CHINA, THE KOREAN WAR, POWS, SPIES AND THE C.I.A.

CHINA AND THE KOREAN WAR

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Korean-War-era anti-American poster
China and the United States faced off against one another in the Korean War (1950-1953).The People’s Republic of China was barely established (October 1, 1949) when it perceived a threat from the United States, which was at war in North Korea, and elected to support its neighbor, the new communist state, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Chinese People’s Volunteer Army invaded the Korean Peninsula in October 1950 and, along with its North Korean ally, enjoyed initial military success and then a two-year stalemate, which culminated in an armistice signed on July 27, 1953.

In 1950, not long after the declaration of the People’s Republic, China began aiding North Korea. In October 1950, sensing a threat to the industrial heartland in northeast China from the advancing United Nations (UN) forces in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), hundreds of thousands of Chinese PLA troops---calling themselves the Chinese People’s Volunteers---crossed the Yalu Jiang River into North Korea in response to a North Korean request for aid and fought American soldiers. Almost simultaneously the PLA forces also marched into Tibet to reassert Chinese sovereignty over a region that had been in effect independent of Chinese rule since the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911. Worried about Chinese expansion, the United States sent the Seventh Fleet into the South China Sea to protect Taiwan.

In the early 1950s “China’s large population and the breakout of Korean War caused food shortages. This led to about 100,000 retired service people and hundreds of thousands of young people answering the call by the Chinese government to resettle in the wild lands of northern China in Heilongjiang province, a vast expanse of land, which was sparely inhabited when the Korean War had just begun.

More than half a million young men and women, including demobilized army officers and solders and high school graduates marched into this great wilderness, on the border of Korea. They cultivated farmland and followed their own aspirations to serve emerging New China and solve food shortages at the time.

Good Websites and Sources of People’s Republic of China : Timeline china-profile.com ; ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Cold War International Project wilsoncenter.org ; China Essay Series mtholyoke.edu ; Everyday Life in Maoist China.org everydaylifeinmaoistchina.org;

The Long March: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Paul Noll site paulnoll.com ; Chinese Government Account of Events chinadaily.com; Long March Remembered china.org.cn ; Long March map china.org.cn Mao Zedong Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Chinese Mao.com chinesemao.com ; Mao Internet Library marx2mao.com ; Paul Noll Mao site paulnoll.com/China/Mao ; Mao Quotations art-bin.com; Marxist.org marxists.org ; Propaganda Paintings of Mao artchina.free.fr ; New York Times topics.nytimes.com; Communist Party History Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Illustrated History of Communist Party china.org.cn ; Books and Posters Landsberger Communist China Posters

Good Chinese History Websites: 1) Chaos Group of University of Maryland chaos.umd.edu/history/toc ; 2) WWW VL: History China vlib.iue.it/history/asia ; 3) Wikipedia article on the History of China Wikipedia 4) China Knowledge; 5) Gutenberg.org e-book gutenberg.org/files ; Links in this Website: Main China Page factsanddetails.com/china (Click History)

Books: Fanshen by William Hinton is the classic account of rural revolution during the communist-led civil war in the late 1940s. China Witness, Voices from a Silent Generation by Xinran (Pantheon Books, 2009) is collection of oral histories from Chinese who survived the Mao period. Lonng March books include The Long March by Edmund Jocelyn and Andree McEwen (2006) and The Long March by Sun Shuyun, based in accounts from 40 of 500 participants that were still alive in 2005. Mao; the Untold Story by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday (Knopf. 2005). Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans, and her husband John Halliday, a British historian, portrays Mao as villain on the level of Hitler and Stalin. The book was read by U.S. President George Bush and embraced by the American right as a condemnation of Communism. It characterizes Mao as cruel, materialistic, self-centered and a leader who used terror with the aim of ruling the world. There is also a Mao biography by Jonathon Spence. Also check out: Mao's New World: Political Culture in the Early People's Republic by Chang-tai Hung (Cornell University Press, 2011) and The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li Zhisui (1994). Other books: The Penguin History of Modern China by Jonathan Fenby 3) . Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow; 4) China: A New History by John K. Fairbank; 5) In Search of Modern China by Jonathan D. Spence; 6) Cambridge History of China multiple volumes (Cambridge University Press). You can help this site a little by ordering your Amazon books through this link: Amazon.com.

