWI, increased their sense of purpose. He set about to do the best he could to inform, and the way he believed you educated the public was not to give them spot news. He believed that the common prejudice that spot news is the best kind of news "can be connected with American short vision and opportunism." In an article published in the Nieman Report (he was a Nieman fellow in 1948–49), entitled "Reporting in the Far East," he wrote: "One of the best aids we had in China was personal observation, which was done by riding through the country in buses, wandering in alleys, consorting with soldiers and workers, drinking with generals, sleeping in small hotels, and watching what the people did all the while. For fun and education there was nothing like it. Floating from province to province one learned where the peasants were in rags and where they were clothed, which troops were disciplined and which were oppressive, what the merchants were buying, what the students were saying and so


on. One couldn't begin to learn these things by sitting at a desk."

I think he succeeded in getting through to his readership. He dictated his articles before they were typed up and sent. Reading them today you hear his voice coming through. He was usually able to prevail on his newspaper to let him go where he wanted to go and to write what he wanted to write. Because his articles were constructed in this way, they were hard to edit, and so they were given pretty much the space and the prominence that he wanted for them. His paper backed him up in controversy. They respected his writing. Furthermore, I think it must be said that he did not believe in taking a political position in his reporting. He really had a belief that one must be as detached from politics as one possibly could. He was something of a mystic all his life, something of a Buddhist and something of a Taoist, and he believed that a kind of Taoist detachment was very useful, particularly in reporting the news in China.

Rand was a romantic and basically a feature writer, in the tradition of Belden, Smedley, and others. Henry Lieberman, also an ex-OWI employee and spot news reporter, contrasted himself sharply with Chris Rand .

I don't fit the mold, I guess. I come from Missouri, like Millard, but on the basis of what I've learned about him, I don't think I'm anything like him. I also came to China under the auspices of the OWI, and I can't imagine two more different people than Chris Rand and myself. Nor did I know a darn thing about China before I got there. Truth to tell, I began in my childhood trying to become a specialist on France. I became fluent in the French lan-


guage, learned an awful lot about French history, embarked in graduate school on writing a thesis on Léon Blum's Front Populaire . However, at the same time, as a journalist, I became interested in a subject that seemed to be fresh and important at the time: namely, how political propaganda came into the United States through news channels. I started studying the activities of agencies like the German Transocean Agency and Domei on the Japanese side. A friend of mine, Matt Gordon, was interested in that too and wrote a book called News as a Weapon . I was one of his many advisors. Eventually, when Elmer Davis became head of the OWI, Matt was given a mandate to set up an organization that would deal with this problem. He gathered together five people to help him. All of us had the title of chief news editor, which gave the Civil Service Commission an awful lot of problems. But when we had our first meeting, it turned out that although all five of us were knowledgeable about Europe, there was no Far Eastern expert in the group. This was not surprising. The technical problem we were dealing with required a certain amount of specialization. You couldn't automatically find someone who knew something about the Far East who was also interested in the particular subject we were concerned with. So, being the youngest in the group, I was assigned to become the Far Eastern expert. In a matter of a month, after picking the brains of all kinds of Far Eastern experts, I produced a master paper on the Japanese Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. That immediately stamped me as the expert on the Far East. But, after a while, I found I couldn't get out of Washington, because I couldn't get a release to go anywhere else. As the war was drawing to an end, I got worried about missing a tremendous adventure. I felt that we were going through


one of the most important things that I would ever encounter, and I wanted to get out somewhere and get involved in this war.

There were two men whom I started to propagandize: George Taylor and John Fairbank, who headed the OWI's Far Eastern Division. Somehow I succeeded in convincing one or both of them that I ought to be assigned to the Far East. Dick Watts left China at about that time, and I was given the task of replacing him. At least I was led to believe that I was being appointed to replace Dick. To make a long story short, I finally found myself headed for China toward the end of 1944. I got to Kunming, and two guys at the OWI tried to hijack me to write leaflets. I kept insisting, "No, I'm on my way to Chungking to be chief news editor." I finally succeeded in escaping their clutches and got to Chungking and assumed my job, but I certainly was no replacement for Dick Watts. I was the head of the OWI news operation in China, but only in theory. A lot of other people tried to get into that act, and often did.

