Marshall Mission

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George C. Marshall with Mao in Yen'an.

The Marshall Mission (December 20, 1945 – January 1947) was a failed diplomatic mission undertaken by United States Army General George C. Marshall to China in an attempt to negotiate the Communist Party of China and the Nationalists (Kuomintang) into a unified government.

Historical background[edit]

Committee of Three, from left, Nationalist representative Zhang Qun, George C. Marshall and Communist representative Zhou Enlai.

The end of the Second World War on 15 August 1945, also represented the conclusion of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Throughout the length of the war an uneasy stalemate had existed between the Chinese Communists (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalists (KMT), while prior to the war, both parties had been in open conflict with each other. American attempts during the Second World War to end the off and on again civil war between the two factions had failed, notably with the Hurley Mission. Throughout the war, both the CCP and the KMT had accused the other of withholding men and arms against the Japanese in preparation for offensive actions against the other. Thus, in a desperate attempt to keep the country whole, President Harry S. Truman in late 1945 sent General George Marshall as his special presidential envoy to China to negotiate a unity government.

Marshall arrives in China[edit]

Marshall arrived in China on December 20, 1945. His goal was to unify the Nationalists and Communists with the hope that a strong, non-Communist China, would act as a bulwark against the encroachment of the Soviet Union. Immediately, Marshall drew both sides into negotiations which would last for nearly two years. Significant agreements failed to appear, as both sides used the time to further prepare themselves for the ensuing conflict. Finally, in February 1947, exasperated with the failure of the negotiations, Marshall left China.


The failure of the Marshall Mission signaled the renewal of the Chinese Civil War. George Marshall returned to the United States and committed himself to the revitalization of Europe with the Marshall Plan in the role of United States Secretary of State. By 1949, the Kuomintang was driven from the Chinese mainland into Taiwan by a victorious Communist Party, which established the People's Republic of China.

Attack by Joe McCarthy[edit]

On June 9, 1951, Douglas MacArthur charged that the post-war Marshall mission to China committed " of the greatest blunders in American diplomatic history, for which the free world is now paying in blood and disaster..."[1] in a telegram to Senator William F. Knowland. On June 14, 1951, as the Korean War stalemated in heavy fighting between American and Chinese forces, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy attacked. He charged that Marshall was directly responsible for the "loss of China," as China turned from friend to enemy.[2] McCarthy said the only way to explain why the U.S. "fell from our position as the most powerful Nation on earth at the end of World War II to a position of declared weakness by our leadership" was because of "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man."[3] McCarthy argued that General Albert Coady Wedemeyer had prepared a wise plan that would keep China a valued ally, but that it had been sabotaged; "only in treason can we find why evil genius thwarted and frustrated it." [4] McCarthy suggested that Marshall was old and feeble and easily duped; he did not charge Marshall with treason. Specifically McCarthy alleged:

"When Marshall was sent to China with secret State Department orders, the Communists at that time were bottled up in two areas and were fighting a losing battle, but that because of those orders the situation was radically changed in favor of the Communists. Under those orders, as we know, Marshall embargoed all arms and ammunition to our allies in China. He forced the opening of the Nationalist-held Kalgan Mountain pass into Manchuria, to the end that the Chinese Communists gained access to the mountains of captured Japanese equipment. No need to tell the country about how Marshall tried to force Chiang Kai-shek to form a partnership government with the Communists."[5]

Public opinion became bitterly divided along party lines on Marshall's record. In 1952, Eisenhower while campaigning for president denounced the Truman administrations failures in Korea, campaigned alongside McCarthy, and refused to defend Marshall's policies.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ The speech was published as a 169-page book, America's Retreat from Victory: The Story of George Catlett Marshall (1951).
  3. ^ Joe McCarthy, Major Speeches and Debates (1951) p. 215
  4. ^ McCarthy, Major Speeches and Debates (1951) pp. 264.
  5. ^ McCarthy, Major Speeches p. 191, from speech of March 14, 1951; see also Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (1982) pp 371-74.
  6. ^ Reeves, McCarthy 437-8


Scholarly studies
  • Ernest Richard May. The Truman Administration and China, 1945-1949 (1975)
  • May, Ernest R. "1947-48: When Marshall Kept the U.S. out of War in China." Journal of Military History 2002 66(4): 1001-1010. Issn: 0899-3718 Fulltext: in Swetswise and Jstor
  • Levine, Steven I. "A New Look at American Mediation in the Chinese Civil War: the Marshall Mission and Manchuria." Diplomatic History 1979 3(4): 349-375. Issn: 0145-2096
  • Forrest Pogue. George C. Marshall: Statesman 1945-1959 (1987) online edition
  • Rose, Lisle Abbott. Roots of Tragedy: United States and the Struggle for Asia, 1945-53 (1976)
  • William Whitney Stueck. The Road to Confrontation: American Policy Toward China and Korea, 1947-1950, (1981) online edition
  • Tsou, Tang. America's Failure in China, 1941-50 (1963) online edition
Primary sources
  • Marshall, George Catlett. The Papers of George Catlett Marshall. Vol. 5: "The Finest Soldier," January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens, eds. Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2003. 822 pp.
  • U.S. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1945. Volume VII. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1969.
  • ---. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1946. Volume IX. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972.
  • ---. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1946. Volume X. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972.
  • ---. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1947. Volume VII. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972.

Further reading[edit]

  • The MacArthur Hearing: The China Mission Time Magazine article dated Monday, May 21, 1951. General Marshall responds to questions about the China Mission regarding both the political and military situation.