Impact of the Korean War on China


Dead Chinese soldier in the Korean War

To the Chinese the Korean war, which began when North Korea invaded across the 38th parallel, is The War Against American Aggression and To Defend Korea. Across the border in the North it is the War of Fatherland Liberation, which started with earlier incursions by Southern troops, instigated by American imperialists. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardia, June 25, 2010]

Tania Branigan write in The Guardian: "Today Just a few arches of the bridge that once straddled the Yalu river, linking north-eastern China’s Dandong to neighboring North Korea, remain as a stark and deliberate reminder of the US raids. “That’s still the evidence to show it was an evil war  it was imperialism if it was not a war of invasion, why did they bomb our bridge?” a Chinese veteran told The Guardian. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian June 25, 2010 ==]

"With cold war tensions running high, escalation was perhaps inevitable once North Korean troops crossed the line in 1950: both the US and China believed they had to check the other’s power. Beijing warned it would intervene if US-dominated UN forces pushed back past the 38th parallel, towards China. “At the time we had a saying about our relations with North Korea: 'If the lips are gone the teeth will feel the cold,'” said Wang Xinshan, another veteran of the conflict. ==


Making planes in China for the Korean War

"By 1952 Chinese soldiers outnumbered their allies by three to one; hundreds of thousands are thought to have died in the conflict. The repercussions are still playing out in the region. The war cemented an alliance that sustains Pyongyang in the face of widespread vilification, and created a powerful emotional bond. “Most Chinese have been immersed in an almost morbidly sentimental connection with the North,” said Zhu Feng, professor of international relations at Peking University. For veterans, those links are particularly potent. “I didn't cry when my parents died but when I think of those who died in the war my tears roll down,” said Xiang, recalling his comrades. ==

Anti-American sentiments stirred up by the Korean War helped Mao pursue his radical agenda. Up until the mid-1990s, Chinese middle school textbooks described the Korean War as China’s "War to Resist America and Support Korea." The textbooks described how "American Imperialists" organized "so-called United Nations forces" to invade North Korea and then used the Seventh Fleet to prevent reunification of Taiwan with the mainland.

An article in July, 1997 in the Chinese Communist Party magazine Hundred Year Tide abandoned the 40-year claim that South Korea invaded North Korea and admitted that opposite was true and then went on to say that Stalin was the mastermind behind the war, Kim Il Sung was a naive radical who boasted the North would win in "two weeks and Mao went along.”

Soviet Influence in the 1950s

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Mao and Stalin in 1950
After the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, China reorganized its science establishment along Soviet lines--a system that remained in force until the late 1970s, when China’s leaders called for major reforms. The Soviet model is characterized by a bureaucratic rather than a professional principle of organization, the separation of research from production, the establishment of a set of specialized research institutes, and a high priority on applied science and technology, which includes military technology. [Source: Library of Congress *]

“Under the Soviet bureaucratic model, leadership was in the hands of nonscientists, who assign research tasks in accordance with a centrally determined plan. The administrators, not the scientists, controlled recruitment and personnel mobility. The primary rewards were administratively controlled salary increases, bonuses, and prizes. Individual scientists, seen as skilled workers and as employees of their institutions, were expected to work as components of collective units. Information was controlled, was expected to flow only through authorized channels, and was often considered proprietary or secret. Scientific achievements was regarded as the result primarily of "external" factors such as the overall economic and political structure of the society, the sheer numbers of personnel, and adequate levels of funding. *

“Soviet influence also was realized through large-scale personnel exchanges. During the 1950s China sent about 38,000 people to the Soviet Union for training and study. Most of these (28,000) were technicians from key industries, but the total cohort included 7,500 students and 2,500 college and university teachers and postgraduate scientists. The Soviet Union dispatched some 11,000 scientific and technical aid personnel to China. An estimated 850 of these worked in the scientific research sector, about 1,000 in education and public health, and the rest in heavy industry. *