One of the first things that struck me was that there was no reliable communication system American correspondents could use inside China. OWI—operating as the American Information Service (AIS) in China—two or three years earlier had established a short-wave radio telegraphic network to connect its half-dozen offices. The Army Public Relations Office (PRO) wanted to help accredited correspondents move their dispatches from outlying cities to the cable head. The US-China Armed Forces Agreement permitted the army to establish communications for its needs. Under this authority and building on the AIS experience, the efficient PRO short-wave network was developed, manned largely by Chinese operators and managed by AIS. It was known variously as the PRO net-


work, the OWI network, or the USIS network. My part in it was probably my major contribution in China, small as it may have been.

So, in a nutshell, I got to China by accident. I picked up my Chinese by just being there and learning it the way a baby learns whatever language it speaks. I found this sufficiently helpful to be able to get around China, travel on buses, talk to peasants, and even talk to the Army people. Even where my own Chinese failed, I had enough of it to keep a loose check on interpreters, of whom I was always suspicious. I'm not basically interested in Taoism, Buddhism, and the like, although I have made stabs at trying to understand what all this is about. I was concerned with what makes this country tick. I suddenly found very quickly that it was almost impossible to find out what made it tick. Certainly, it was not a matter of going around taking polls among peasants. I found little correlation between what the peasants thought and what the Nationalist government was doing and what the Communists were doing. I found myself groping, searching for the guts of what was going on, always frustrated.

I remember something I read in going through the literature that was given me by the OWI when I took off for China. The passage advised the reader never to walk across the shafts of a rickshaw because the Chinese considered it bad luck. Well, once somewhere in the interior I just couldn't avoid stepping across the shaft of a rickshaw. I did so and found that nothing happened. So much for all I was told about China.

Another episode (Phil Potter will remember this) was an encounter with Chou En-lai that caused me to say at the time, "Today I am a man." I was very captivated by Chou, as so many other Americans were. At one time,


however, a very important thing came up in connection with the Nationalist-Communist truce talks that were taking place through the good offices of the United States and General Marshall. Chiang Kai-shek's treaty with the Russians said that Nationalist troops were empowered to recover all Chinese territory that had been occupied by the Soviet army. On the other hand, Chou En-lai was arguing that two places in Inner Mongolia were held by "The People's Forces" and should not go to the Nationalist government. These places were Chihfeng in Jehol Province and Dolonor in Chahar Province.

Phil Potter and I had just had some trying times in Manchuria. We got back to Nanking, pretty exhausted, and found that the argument about Chihfeng and Dolonor was the hot story of the day. So we decided, right there on the spur of the moment, "Let's get up there to Inner Mongolia and see what's going on." We finally got to Chih-feng and found Soviet troops there and also the "People's Army," both in the same place.

I still have somewhere in my memorabilia a ten-ruble note signed by a Russian officer there. We had a hell of a time getting him to sign it, because he kept telling us that in the Soviet Union it's a crime to deface currency. By the time we got back to Nanking, unfortunately, the story had just about vanished. The world was concerned with some other crisis. But we did go around to see Chou En-lai. Our hero had lied to us, and we confronted him with, "How could you do this to us.?" In effect, he shrugged his shoulders.

This was a terrible blow to me: my hero had misled us. In retrospect, I wasn't really angry at Chou, but it gave me a different insight into what was going on in China. They were playing hardball politics there, and I was a


pawn. They looked upon me as somebody to be manipulated, and this put me on my guard.

Like Durdin, Lieberman alluded regularly to the cozy working relationship between representatives of the American press and American government civilian and military officials in China. When younger historians questioned the propriety of such a relationship, the issue quickly became a major one. The veterans (journalists and government officials alike) disclaimed any impropriety about the relationship. It was a completely natural and necessary interdependence, they argued, which should not be tainted by the confrontational hindsight and experiences of more recent years .

To begin with, the help of the Office of War Information (OWI) was pivotal in getting the journalists' job done during the Chungking years. John Fairbank elaborated .

I was in China in '45 and '46 as director of the American Information Service (AIS). That was the name of the rather extensive OWI operation in China. The brief point I would make is that reporting on China, which became reporting on the beginning of the Civil War, began as war reporting on the war against Japan. The important thing was to attain victory against the Japanese. In order to help that, the US Army and AIS developed a network of shortwave radio communications establishing telegraphic contact among the major cities. This was in effect an expansion of the radio network AIS had set up two or three years earlier to handle its own traffic. With its trained crew of Chinese radio operators and engineers, AIS managed the system. At the end of the war with Japan we continued


on the wartime basis, providing radio communication in American channels between the different AIS offices and US consulates scattered over unoccupied, and then over reoccupied, China.

