Loss of China

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The "loss of China" refers, in U.S. political discourse, to the unexpected Communist Party takeover of mainland China from the American-backed Nationalists in 1949,[1][2] and therefore the "loss of China to communism".


During World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt had assumed that China, under Chiang Kai-shek’s leadership, would become a great power after the war, along with the U.S., the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.[2] According to John Paton Davies Jr., a "China Hand", Roosevelt's lack of sufficient material support to Chiang Kai-shek during the war against Japan in the 1930s and 1940s and his deplorable choices of U.S. diplomatic emissaries to China contributed to the failure of Roosevelt's policy.[2]

According to historian Arthur Waldron, "Franklin Roosevelt thought of China as a power already securely held by [Chiang Kai-shek]." Chiang Kai-shek's hold on power was, however, tenuous, and "once the Japanese were defeated, China would become a power vacuum, tempting to Moscow, and beyond the capability of the Nationalists to control. In that sense, the collapse of China into communism was aided by the incompetence of Roosevelt’s policy."[2]


The "loss of China" was portrayed by critics of the Truman Administration as an "avoidable catastrophe".[3] It led to a "rancorous and divisive debate" and the issue was exploited by the Republicans at the polls in 1952.[4] It also played a large role in the rise of Joseph McCarthy,[5] who, with his allies, sought scapegoats for that "loss", targeting notably Owen Lattimore, an influential scholar of Central Asia.[6]

In the early 1950s, the Truman administration was attacked for the "loss" of China with Senator Joseph McCarthy charging in a 1950 speech that "Communists and queers" in the State Department, whom President Harry S. Truman had allegedly tolerated, were responsible for the "loss" of China.[7] In a speech that said much about fears of American masculinity going "soft" that were common in the 1950s, McCarthy charged that "prancing minions of the Moscow party line" had been in charge of policy towards China in the State Department while the Secretary of State Dean Acheson was a "dilettante diplomat who cringed before the Soviet colossus".[7]

Reception and analysis[edit]

Noam Chomsky, a leading critic of U.S. foreign policy, has commented that the terminology "loss of China" is revealing of U.S. foreign policy attitudes:

The American historian Miles Maochun Yu complained in a 2010 book review of the "...endless fight over who got it right on China, whatever the Chinese reality. That is to say, in the peculiar debate on Communist China, the questions asked and the issues debated often reflected American partisan politics and policy spins rather than Chinese reality".[8]

One of the more imaginative and popular books about the "loss of China" was the 1952 book The Shanghai Conspiracy by General Charles A. Willoughby which claimed the Soviet spy ring headed by Richard Sorge (arrested in 1941 and executed in 1944) was still in existence.[9] Willoughby further claimed the Sorge spy ring had caused the "loss of China" in 1949 and was in the process of steadily taking over the U.S government.[9] The American Japanologist Michael Schaller wrote that Willoughby was indeed correct on some points as that Sorge was a spy for the Soviet Union and the same was probably true of certain left-wing American journalists who worked with Sorge in Shanghai in the early 1930s, but much of Willoughby's book reflected the paranoid mind of one of the most incompetent military intelligence officers ever in American history.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The words "In 1949, China declared independence (...)" shouldn't be taken literally. Rather it should be understood as a form of declaration of independence from the U.S. sphere of influence. See context in the source including the paragraph preceding the statement:
    "The plans that Kennan helped formulate and implement took for granted that the US would control the western hemisphere, the Far East, the former British empire (including the incomparable energy resources of the Middle East), and as much of Eurasia as possible, crucially its commercial and industrial centers. These were not unrealistic objectives, given the distribution of power. But decline set in at once."[1]


  1. ^ a b c Noam Chomsky (14 February 2012). ""Losing" the World: American Decline in Perspective, Part 1". Guardian Comment Network. Retrieved March 10, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d Waldron, Arthur (January 28, 2013). "How China Was 'Lost' – And could it have been saved?". The Weekly Standard. 18 (19). Retrieved 2 August 2015.
  3. ^ Hirshberg, Matthew S. (1993). Perpetuating Patriotic Perceptions: The Cognitive Function of the Cold War. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 55–56. ISBN 9780275941659.
  4. ^ Herring, George C. (1991). "America and Vietnam: The Unending War". Foreign Affairs. America and the Pacific, 1941-1991 (Winter, 1991). Council on Foreign Relations. 70 (5): 104–119. doi:10.2307/20045006. JSTOR 20045006.
  5. ^ VanDeMark, Brian (1995). Into the Quagmire: Lyndon Johnson and the Escalation of the Vietnam War. Oxford University Press. p. 25. ISBN 9780195096507. As [President Lyndon Johnson] later recalled "I knew Harry Truman and Dean Acheson had lost their effectiveness from the day that the Communists took over in China. I believed that the loss of China had played a large role in the rise of Joe McCarthy. And I knew that all these problems, taken together, were chickenshit compared with what might happen if we lost Vietnam."
  6. ^ Ellen Schrecker (Fall 2005). "The New McCarthyism in Academe". Thought & Action. Campus Watch. Retrieved July 2, 2012.
  7. ^ a b Wood, Gregory Retiring Men: Manhood, Labor, and Growing Old in America, 1900-1960 Lanham: University Press of Americ 2012 page 145.
  8. ^ Maochun Yu, Miles Review of The Honorable Survivor: Mao's China, McCarthy's America, and the Persecution of John S. Service by Lynne Joiner pages 880-881 from The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 69, No. 3, August 2010 page 881.
  9. ^ a b c Schaller, Michael MacArthur the Far Eastern General, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989 page 156.

Further reading[edit]