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Korean-War-era anti-American poster
“The Soviet aid program of the 1950s was intended to develop China’s economy and to organize it along Soviet lines. As part of its First Five-Year Plan (1953-57), China was the recipient of the most comprehensive technology transfer in modern industrial history. The Soviet Union provided aid for 156 major industrial projects concentrated in mining, power generation, and heavy industry. Following the Soviet model of economic development, these were large-scale, capital-intensive projects. By the late 1950s, China had made substantial progress in such fields as electric power, steel production, basic chemicals, and machine tools, as well as in production of military equipment such as artillery, tanks, and jet aircraft. The purpose of the program was to increase China’s production of such basic commodities as coal and steel and to teach Chinese workers to operate imported or duplicated Soviet factories. These goals were met and, as a side effect, Soviet standards for materials, engineering practice, and factory management were adopted. In a move whose full costs would not become apparent for twenty-five years, Chinese industry also adopted the Soviet separation of research from production. *

Mao, Kim Il Sung and the Korean War

According to Russian documents, Stalin tried to persuade Mao to send troops to Korea, saying that the two major Communist powers---China and the Soviet Union---together could win a war with the West. On October 2, Stalin told Mao, "We will be stronger than the USA and England, while the other European capitalist states (with the exception of Germany which is unable to provide any assistance to the United States now) do not present serious military forces.

On October 5, Stalin cabled Mao, the United States "is not ready for a big war" and if the Chinese sent "at least five or six divisions" to counter U.S.-South Korean forces, Washington "will be compelled to yield in the Korean question to China, behind which stands its ally, the USSR."

According to Russian documents, Mao reportedly hesitated at first. Between the time he was contacted by Stalin to enter the war and the time he accepted, he turned down the offer, saying that a defeat in Korea would allow supporters of Kim Il Sung to "change the form of the struggle to partisan war."

On May 13, 1950, Kim Il Sung arrived in Beijing for a secret meeting. Mao told him, "If the American participates, China will send armies to support North Korea. If they cross the 38th parallel, we definitely will come in fighting." The invasion began five weeks after Kim Il Sung’s visit to Beijing.

China Enters the Korean War


Chinese troops crossing the Amrokgang River

On October 9th, 1050 United Nations forces advanced across the 38th parallel. On October 19th they captured Pyongyang. Disobeying Truman’s orders, MacArthur thrust too deeply into the zone along the Chinese border. American paratroopers were dropped near the Chinese border. Reports of them triumphantly urinating in the Yalu River provoked the Chinese, who secretly started crossing the Yalu River into Korea at night in mid October.

In November 1950, 300,000 Chinese soldiers attacked American forces along the Chongchon River. Again the American were again caught disastrously unprepared, after a fierce battle at the Changjin (Chosin) Reservoir, they were pushed southwards as South Korean forces had been before towards Pusan. It was a humiliating defeat for MacArthur and the Americans.

By 1950 international recognition of the Communist government had increased considerably, but it was slowed by China’s involvement in the Korean War. In 1951 the UN declared China to be an aggressor in Korea and sanctioned a global embargo on the shipment of arms and war materiel to China. This step foreclosed for the time being any possibility that the People’s Republic might replace Nationalist China (on Taiwan) as a member of the UN and as a veto-holding member of the UN Security Council. [Ibid]

Chinese Forces Force an American Retreat


Chinese soldiers in Korea in 1950

MacArthur also blundered tactically by allowing American forces to become separated by a mountain ridge running down the spine of Korea during his two pronged offensive. Chinese troops infiltrated quietly into this mountain ridge and staged attacks form there against both American groups.

American forces were surprised with Chinese "human wave" attacks that overran many U.S. units. The Chinese also attacked retreating vehicles with gauntlets of fire and bayonet attacks on men hanging on sides of the retreating trucks. The Chinese and American often became so entangled in close range fighting that neither side could shoot without risking hitting one of their own guys. One survivor told the Washington Post, “We had to leave behind the dead and dying and wounded because there was no way to get them out...Troops were calling, “Help, don’t leave, we’re wounded.”

