27. The Dixie Mission

About noon on July 22, 1944, a C-47 transport plane loaded with nine American passengers approached a large field outside the Chinese Communist capital at Yan'an in Shaanxi province. The pilot, Captain Robert Champion, had found the town by locating a a pagoda on a hill nearby. The field lacked a control tower but some members of the crowd gave signals where he was to land. The plane was rolling in perfectly when the left wheel fell into an unmarked grave and the aircraft lurched and dropped to the one side. The left-engine propeller sheared off and crashed into the pilot's compartment, missing Champion's head by inches. In this dramatic way the unique American Dixie mission came to Communist China.1

How the mission got its name has never been satisfactorily answered. Its chief, Colonel David D. Barrett, recounts that John Paton Davies, Jr., who pushed hardest for it, said Americans in China often referred to the Communist areas as "Dixie," in analogy to the South in the American Civil War, since both Reds and Southerners were "rebels." Another story is that, since conditions in this exotic place were reputed to be better than what Americans saw in Nationalist China, they took the name from a currently popular song: "Is it true what they say about Dixie? Does the sun really shine all the time?"2

Yan'an was not Dixie or Shangri-La but its contrast with the repressive, degenerate, autocratic, mendacious atmosphere of Chongqing was refreshing. Zhou Enlai himself, along with a group of senior Communist officials, came to greet the Americans at the airport, along with the only motor vehicle the Reds had, an old truck that also served as an ambulance. The truck carried the Americans to their quarters in the spartan, simply furnished Yan'an "caves" or dug tunnels in the loess hills where most of the people lived. At lunch, Zhu De, the Red commander, welcomed the entire American group, from Colonel Barrett and foreign-service officer John Stewart Service down to the lowest-ranking man on the mission, Staff Sergeant Anton Remeneh. And after lunch, Zhou Enlai expressed in a brief but touching ceremony the Reds' relief that Captain Champion had come to no harm.3

The Americans quickly found there were no guards anywhere, no obvious police and none of the ostentatious pomp and swagger of Chongqing officialdom. Red leaders, from Mao Zedong on down, mingled with ordinary working people and students at dances and other social occasions. Young women thought nothing of going up to the most prestigious leaders and asking them to dance. There was also an immense leveling effect because everyone, leader and worker, man and woman, wore the same kind of clothes: trousers, sandals or cloth shoes, cloth caps and a Russian-style smock or a jacket buttoned to the collar (and only much later to be called a "Mao" jacket). The Red leaders were confident, assured, tough, practical-minded, scornful of pure theory, logical in their thinking and self-critical. They were mostly in their middle forties and physically and intellectually vigorous. None was fat. As John Service observed, "The half-starved anemic Chinese intellectual is missing; so is the overfed official and bureaucrat." The leaders considered politics, economics, education, propaganda and culture parts of an inseparable whole and had become skilled in military science in order to survive. No leader was, like Chiang Kai-shek, wholly a military man or an expert in a single field. The leaders ignored rank and were never subservient. Of negative traits, Service noticed uniformity and wiping out of individuality, due, he thought, to the departure of all persons who dissented.4

The Dixie mission was an agglomeration of talented but very junior American officers. It included military men like Barrett and foreign-service officers like Service, some Office of Strategic Services (OSS) operatives and apparently an informer for Navy Group, China, a separate U.S. intelligence and guerrilla-training operation under Captain Milton (Mary) Miles that had connections with Chiang Kai-shek's secret-service chief, Dai Li.

Although the Communist leaders believed the mission indicated a strong American concern for their movement and a disillisionment with the Nationalists, Roosevelt was interested in it as a lever to maneuver Reds and Nationalists into a coalition. He probably never contemplated a separate alliance or even agreement with them. Ever since the Tehran conference, FDR had anticipated the entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific war. He believed this would increase Red Chinese pugnacity and make Chiang Kai-shek's position weaker unless a Red-Nationalist agreement could be reached quickly. FDR didn't want separate American agreements with or independent military aid to the Communists because either would make it harder for Chiang to deal with the Reds. As events were to show, high American officials followed FDR's policy line faithfully, irrespective of the calls for direct ties with the Reds that came from some of the mission members.5

The American association with the Chinese Communists opened in friendliness and hope on both sides. The Americans looked toward the assistance of the 470,000 Chinese Red soldiers against the Japanese enemy and entertained ideas that the Communists and Nationalists could patch up their differences and join together in a common government.6 The Communists sought to undermine American confidence in the Kuomintang by describing it as a dictatorship concerned with suppressing internal opposition.7

