John S. Service

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John S. Service
John Stewart Service

(1909-08-03)August 3, 1909
DiedFebruary 3, 1999(1999-02-03) (aged 89)
Oakland, California
OccupationForeign Service
Known forChina Hands
  • Robert Roy Service (father)
  • Grace Service (née Boggs) (mother)

John Stewart Service (August 3, 1909 – February 3, 1999) was an American diplomat who served in the Foreign Service in China prior to and during World War II. Considered one of the State Department's "China Hands", he was an important member of the Dixie Mission to Yan'an. Service correctly predicted that the Communists would defeat the Nationalists in a civil war: he and other diplomats were blamed for the "loss" of China in the domestic political turmoil following the 1949 Communist triumph in China. In June 1945, Service was arrested in the Amerasia Affair in 1945. The prosecution sought an indictment for espionage, but a federal grand jury unanimously declined to indict him.[1] In 1950 U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy launched an attack against Service, which led to investigations of the reports Service wrote while stationed in China. Numerous loyalty board cleared Service, but a final one suggested there was "reasonable doubt" as to his loyalty. This opinion forced Secretary of State Dean Acheson to fire Service. In 1957 the U.S. Supreme Court ordered his reinstatement in a unanimous decision, finding that Acheson's action had been illegal because "it violated Regulations of the Department of State which were binding on the Secretary."[2][3]

Early life[edit]

John Service was born on August 3, 1909, in the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China, the son of Grace Josephine (Boggs) and Robert Roy Service, missionaries to Sichuan working for the YMCA. Service spent his childhood in the Chinese province.[4] By the age of eleven, Service had mastered the local Chinese dialect, and then attended the Shanghai American School for high school. The Service family moved to California, where John graduated from Berkeley High School in Berkeley, California at the age of fifteen. Those who knew him say he always went by "Jack" and he never used his middle name.

In the fall of 1927, Service entered Oberlin College.[4] He majored in both art history and economics, and was captain of the school's cross-country and track and field teams. After graduation, Service took and passed the Foreign Service Exam in 1933. In 1977, Oberlin awarded him an honorary degree.

Career in China[edit]

Chiang Kai-Shek.

Service was first assigned to a clerkship position in the American consulate in the capital of Yunnan province, Kunming. Two years later, Service was promoted to Foreign Service Officer and sent to Beijing for language study. In 1938, he was assigned to the Shanghai Consulate General under Clarence E. Gauss. When Gauss was promoted to ambassador, he made Service Third Secretary of the American Embassy at Chungking. As time progressed, Service was promoted to Second Secretary.

During the early war years, Service wrote increasingly critical reports on the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek. Service characterized the Nationalist government as "fascist", "undemocratic", and "feudal".[5] His reports caught the attention of John P. Davies, a Foreign Service Officer working as a diplomatic attaché to General Joseph Stilwell. In the summer of 1943, Davies arranged to have Service, among two others, assigned to him as assistants.

The Dixie Mission and Yan'an[edit]

Last Page from Service's First Report from Yan'an. Page One, Two and Three here.

Because the invasion of Japan was planned to launch from China, there was great interest in enlisting support from all Chinese factions. The U.S. Army Observation Group, also known as the Dixie Mission, was formed to travel the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party in Yan'an and establish contact with the Communists as a power in North China. Davies selected John Service to represent the State Department, the first to visit the Communist headquarters.

Service arrived in Yan'an on July 22, 1944. There Service met and interviewed top leaders of the Party, such as Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. Service wrote a series of reports over the next four months that praised Mao and the Chinese Communist Party, and described its leaders as "progressive" and "democratic".[6] Service wrote that "The Communists are in China to stay and China's destiny is not Chiang's but theirs."[7] He continued to write that the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek were corrupt and incompetent. Service and the other American political officers advocated a policy of relations with the CPC as well as the Nationalists. They believed a civil war was inevitable and that the CPC would triumph. If the U.S. supported the CPC in a coalition with the nationalists, they felt, the U.S. could steer the communists out of the Soviet orbit, where they might be pushed if antagonized by the United States.[citation needed]

The new U.S. Ambassador to China, Patrick Hurley, also tried to bring unity between the communists and the nationalists. Hurley initially accepted a five-point plan that would have brought the communists into a power-sharing arrangement with the nationalists. Chiang rejected this plan and countered with a three-point plan that would leave the communists with no real power in a government run by Chiang and his supporters. Hurley came to support Chiang's view exclusively. He rejected the recommendations of Service and the other Foreign Service officers to accept the growing power of the communists and to accommodate this power. Hurley had Service and the rest of the political officers recalled from China and blamed them for U.S. diplomatic failures in China.[8]

Post China career[edit]

John Service returned to Washington in 1945, and was soon arrested as a suspect in the Amerasia Case. He was accused of passing confidential U.S. materials from his time in China to the editors of the Amerasia magazine. However, a grand jury declined to indict Service, finding that the materials were not sensitive and were of a kind commonly released to journalists. Five years later, he was dismissed from the State Department after Joseph McCarthy accused him of being a Communist. Service challenged the dismissal in court and ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in his favor, and he was reinstated at the State Department. In between his initial legal success in the Amerasia matter in 1945 and his dismissal in 1950, Service had three overseas assignments. He was briefly posted to Douglas MacArthur's staff in Tokyo. He served in New Zealand from October 1946 through early 1949. Finally, he was assigned to India, but he never made it to the post with his family. In March 1950, he was ordered from his ship docked in Yokohama to return to Washington, where he would answer charges leveled against him.