Even though the Chinese army was poorly equipped, it forced the U.S. into its longest retreat in American military history---120 miles down Korean peninsula. Among the thousands of Chinese killed in the advance was Mao’s 28-year-old son Anying.

A former North Korean who went south with teh Americans told the Washington Post, "I crossed into the South on January 4, 1951. There was an American army unit heading south, so my whole family just joined up and went with them. We knew we would be slaves, in a way, if we had to live in the North."

The Chinese and North Korean forces pushed the United Nations forces south of the 38th parallel. They recaptured Seoul but were unable to maintain their suppliers and were pushed back by heavy United Nations air and artillery fire.

Eyewitness Accounts of Chinese Forces Attacking American Troops

Describing the fighting at the retreat from the Chongchon River in November 1950, Reginald Thompson wrote, "It was a game of blind man’s bluff in these wild rugged irregular hills in which the enemy moved freely, easily eluding the groping arms of the Americans by day, and sweeping down upon them blind in the night, with devastating fury and magnificent discipline. Not a shot was fired by the Chinese until they were within thirty yards of the target." [Source: "Eyewitness to History," edited by John Carey]


Chinese soldier fighting in 1951

"Meanwhile the Americans were road-bound with the immense weight of useless weapons. The guns were rolled back. The great columns had gone into reverse. For a hundred miles the huge vehicles crammed the narrowing road lanes nose to tail."

For the Americans there "was no rest at night. Within five seconds of wild bugle calls, the attacks came in, seven men out of ten literally draped with percussion grenades on sticks, and the remaining three with automatic weapons. The lead battalion across the river was hit...A bazooka brewed up an American tank...The jeeps had frozen solid to the ground, the men struggling in the shallows of the fording point with their unwieldy snow packs freezing in great blocks on their feet. And all the time the enemy machine-guns rasped their leaden terror through the night."

"From a military point of view it was a disaster. There was never a question of staying and meeting these attacks, or regaining the lost ground by day...These men acted as heroically as men may hope to behave but their attitude was always, quite openly: 'Let’s get the hell out of here.'"

Attempted Air Snatch Over Manchuria

In November 1952, two Americans were killed when their unmarked C-47 plane was shot down over northeastern China while on a CIA mission to pick up an anti-Communist Chinese agent. Two CIA agents in the flight survived. They were imprisoned in China for around two decades. One was released only after the United States acknowledged that he was a CIA agent on a spy mission.

The incident began in June 1952, when the United States parachuted five ethnic Chinese agents into Manchuria to destabilize the Communist regime there by linking up with local anti-government forces and staging guerilla operations. One of the agents later made radio contact with the CIA and said he had obtained important documents and wanted to be picked up by an air snatch .

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An air snatch was something out of a James Bond movie. It called for the target---a man on the ground to be snatched by an airplane---to be strapped into a harness suspended on a transfer wire between two poles positioned 16½ meters apart. As the plane approached the poles, gliding at 145kph, a man on board the plane grabbed the wire holding the target with a grappling hook and winched him into the plane as the plane flew off. The harness had shock absorbers to protect the target from being killed by the G-forces created during the snatch.

The agent who made radio contact turned out to have "doubled” to the Chinese side and his call for an air snatch was a trap. The plane approached to position of the pick up. The poles presumably were in sight. As it slowed for the pick up two Chinese anti-aircraft guns, hidden under white sheets in the snow, opened fire. The pilots were killed, the engines cut off and the plane crash landed in some trees, and broke apart

Fate of the CIA Agents in China

The two CIA agents that were captured---Jack Downey and Richard Fecteau---were wearing harnesses when the plane crashed and survived unhurt. After being surrounded by excited Chinese troops, Downey laconically told his partner, we’re now “in a hell of a mess.” The two Americans were bound and thrown in the back of a truck, and taken away.