Although the Americans, whose whole political system was built on compromise, tried to find common ground upon which Reds and Nationalists could stand, it was unthinkable that either side would agree to a true coalition government and sharing power. Mao Zedong did want a coalition but only because he was confident the Reds could soon dominate it and drive the Nationalists out, a fact he withheld from the Americans.8 Mao was certain that, to survive, the Reds had to radicalize the peasantry and push the agrarian revolution as far as it could take them. He knew the Kuomintang would never stand for this and therefore the die was probably cast for civil war.9

The Reds in 1944 were confident, already certain they could win because they believed they had the backing of the people, whereas the KMT did not. They were aware of their own strength and no longer felt that their survival depended upon foreign aid or that they were vulnerable to foreign attack. Since 1937 the portion of China they controlled had grown from about 36,000 square miles and a little over a million people to 300,000 square miles and 90 million people. John Paton Davies, Jr. put his finger on the real interest of Communists in the United States: "They recognize that if they receive American aid, even if only on an equal basis with Chiang, they can quickly establish control over most if not all China, perhaps without civil war. For most of Chiang's troops and bureaucrats are opportunists who will desert the Generalissimo if the Communists appear to be stronger than the central government."10 Chiang Kai-shek also doubtless knew this, and sought every means to prevent the U.S. from sending arms to the Reds.

Mao Zedong, ever since January, 1940, when he wrote a treatise, "On New Democracy," had been hiding the revolutionary aspect of Communism under the guise of a united front and cooperation with the Nationalists.11 In "New Democracy," Mao Mao called for a transitional alliance of all the "revolutionary, anti-imperialistic classes," including the bourgeoisie. Mao's new democracy envisioned abolition of the KMT dictatorship and unification of all economic classes. Mao held that China's current task was to destroy feudalism and imperialism. "Before that is done it is empty verbiage to talk of the realization of socialism. We must not be utopians." Nevertheless, Mao saw new democracy as only a forerunner to "the necessary second stage," socialism, which remained the Communist goal.12

Mao's new democracy called for an alliance with the Soviet Union and "protection of the interests of the peasants and workers." If China did not ally itself with Russia, it must cooperate with the imperialists, as the KMT turncoat Wang Jingwei was finding out. "If we don't protect the interests of the peasants and workers, we ignore the fact that China's revolution is a revolution of the peasants—and her war against Japan a war of resistance of the peasants."13

Stuart Schram points out that new democracy covered "with a rhetorical fig leaf" an open conviction that the Communists were to lead any united front.14 Such positions gave no permanent place for the Kuomintang, bourgeoisie, militarists or landlords and thus confirmed that the Communists sought total revolution and liquidation of all competing elements. Despite superficial impressions to the contrary, the Reds had no interest in a middle road down which both Communists and Nationalists could walk together. The Kuomintang leaders were no more willing to reach a middle road than the Reds. Thus each side sought destruction of the other.15

Ambassador Clarence Gauss saw irreconcilable conflict between Communists and Nationalists. After a meeting with Chiang Kai-shek on September 4, 1944, Gauss reported that the Generalissimo was adamant "that no compromise is possible and that the only acceptable solution would be capitulation by the Chinese Communists to the demands and wishes of the government," that is, to Chiang and the KMT leaders.16 Gauss also described a similar intransigence on the Red side. But he made no impression in Washington or upon Patrick Hurley.17

Hurley had developed his own viewpoint. It was based on the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov's statement that the Chinese Reds were not real Communists and had no support from Moscow. Consequently, Hurley often referred to the Chinese Reds as "so-called Communists" and he never examined closely the fundamental differences that divided Reds and Nationalists.18

Gauss did so in a message to Washington on September 8. His comments grew out of a report of John Service from Yan'an discussing why the Reds were professing to support a united front with the Nationalists. Service believed the Reds had renounced violent revolution in favor of a program of democracy and long-term transition to socialism, though he admitted there were elements of opportunism in the Communist approach.19

Gauss, however, saw the situation accurately. It was more likely, he wrote, that the Reds were merely trying to gain time to strengthen their military and political positions. "Irrespective of what the professed policies of Chinese Communist leaders may be, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Communists eventually aim to gain political and military control of China." Gauss's observation got little reaction in Washington.20

The State Department and Roosevelt left determination of policy to Patrick Hurley, who not only was ignorant of the factors influencing Reds and Nationalists but soon decided he could bring the two sides together by personal negotiation. It was most presumptuous and utterly foolish.