So the journalists, who had come to look at the Japanese war and found that a new kind of war was developing under their feet, had more than the US Air Force planes to move around in as war correspondents. They also had the facilities of a radio telegraph network to move their stories, which had begun as part of the war effort against Japan but continued in the postwar period. This is the context in which people were reporting.

In addition to sharing a communication system, diplomats and military personnel frequently shared information to an unprecedented degree. John Service, an American Foreign Service officer in China at the time, explained why this was necessary .

My experience in China was rather abruptly terminated early in 1945, so I can't speak from any knowledge after that period. But I was in Chungking from '41 to '45. You have to remember the special conditions holding in China: difficulty of travel; and as time went on, a completely censored press, completely controlled access to information, and very scanty information given out by official Kuomintang authorities. Trying to find out what was going on in China was a continual game. Everyone worked with everyone else on it. When any traveler came to town, anybody could talk to him, pass along information to him or pass on information gained from him. Interviews were generally spread around, although I don't know how much of this happened within the press corps.


Perhaps there was competition at some level, but I was working, for instance, in a very low capacity in Stilwell's headquarters. I was not known as Stilwell's political advisor—that was John Davies. In Chungking I was just a fifth wheel. I couldn't talk to somebody like T. V. Soong, but the Chungking correspondent for Time-Life, Teddy White, could. So Teddy, and many other correspondents, too, were willing to share very generously any information they had from any source. As long as the information that I was collecting was simply political information on the circumstances, on the conditions of China, developments in China, personalities, and so on, I shared it with the press.

When the press was allowed to go to Yenan in the spring of '44, before the army was allowed to go, people like Guenther Stein of the Christian Science Monitor went up there. Guenther was a very systematic, orderly person, as one might expect from his background, and he talked to me about what we wanted to know, what was valuable up there, what he should ask. Over several days we worked out a program for Guenther.

After I got to Yenan myself, the Chinese complained about what a pest Guenther Stein was, and I said, "Well, he was asking some for me." Correspondents in Yenan had been there a month or six weeks by the time we got there, and they had interviewed all the top people. Most of these correspondents made available to me their notes of all their interviews. I was able to get the information into the State Department and government channels better and faster than they could get it published.

Guenther Stein was keeping his stuff until he could write his book. But it was a very important, very productive aspect of our reporting in China. And of course, it was


so productive and so useful that I got into bad habits, which got me into trouble later on.

At the end, Service referred lightly to the "trouble" he got into over the Amerasia case of 1945. The latter was a New York semi-academic monthly, which was charged with being a Communist front and raided by police in June 1945. The police found copies of reports Service had filed from Yenan. Indiscreetly perhaps, as part of his effort to keep the press informed, he had lent copies to the editor of Amerasia. A grand jury failed to indict Service, but the affair precipitated a long series of security proceedings against him which ultimately resulted in his expulsion from the State Department in the 1950s .

One of the men who replaced Service, Davies, and others after the war was over and the Nationalist government moved back to Nanking was John Melby. Melby elaborated upon Service's comments. He felt that because of the Amerasia affair, relations between the press and diplomats became noticeably more distant .

I was in the American embassy primarily as a political officer, but I had also been assigned as press attaché with the embassy and as the embassy liaison with USIS. Owing to the feeling that arose because of the Amerasia case, there were only two or three of us who were officially authorized to talk to the press. I was one, as press attaché, and Bradley Connors, who was the acting operational director of OWI, was another.

This isn't to say that fellow officers in the embassy and some of the consulates around didn't see press people, because they did. They just didn't talk very frankly or very freely. I thought that it was really too bad that there was this kind of inhibition on contact between the press and


the people in the embassy. Using my experience, of all the press people I used to see, there was only one instance, one person, now dead, who betrayed a trust.

If I said anything was off the record or in confidence, I never had occasion to regret saying that. But it is true that after the war—because there was a change of attitude in the United States, not because of the change of attitudes in China—the relationship became more restrictive than it had been before.

However, a majority of old journalists disagreed with Melby's suggestion that the consular officials ceased cooperating with the press after 1945. Doak Barnett was perhaps the most outspoken on this point .