Downey and Fecteau were only 24 when they were captured. Downey had just graduated from Yale. Fecteau had just graduated from Boston University and married for the second time. They had only worked for the CIA a few months; the mission in China was their first operation with the CIA. Their detainment was recognized by neither China nor the United States. After they were captured their families were told they died in a commercial flight west of Japan.

In a secret trial Downey received a life sentence and Fecteau was given 20 years. Both men said the were not physically tortured but they did say theu were deprived of sleep and bathing, interrogated for up to 24 hours at a time and often kept in solitary confinement.

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Downey and Fecteau
The two CIA men were fed a diet of maggot-ridden vegetables and rice and forced study to Marx and Mao. Sometimes they were allowed books but they were arbitrarily taken away as punishment. Fecteau said he endured by becoming an “expert daydreamer.” He sometimes communicated with Downey using a system of coughs. The CIA had contemplated conducting a commando mission to save the men but scuttled the plan because their location was uncertain. Fecteau was released in 1971 after 19 years. Downey was released in 1973 after 21 years.

While they were in prison Downey and Fecteau were promoted and their pay was put in the bank where it drew interest. Fecteau became a sports director at Boston University. Downey graduated from Harvard Law School, married a Chinese woman and became a judge. Both men were give prestigious awards by the CIA. Their years of captivity are used as case studies for new recruits on surviving tough situations.

Escaping Communist China Through Tibet with a C.I.A. Agent

In 1949, Frank Bessac was an anthropologist and Fulbright scholar studying in Inner Mongolia when communist forces began organizing bloody raids across China.T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post, “Fleeing for his life, he embarked on what became an 11-month, 1,500-mile trek to seek asylum in Tibet. Before the journey ended, three men in his traveling party would be shot, beheaded and buried in shallow graves near the Tibetan border. When Bessac made it back to the United States, the story of his safe return made national headlines. His autobiographical account of the trip appeared in Life magazine and vividly portrayed his harrowing tale of survival.”[Source: T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post, December 24, 2010]

“Bessac first became interested in Mongolian culture during World War II,” Shapiro wrote. “He served in China with the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. Expertly trained, he was part of a commando unit that parachuted behind enemy lines to rescue downed American pilots. When the war ended, he received a Fulbright scholarship and studied Mongolian and Chinese languages at a university in Beijing.” [Ibid]

“In the summer of 1949, he lived among isolated nomads in a small village in Inner Mongolia until communist militias began wreaking havoc in the region. He fled to the western Chinese city of Urumqi, where he met a State Department vice consul named Douglas S. Mackiernan. In casual conversation, Mackiernan mentioned a code word that Bessac remembered from his OSS days. It was a secret message that identified Mackiernan’s true employer: the CIA. Mackiernan was posted in Urumqi under State Department cover, but in truth he was a high-ranking spy privy to vital secrets concerning the Russian nuclear bomb effort. As communist forces bore down on Urumqi, Mackiernan enlisted Dr. Bessac’s help to burn official documents to prevent them from falling into Chinese hands.” [Ibid]

“On Sept. 27, 1949, the two Americans set out with a small traveling party for Tibet, where they hoped to find asylum among Buddhist monks. They headed south for the Takla Makan desert, a desolate expanse known among locals as the "white death." They went days without finding fresh water. They had brought maps and a compass with them for navigation, but the tools proved useless - mountains and lakes would appear in front of them without any indication on the charts.” [Ibid]

In November, the men stopped to camp for the winter in the shadow of an icy mountain range bordering Tibet. "By good fortune, Mackiernan had brought two books with him," Bessac wrote in the Life article. "One was 'War and Peace,' which I read three times. The other was 'Cass Timberlane,' which I only had time to read twice before we had to put its pages to use in our makeshift toilet." [Ibid]

“In mid-March of 1950, Dr. Bessac’s group set off across the mountains. Some nights they slept at an altitude of more than 17,000 feet. To keep warm and cook meals, the men spent several hours a day foraging for dried yak dung to burn. Their food supplies ran so low that they depended almost exclusively on the meat of antelopes or yaks they could hunt down.” [Ibid]