Meanwhile, Mao Zedong asked John Service whether the United States was willing to force the Nationalists to convene a democratically elected national congress. He knew there was little possibility of the U.S. undertaking so fundamental an intervention and none of the Nationalists acquiescing to being driven from office. His motivation was to indicate the Reds sought democratic government. This position became the Communists' ideological bastion which the Nationalists could never assail openly without admitting they opposed and feared democracy.21

Patrick Hurley and other American leaders came to the conclusion in the fall of 1944 to take a stand that gave the appearance of being, but was not actually, decisive. It reflected an American (not Chinese) view of a reasonable political compromise. Hurley, backed by Roosevelt, pushed for a coalition government. It was a fateful judgment because it locked the United States into an effort to bring about a political agreement that was impossible. When it failed, the United States found itself having to choose, after all, between one side and the other.

Instead of allowing the Chinese themselves to decide what sort of government and society they wanted, the United States, because of its fear of Communism, sought to prevent the collapse of the Nationalist government and sustain Chiang Kai-shek.22 In so doing, the U.S. locked itself into supporting a discredited and dying regime long after the great bulk of the Chinese people wanted to move on.

* * * * * * * * * *

In mid-October, 1944, Patrick Hurley found from the two Chinese Communist representatives detailed to Chongqing that the Reds would cooperate with the Nationalists only in a coalition government.23 Hurley decided to fly to Yan'an himself and talk with Mao Zedong. In preparation, he produced with Nationalist advice a five-point "basis for agreement." The KMT-approved points were that the Nationalists and Communists would work for unification of military forces, the Reds would carry out Nationalist orders, both sides would support "a government of the people, for the people and by the people" (quoted from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address via Hurley with the last two phrases mistakenly reversed), there would be one national government and one army and the Nationalist government would recognize the Communist and other political parties. On November 7, Hurley informed FDR he was flying to Yan'an on invitation of the political leaders "of the so-called Communist party" and "with the consent and active assistance of the Generalissimo and Wedemeyer."24

Meanwhile Roosevelt, despite strong efforts by the Republicans to cast doubt on his health and capability of sustaining the strains of office, won his fourth presidential term against New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey. The electoral-college vote was decisive, 432 to 99. But in the popular vote it was not a runaway. FDR got 25,600,000 votes against Dewey's 22 million. The vice-president elect was a little-known Missouri senator, Harry S. Truman.

* * * * * * * * * *

Events at Hurley's arrival in Yan'an, unannounced despite what he told Roosevelt, have passed into legend with elaborations and embellishments. However, the recitation of the facts is remarkable enough. When Hurley stepped out of the C-47 he was wearing, according to Colonel Barrett who was there, "one of the most beautifully tailored uniforms I have ever seen." He also was displaying enough ribbons to represent every American war, it seemed to the irreverent Barrett, except possibly Shays's Rebellion. Zhou Enlai was startled by Hurley's splendor and asked Barrett, fluent in Chinese, who he was. Barrett had remembered seeing him years before and told Zhou it was Hurley. Zhou snapped before disappearing: "Please hold him here until I can bring Chairman Mao." Quickly Mao appeared in the Reds' only vehicle, the beat-up truck that had met the Dixie mission. Following behind was a hastily formed guard of honor which Hurley duly reviewed. It was all dreadfully solemn. But after returning the salute of the honor guard commander, Barrett reported that Hurley "drew himself up to his full impressive height, swelled up like a poisoned pup and let out an Indian war whoop." This shattered the atmosphere and left Mao and Zhou completely nonplussed. Hurley, Mao and Zhou then climbed into the cab of the truck with Barrett squeezed in to interpret and off they drove toward the Yan'an caves. Hurley immediately commenced telling salty stories mostly related to friends in Oklahoma, all virtually incomprehensible to Mao and Zhou. One, however, raised howls of laughter. When the truck passed the shallow Yen river, Mao Zedong (whose name Hurley consistently pronounced "Moose Dung," believing he was being accurate) described how the river dried up in the summer. This reminded Hurley of rivers in Oklahoma, which he said were so dry in summer one could tell when a school of fish went swimming past by the cloud of dust they raised.25

The day after arriving in Yan'an, Hurley heard from Theodore H. White, Time-Life correspondent who was there, that Chairman Mao had told him there "was not any possible chance of an agreement between him and Chiang Kai-shek." The news disturbed Hurley and when John Paton Davies, Jr., told him much the same thing, Hurley ordered Davies to take the next C-47 back to Chongqing.26 In conferences with Mao, Zhou and other Red leaders, however, Hurley heard a litany of complaints against Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalists and began to sense the depth of the antagonism the Communists felt.27