Many of the American consuls around the country, in places such as Sinkiang or Hankow or Kunming, were extraordinarily frank in sharing information with the press. For example, Hank Lieberman and I made a trip to Sinkiang and J. Hall Paxton there damn near opened his files to us. There are others, still living, whom I won't mention, who also virtually opened their files when I visited them. These fellows were so pleased to see another American, and I, like other correspondents, often stayed with them. So it was pretty hard to maintain a formal relationship under those circumstances. Similarly with missionaries. Especially the Catholics. You knew, incidentally, that you could always get a drink at a Catholic mission.

Phil Potter of the Baltimore Sun seconded Barnett's comments .

It worked both ways. We often got information that the embassy and even our military didn't have. For instance, in February 1946, I was with a group of nine correspondents,


the first to get into Manchuria with the Russian army after the war. Hank Lieberman was one. Another was Charlotte Ebener. A few Americans in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) had been allowed into Manchuria by the Russians at war's end to find and repatriate American flyers and others captured by the Japanese. But those teams had left in October at the request of the Soviet command. So the OSS had no information of what was going on, though it had maintained a post at Chinchow, 130 miles southwest of Mukden. We were in Manchuria for about two weeks, and we got a good deal of information, particularly about looting in Mukden by the Russian troops. They were putting industrial machinery taken from Japanese factories on freight cars and starting them back to Russia. A lot of the loot, of course, didn't get there. Many trains were derailed and their contents rusted away. We newsmen went on to Changchun, where we were put in custody for a while and then told to get out of Manchuria. On our return to Chinchow, I got word to General Wedemeyer in Shanghai that three of us were there. He sent his own C-54 to pick us up. When we got back to Shanghai, almost before we could even write to our home offices with what we had, he wanted me flown out to Chungking to brief General Marshall. Also sent was Arch Steele, who had arrived in Mukden after us. Quite a few hours we talked. Whereupon Marshall soon flew back to Washington.

We had a great deal of information about what the Russians were doing up there, and it was of great interest to Marshall and Wedemeyer and, I presume, the people in Washington.

Mac Fisher mentioned that such cooperation was not uncommon even prior to the Chungking years .


I'm speaking of, say, 1937 in Peking. For instance, we always checked every morning at the military attaché's office as well as the embassy, and we would confer with people there. I was a United Press correspondent at that time. I would get a hunch or a hint from somebody that something was up. I remember when we learned or guessed that the Japanese were going to attack Kalgan to the north of the Great Wall, I called Colonel Joseph Stilwell and said, "I'm going to go up there. Want to help? Can you send anybody along?" And he sent Captain Sutherland, I think it was, an artillery officer, who went along as my secretary. Because I knew enough Japanese, we got through the Japanese lines to the front where Sutherland was able to watch a Japanese field artillery battery open up against the Great Wall in the pass up there. Later Colonel Stilwell said that he was getting complaints from his fellow military attachés of other nations because he was always beating them with his reports to Washington on what was going on.

Responding to a comment that there seems to have existed a certain "enthusiasm" for sharing information among members of the American military, the diplomatic corps, and the press, Doak Barnett suggested that this was in no way unnatural or improper .

It seems to me that members of the American press corps in China at that time, as I observed them, used every possible source they could. If they could talk to Communists, they'd talk to Communists; if they could get into Communist territory, they got into Communist territory. They had extensive relationships with Kuomintang officials, and so on. They searched out any knowledgeable missionaries or any knowledgeable person of


any sort. They found that American diplomats were extremely well-informed people and, therefore, they were one of the more important available sources. I would stress that members of the American press regarded any information they obtained as open information once they reported it, and therefore they shared it with anybody. So they established a two-way relationship with whoever was willing. It was a very important, mutually beneficial relationship, as I observed it.

Agreeing, Walter Sullivan added:

We were not revealing secrets, and this, I think, must be kept in mind in view of later accusations of the press playing cozy with the CIA and so forth. The information that went back and forth was open information. It was the same kind of information that you would then report to your boss and your readers.

Don Kight, Public Relations Officer (PRO) after 1944 for the US Army, agreed with the reporters and took a strong stand when it was suggested that the press should have stayed at arm's length from government officials .