Disloyalty charges[edit]

In D.C., FBI surveillance recorded that Service met with Amerasia editor Philip Jaffe on April 19, 1945 at D.C.'s Statler Hotel: "Service, according to the microphone surveillance, apparently gave Jaffe a document which dealt with matters the Chinese had furnished to the United States government in confidence."[9] In China, Service had established a reputation for meeting with Communists, reporters, and anyone who might provide information for his duty. Former ambassador to China, Clarence Gauss testified later during the McCarthy era:

In Chungking, Mr. Service was a political officer of the Embassy...His job was to get every bit of information that he possibly could...he would see the foreign press people. He saw the Chinese press people. He saw anybody in any of the embassies or legations that were over there that were supposed to know anything...He went to the Kuomintang headquarters...he went to the Communist headquarters. He associated with everybody and anybody in Chungking that could give him information, and he pieced together this puzzle that we had constantly before us as to what was going on in China and he did a magnificent job at it.[10]

Service had numerous meetings with Jaffe. Adrian Fisher, the senior legal officer at the State Department at the time, later commented, "It was like a scene out of Heaven's My Destination. Jack Service went into a bawdy house thinking it was still a girls' boarding school."[11]

Eventually FBI investigators broke into the offices of Amerasia, and found hundreds of government documents, many labeled "secret", "top secret", or "confidential", Service was arrested as a suspect.[12] FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote that he thought he had an "airtight case" against Service.[13] However, when the Justice Department submitted its evidence to a Federal Grand Jury, they elected to indict Jaffe, but, by a vote of 20-0, refused to indict Service.

Service was subject to loyalty and security hearings every year from 1946 to 1951, with the exception of 1948. In each hearing, he was cleared of disloyalty or other wrongdoing.[14] Charles Yost was one of the State Department officials, and friends, who testified on Service's behalf.

Five years after Amerasia, on March 14, Senator Joseph McCarthy accused Service of being a Communist sympathizer in the State Department. Service was cleared of the charges by the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees, also known as the Tydings Committee. However, a final review board found "reasonable doubt" as to Service's loyalty, and Secretary of State Dean Acheson ordered his dismissal. In the "red scare" turmoil of the early 1950s, John P. Davies, and other diplomats were blamed for the fall of China to the Communists and were forced out of the State Department.

Beginning in 1952, Service appealed his dismissal from the State Department. Service was eventually hired by Sarco International, a steam trap company. In 1955, Clement Wells, the owner who had hired Service, appointed him president of the company. Meanwhile, Service's case eventually came to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor unanimously.[15] The Court held that Service's dismissal violated U.S. State Department procedures because the State Department's Loyalty Security Board found no evidence of Service being disloyal or a security risk.[16]

In The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism, authors Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh state "[a]ny lingering doubts about Service's true position are erased by the evidence of the FBI surveillance. If he had been a secret Communist, much less a spy, some better evidence would likely have surfaced in the transcripts".[17]

Jonathan Mirsky, in his review, in the Wall Street Journal, of the 2009 biography of Service by Lynne Joiner states that: "In two phone interviews with me shortly before he died a decade ago, Service admitted that in the 1940s he had given Jaffe a top-secret document revealing the Nationalist Order of Battle, which showed the exact disposition of the forces facing Mao's troops." Mirsky observed to Service that some people might consider this treason, to which Service replied that he knew that. Service also stated, "I want to get this off my chest" and "I was gullible, and trusting, and foolish." Service also said he had purposely ignored Mao's persecutions and executions of his perceived enemies in the Yan'an period. Why had he done this? "I wanted them to win. I thought they were better than the Nationalists and that if we always opposed them we would have no access to the next Chinese government."[18] Lynne Joiner, the biographer, responded to these allegations in a letter to the editor: "I conducted extensive interviews with Service during the last year of his life and he never mentioned this to me or to others who knew him well." Joiner added, "Service was never able to see the evidence being used against him during his lifetime — and so it continues a decade after his death."[19]

Return to the State Department[edit]

Consulate of the United States in Liverpool, one of Service's last posts.