Shot and Beheaded By Border Guards at the Tibetan Border

Bessac’s party approached the Tibetan border in late April of 1950. T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post: “Weary, the men settled near a cluster of yak-hair yurts belonging to a nomadic family. To demonstrate friendliness, Bessac presented a gift of raisins, tobacco and cloth to the Tibetan settlement. On his way back, Bessac heard gunfire from a hill above. Realizing they were being fired on, Mackiernan and three men in the traveling party walked out of their tents with their hands up.” [Source: T. Rees Shapiro, Washington Post, December 24, 2010]

“Bessac watched from behind a boulder as Tibetan border guards shot and killed Mackiernan and two anti-communist Russian allies who had been with them,” Shapiro wrote. “The Tibetan sentries had mistaken the travelers for marauders. Bessac and another man wounded in the melee were tied to horses by six Tibetan guards and led toward Lhasa. Later, Bessac learned that the three round objects in sacks dangling from a camel had been the heads of Mackiernan and the dead Russians.” [Ibid]

“During the trip to Lhasa, the caravan was met by two official couriers who had entry papers granting Mackiernan and Bessac safe passage. The documents - requested directly from the State Department in Washington - had arrived five days too late. Realizing the guards' fatal error, a courier pulled out a pistol and handed the weapon to Bessac, urging him to take revenge on the guards. Bessac refused. He did request, however, that the heads of his friends be taken back to their proper graves.”

“In Lhasa, the guards who had killed his three friends were tried in a military court and sentenced to severe lashings. As Bessac noted in the 1950 Life magazine article, he "watched and enjoyed the whole proceeding." Before setting off for the last leg of his journey, a 27-day, 300-mile mule ride over the Himalayas to India, Bessac received a Buddhist blessing from Tenzin Gyatso, who would become the 14th Dalai Lama.”

For more than 50 years, Bessac kept secret Mackiernan’s covert status with the CIA. In 2006, the CIA officially recognized Mackiernan’s sacrifice by acknowledging that the first star on the wall of honor at the agency’s McLean headquarters belonged to him.

Black American POW Who Chose Mao’s China Over Home

Clarence Adams, a black man from Tennessee, chose to go to China rather than return home after he was released from a prisoner-of-war camp following the end of the Korean War. Then in 1966 he left China and faced hardships and discrimination he returned to the U.S., according to his daughter, Della. Stuart Heaver wrote in the South China Morning Post, “When an American war veteran walked across the Lo Wu border into Hong Kong with his Chinese wife and two young children in 1966 he knew there would be no going back.After living in China for 13 years, Corporal Clarence Adams also knew his return to the United States would spark controversy, but even he was not prepared for the hostility, poverty and injustice that awaited. “I picked up my two-year-old, Louis, in my arms and, holding seven-year-old Della by the hand, Lin [his wife] and I walked slowly across the bridge. I did not look back,” Adams would write later of the moment he marched into a barrage of media and political scrutiny. [Source: Stuart Heaver, South China Morning Post, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“His first high-risk journey had been made in 1953, when he and 22 other American prisoners of war being held captive in North Korea elected not to return home at the end of the Korean war. Instead, they chose to forge a new life in China. In the middle of the cold war, with Senator John McCarthy encouraging the persecution of communist sympathisers in the US, many considered Adams and the others to be nothing short of traitors who had “joined the enemy”. He was branded a turncoat at home but Adams simply reasoned that, in 1954, as an uneducated black man from Memphis, Tennessee, he had more chance of finding freedom and opportunity in China than at home. *-*

“After 13 happy years there, during which he studied at university, met his wife and started a family, the dawn of the Cultural Revolution was changing everything and the homesick soldier wanted out. At Lo Wu, he was met by Nicholas Platt, from the US Consul General’s office, then led to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which was packed with journalists from the world’s press, desperate for a quote from the former US soldier who had “become a commie”. However, they underestimated the defiant Adams, who articulately insisted he was a patriotic American. He had fought for his country and had never joined the Communist Party or become a Chinese citizen during his residency in Wuhan and Beijing.