Nonsense! It's a reporter's job to talk to anyone and everyone. An official was frequently the best place to start. A reporter isolated on the Salween for ten days could go to an official and get a bird's-eye view of what had been happening while he was gone. A reporter coming to Executive Headquarters would have been a damned fool if he hadn't talked to me, because I could tell him what was going on at the 39 truce team locations and give him guidance to help in his planning.


The official wanted to talk to the correspondent so he could do a better job. I always wanted the correspondent to talk so I could better brief the next man. (And also because I was as curious as a reporter.) That didn't mean I trotted over to the G-2 and reported the conversation to him; I didn't.

The reporter just started with the official. A reporter briefed by me would probably go directly to Huang Hun for the Communist side, and, after an interview with Walter Robertson, request one with General Yeh Chien-ying. Talking to officials didn't make the reporter an informal arm of the US government; it just made him a good reporter. And it didn't prevent him from writing a story the next day blasting officialdom and sending officials through the roof.

The raising of this question seems to me to indicate a gap between an academic viewpoint and the pragmatic situation on the ground and at the time. The mere physical difficulties of getting around in China, with vast distances, difficult countryside, and lack of communications, made it essential for officials and press to talk together so that both could do their jobs better.

Bill Powell also defended the need for reporters to use officials of all kinds and types as sources of information. He took issue with the implication that American official contacts might be considered contaminating because the United States was so deeply involved in the Civil War on the Kuomintang's behalf .

A reporter can't shun a potential news source because he suspects the informant's motives or finds him lacking in character. I had many a productive lunch with an amoral


and immoral man involved in the opium trade in pre-Liberation Shanghai. I also had occasional meetings with the American consul general in Shanghai. The meetings with the consul general were usually less informative and certainly less lively than those with my opium man. I also regularly exchanged information with an OSS friend.

It is essential for a reporter to talk to people of all stations and persuasions. It is also acceptable to exchange information with most sources. Discussion confirms, denies, amplifies. Reporters rarely stumble on state secrets, and their information ends up either published or as background for what eventually appears in public print. Of course, the reporter can't take at face value all that the consul general or the opium dealer tells him. He has to decide whether it sounds reasonable or even possible and then check it with other sources. Unfortunately, no one is error proof, and most reporters have written at least a few stories they would just as soon forget. Caution is reinforced each time the reporter gets stung, but total immunity seems impossible.

Harrison Salisbury had the last word on the subject .

This is not exclusively a China theater matter. I was in Moscow during World War II, and I well remember that almost every morning the late Bill Lawrence, who was then the correspondent of the New York Times , and myself would go over to the American military attaché's office. General Deane, I think, was the man. We would go to his office, and we'd walk in and look around and look over his desk and say, "Oh, for Christ's sake, you haven't got any top secret papers here. There's nothing to read." This was our attitude, frankly. It was kind of high school, but we were all in this thing together. If we found out


something interesting about the Red Army because we were out on a trip, we'd go in to Deane and say, "Well, now, geez, we saw such and such. What does that mean?" And Deane, if he saw something or got on to something, would talk to us about it.

So there were three elements. One was plain camaraderie: we were all in the same place together and we were all good fellows together. Number two, it was the war, which gave us a common goal. And number three, it was pragmatic, in that he had some things to tell us and we had some things to tell him so that it seemed to us a very normal relationship. I know that in the present-day context of the sharp dividing lines and the confrontational sort of press relationships that we have, people say, "How could that be?" Well, it was, and it was true all around the world.

Salisbury touched upon but did not sufficiently emphasize the fundamental factor behind the intimacy of the US press and government in China during the 1940s because to him and the others it seems so obvious—yet today it is easily forgotten or dismissed by later generations. There were decisive differences prevailing then that separate the war reporters of the 1940s from the foreign correspondent of the 1950s, 1960s, or today. The chief point to be remembered is that the intimacy was born of a wartime situation for which there was total public and political support in the United States. Cooperation between American military personnel and journalists not only seemed natural, it was imperative for getting their respective jobs done. Questions of propriety never came up. And after 1945, for most on both sides, a continuation of this symbiotic relationship flowed naturally out of the wartime situation .


This intimacy between the American press and government officials has been described at length for two reasons. First, it merits attention because the experience contrasts sharply with the more distant relationship prevailing in the 1950s and 1960s which was often characterized by hostility and mutual suspicion, as during the Vietnam War years. Second, and more important, an understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the press and government officials in the 1940s is critical to the evaluation of the overall policy influence of journalists in chapter 10 .


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