Service returned to active duty in the State Department in 1957. First, he was assigned to State's transportation division. In 1959, he was given a security clearance after a new internal hearing. Undersecretary of state for administration Loy Henderson approved the clearance, but noted that Service's "action in the Amerasia case was reprehensible and has brought serious discredit upon the Foreign Service..." Henderson's qualified approval allowed Service to continue his career, but prevented him from ever being promoted again. To avoid a Senate fight over a Service confirmation, the State Department decided to assign Service to head the consulate in Liverpool – "but without the associated title or pay grade".[20] Though Service continued to get excellent performance reviews in every position he held, the State Department refused to promote him. He retired in 1962 and pursued a Master of Arts degree in political science at the University of California, Berkeley. After earning his degree, Service worked as library curator for the school's Center for Chinese Studies into the 1970s, and then served as editor for the center's publications.

In 1971, preceding President Richard Nixon's visit to China, Service was one of a handful of Americans invited back to the country, as relations with the U.S. were normalized. He met with Zhou Enlai again during his visit, and he and his wife Caroline appeared on the cover of Parade Magazine.


On February 3, 1999, John Stewart Service died in Oakland, California.[21]


The two main themes of Service's reporting were that (1) the nationalists were incompetent and likely to lose in a power struggle with the CPC, and that (2) the CPC seemed to be worthy successors with whom the U.S. should try to establish relations. Prior to the outbreak of the Chinese Civil War in 1946, Service had predicted that the CPC would prevail, thanks to their ability to stamp out corruption, gain popular support, and to organize grass root organizations.[22] The scenarios that Service envisioned in his reports from Dixie Mission about CPC's future management of China were rose–colored, or incomplete. Mao's implementation of his economic plans was harsh, and undemocratic. Service hoped that the CPC would adopt free market and democratic reforms if they were pushed in the right direction, with U.S. support. Later, Service wrote that he believed an American relationship with the CPC might have prevented the Korean War and Vietnam War, or lessened their gravity.[23]

In 2013, the story of the Dixie Mission served as the historical basis for a new World War II novel called Two Sons of China, by Andrew Lam (author). John Service is portrayed as a prominent historical figure in the book. It was released by Bondfire Books in December 2013.[24]


  1. ^ Klehr, Harvey; Radosh, Ronald (1996). The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2245-0.
  2. ^ "U.S. Supreme Court: Service v. Dulles, 354 U.S. 363 (1957)"
  3. ^ Beisner, Robert L. (2006). Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War. Oxford University Press. p. 284 (arrest, vote). ISBN 9780199754892. Retrieved August 10, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Biography of Service by Oberlin College via John Service Papers. Archived 2006-09-12 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Senate Internal Security Committee, The Amerasia Papers: A Clue to the Catastrophe of China, January 26, 1970, pp. 577, 592, 1015
  6. ^ Ibid., pp. 406, 410, 577, 579, 589, 1014
  7. ^ Amerasia Papers, pp. 113, 112
  8. ^ Carter, Mission to Yenan, 131.
  9. ^ Report of the United States Senate Subcommittee on the Investigation of Loyalty of State Department Employees, 1950, appendix, p. 2051
  10. ^ Esherick, Joseph W., ed., Introduction, Lost Chance in China: The World War II Despatches of John S. Service, (New York: Random House, 1974), pp. xvi–xvii.
  11. ^ Kahn, The China Hands, p. 166.
  12. ^ Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1996) ISBN 0-8078-2245-0, p. 131
  13. ^ FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to Peyton Ford, Assistant to the Attorney General, re Philip Jacob Jaffe, was., et al., Espionage, May 4, 1950[permanent dead link] (FBI file: Amerasia, Section 54)
  14. ^ Esherick, ed., Lost Chance in China, p., xix.
  15. ^ Carter, Mission to Yenan, 215.
  16. ^ SERVICE v. DULLES, 354 U.S. 363 (1957), SCOTUS Opinion of case.
  17. ^ Klehr, Harvey; Radosh, Ronald (1996). The Amerasia Spy Case: Prelude to McCarthyism. The University of North Carolina Press. p. 216. ISBN 0-8078-2245-0.
  18. ^ Mirsky, Jonathan (December 21, 2009). "In Whose Service?". Wall Street Journal.
  19. ^ Joiner, Lynne (January 10, 2010). "Service Was No Fellow Traveller". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 14, 2014.
  20. ^ Joiner, p.323
  21. ^ Kifner, John (February 4, 1999). "John Service, a Purged 'China Hand,' Dies at 89". New York Times. Retrieved August 13, 2008. John S. Service, the first of the old China hands purged from the State Department in the McCarthy era, died yesterday in Oakland, Calif. He was 89.
  22. ^ John Service, Report No. 1, 7/28/1944., to Commanding General Fwd. Ech., USAF – CBI, APO 879. "First Formal Impressions of Northern Shensi Communist Base". State Department, NARA, RG 59. Page One, Two, Three, and Four.
  23. ^ Service, John S. (1971). The Amerasia Papers: Some Problems in the History of US-China Relations. Center for Chinese Studies, University of California. pp. 191–192.
  24. ^ Lam, Andrew. Two Sons of China (978-1629213736) Colorado Springs, CO; Bondfire Books, 2014.

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