“Reporters were particularly interested in a controversial broadcast Adams had made from China in August 1965 urging black American combat troops serving in Vietnam to go home and fight for their own rights. Adams was typically unapologetic and forthright about that, too. “The United States is involved in a war in Vietnam that is not in the interests of the country,” he told the assembled reporters at a time when more than 180,000 American troops were deployed in Vietnam. “Negro soldiers are fighting for others when they, themselves, don’t enjoy equality,” he added.

The next day, May 27, the South China Morning Post’s front page ran the headline “Former US soldier leaves China” and a picture of the two Adams children being amused by a reporter. The little girl in the foreground is Della, who had been christened Di Lou, after the mountain near Wuhan university, where her parents met. Della Adams...has vivid memories of her childhood in Beijing and of arriving in Hong Kong, when she walked, “very scared”, with her father into a “wall of hundreds and hundreds of people”. “They were all talking very loud but, of course, I could not understand anything they were saying, because I could not speak English,” she says from her home. “People are a bit shocked when I speak Putonghua because I am still fluent and don’t have any accent.”

How Black American POW Ended Up in Mao’s China

Stuart Heaver wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Adams never met his own father and only realised who his mother was after the death of his beloved grandparents, when he was six years old. After getting into trouble with the police, he joined the army and his service was extended so he could be deployed to Korea in June 1950, after North Korean troops swarmed south across the 38th parallel with the tacit backing of Russia and China. Posted to an all-black artillery regiment, Adams was involved in fierce fighting against the Korean People’s Army. When Chinese forces entered the war in October, inflicting heavy casualties on American troops and forcing a rapid withdrawal, Adams witnessed an event that troubled him deeply. [Source: Stuart Heaver, South China Morning Post, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“He was astonished to see white infantry units race past him in retreat while his artillery unit was ordered to hold its ground. This was counter to conventional military tactics, which dictate that heavy kit is moved out first, covered by the more mobile infantry. Adams was convinced the lives of his comrades had been sacrificed to allow white soldiers to retreat safely. “Some people accuse me of being bitter, but I was forced to be. It certainly wasn’t my idea,” he writes. *-*

“On November 30, 1950, as the freezing Korean winter took hold, Adams was captured and forced to make a 10-day march while suffering from acute frostbite to Camp 5, situated close to the Yalu River, near Pyuktong. There he witnessed fellow soldiers dying on a daily basis from exposure, malnutrition or untreated combat wounds as they lay cramped on the floors of unheated timber huts with no sanitation. Adams severed his own toes with a knife fashioned from the metal toe cap of his boot to prevent a slow and agonising death from gangrene. *-*

“In the spring of 1951, China took over the administration of Camp 5 and Adams relates that conditions for the prisoners improved significantly as part of what was called a “lenient policy”. Improved food and medical supplies were provided along with classes on communist philosophy, which struck a chord with Adams. He volunteered to cooperate with the new authorities because he wanted to survive and respected the Chinese for treating black and white prisoners with equal dignity – or, at least, equal indifference. “For the first time in my life, I felt I was being treated as an equal rather than as an outcast,” he writes, and when the opportunity arose for prisoners of war to choose any nation for repatriation after the war, he and 22 others chose China (although two got cold feet at the last minute). “I might not have known what China was really like before going there but I certainly knew what life was like for blacks in America and especially in Memphis,” he said. “I decided to go to China because I was looking for freedom and a way out of poverty and I wanted to be treated like a human being.” *-*

“His decision was not well received in the US. “The news that 21 American prisoners of war had refused repatriation and were planning to take up residence in the People’s Republic of China was truly shocking to the folks back home,” says professor Louis H. Carlson, who published a biography about Adams written in the first person, called “Clarence Adams, An American Dream.”...Newsweek magazine described the defectors as “the sorriest, most shifty-eyed and grovelling bunch of chaps” and estimated at least half were bound together less by communism than by homosexuality, an even greater taboo in 1950s America.

Life of Black American POW in Mao’s China

Stuart Heaver wrote in the South China Morning Post, “According to Carlson, the POWs were a mixed bunch, with diverse reasons for their decision. The group contained three African-Americans, including Adams, the rest being of Anglo-Saxon descent and from small-town America. Only one had any obvious political connections. After two years at Renmin University, in Beijing, where he studied Chinese, Adams opted to take a degree in Chinese language and literature, and was sent to Wuhan University, where he enjoyed the beautiful natural environment and met Liu Linfeng, the daughter of a warlord who had surrendered his forces to Chiang Kai-shek and been made a local governor in return. She was working as a Russian-language teacher and translator.“These were the happiest days of my life,” he writes, and after a long courtship, the couple married in December 1957. Della was born just over a year later. [Source: Stuart Heaver, South China Morning Post, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“On graduating, Adams was given a prestigious job as a translator at one of China’s leading publishers, the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing. The family enjoyed the good life, living in a foreign compound with a maid, a chauffeur and a large apartment, and Adams enjoyed a relatively generous salary. “I still remember everything about our life in Beijing, but I didn’t realise then just how good a life it was,” Della says. “Even in Wuhan, after my aunt was forced to subdivide the ancestral home, it was still a mansion. “I don’t recall any racist attitude towards me,” she says, admitting she lived mostly within the confines of the foreign compound. “But my father did not experience racism, either, and he lived in the real world of China.“I loved it,” says Della, who would not forgive her father for uprooting the family, although she now concedes he had little choice, with the Cultural Revolution in progress. “We were the privileged Western elite, living in Beijing – they would have got to us sooner or later,” she says. *-*

“Liu’s family in Wuhan suffered during the Cultural Revolution, their home having been repeatedly ransacked, which she always felt guilty about. They were the family of someone who had married an American citizen, they were intellectuals and they had links to Chiang Kai-shek. It did not help that Adams had often socialised with staff at the African embassies in Beijing or that one of his closest friends – a black British citizen called John Horness, who worked for the World Peace Committee in Beijing – was expelled for spying. *-*

Black American POW Returns to the U.S.

Stuart Heaver wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Adams contacted the British embassy in Beijing in May 1966 – there was no American embassy in the Chinese capital at that time – and the British immediately advised the US consul general in Hong Kong. The family then boarded a train to Guangzhou, where they were met by the International Red Cross before boarding another train, to Shenzhen. After crossing into Hong Kong, the family were invited to the American consulate for a “brief chat”, which turned out to be an intense debriefing that lasted nearly three weeks. [Source: Stuart Heaver, South China Morning Post, May 27, 2016 *-*]

“Della remembers her first taste of 7-Up and cheese and crackers in Hong Kong and her eyes light up whenever the city is mentioned. After the consulate officials had finished with them, the family left by passenger liner for San Francisco via Honolulu. They were kept under surveillance the entire voyage and were even secretly photographed in their cabin. On arrival in the US, Adams was strongly advised to avoid his hometown and seek a new life in one of the big cosmopolitan port cities on the west coast, where his family would blend in more easily. Typically headstrong, Adams refused. He wanted to be reunited with his Memphis family and assumed they would help him out financially until he could find his feet. Della believes her father’s prime motivation for returning to his hometown was a craving for the love of his mother, who had always kept him at a distance, emotionally. *-*

“However, Adams found himself an outcast, insulted in the street, plagued by threatening phone calls, jobless, penniless – and rejected by his mother. He was also forced to defend himself from the charge that he had “disrupted the morale of the American fighting forces in Vietnam and incited revolution back in the United States” at a House Un-American Activities Committee hearing, in Washington. Eventually, Adams was cleared of all charges yet, despite employing lawyers, he was never granted the back pay owed to him by the US Army for the years after he was presumed dead, when suffering in a prisoner of war camp. As determined as ever, he and his wife built a successful chain of four Chinese restaurants across Memphis.” *-*

Image Sources: 1) Propaganda posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; 2) Downey, Fecteau, CIA Archives; Others: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated November 2016

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