The KMT-approved list Hurley had brought with him was not acceptable to the Reds. Hurley abruptly asked Mao if the Communists would help draw up conditions that were. Mao agreed and for the next hour Hurley and the Communist leaders hammered out a new proposed agreement. It also had five points and provided that the KMT and Reds would work to reunify all military forces, the national government was to be reorganized into a democratic coalition of all parties, the coalition would support Hurley's "government of the people, for the people and by the people," the army military council would be reorganized (while lend-lease supplies would be equitably distributed to all anti-Japanese forces) and the coalition government would recognize the KMT, Reds and other parties. Hurley also threw in a statement, most of which he pulled directly from the U.S. Constitution, which would obligate a coalition government to establish justice; freedom of conscience, the press, speech and assembly; the right to petition the government for redress of grievances; right of writ of habeas corpus, and "right of residence." Not satisfied, Hurley also tossed in freedom from fear and want, taken from the 1941 Atlantic Charter of President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill. Hurley signed it, along with Mao.28

It was a marvelous, totally unrealistic, document. The Reds were enthusiastic and no wonder. It formally committed the U.S. to a coalition government including the Communists. The Red leaders were certain Chiang would refuse to accept but his rejection might provide political capital, although they had agreed to keep the negotiation terms secret.29 Hurley believed Chiang Kai-shek would accept it and hurried back to Chongqing (with Zhou Enlai in tow) to sell it to him.30

Chiang quickly brought Hurley down to earth. On November 16, Hurley told President Roosevelt in some wonder that "Chiang Kai-shek seems to be of the opinion that the proposed agreement would eventually result in giving the Communists control of the government."31

Roosevelt appointed Hurley ambassador to China (November 17) and sent a message to the Generalissimo that a "working arrangement" between Chiang and the Communists in north China "will greatly expedite the objective of throwing the Japanese out of China from my point of view and also that of the Russians. I cannot tell you more at this time but he will have to take my word for it. You can emphasize the word 'Russians.'"32 FDR intended to convey that the Soviet Union was likely to come into the war against Japan and cooperation with the Chinese Reds would be in Chiang's interests. Otherwise, the Russians might arm the Chinese Communists. But this only increased Chiang's intransigence.33 Meanwhile the British, who had no interest in a unified China which might kick them out of Hong Kong, tried to discourage any agreement, much to American anger.34

Chiang's aides had been busily producing counterdrafts of the Hurley-Communist proposal. These repeated the same old Nationalist conditions: no Red participation in the national government and the Red army to submit to the Nationalists.35

These drafts closed off all hope of an agreement and Zhou Enlai went back to Yan'an to "confer" with Mao Zedong. Hurley sent Colonel Barrett, who'd returned to Chongqing, back to keep negotiations going. After talking with Mao, Zhou informed Hurley that, since the Nationalists had opposed Red suggestions for a coalition government and a united military council, "it is impossible for us to find any fundamental common basis" for agreement. He refused to return to Chongqing and wanted Hurley's approval to publish the Red-Hurley proposal "to draw this to the attention of public opinion." This shows that a public-relations coup was all the Communists ever hoped to get out of Hurley's efforts. Hurley vigorously opposed the Reds publicizing the U.S.-Red proposal and tried to convince the Reds to negotiate further.36

Mao and Zhou told Barrett that Chiang's revival of his old conditions would put the Communists at the Kuomintang's mercy. Although this was only a statement of fact, the news angered Hurley and he claimed that Mao had tricked him.37

Mao reminded Barrett that the Reds had offered a five-point proposal calling for a coalition government. "General Hurley agreed that the terms were eminently fair and in fact a large part of the proposal was suggested by him." Chiang refused the terms. "Now the United States comes and earnestly asks us to accept counterproposals which require us to sacrifice our liberty." This was not strictly true. Hurley asked the Communists only to continue negotiations.38

Hurley did not see the impossibility of an agreement. On December 13 he radioed the secretary of state the door was not closed to further negotiations. He asked John Paton Davies, Jr., to go over this message. "In my opinion," Davies wrote later, "Hurley was making a conceited and foolhardy commitment of the United States to a futile and dangerous course." Davies wasn't that blunt with the ambassador but Hurley recognized Davies's coolness and indicated a few days later that Davies should leave China. Davies made plans to depart for Moscow, where W. Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador, wanted him.39

At this time a group of American OSS operatives came up with a hare-brained idea to establish a sort of American-Red Chinese military alliance, bypassing Chiang Kai-shek and Hurley. When Hurley found out about it, everything changed for the worse.

Chapter 28: Hurley Sees a Conspiracy >>

1 Barrett, p. 13-14.

2. Ibid., pp. 23-24.

3. Ibid., pp. 13, 29-30.

4. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 518, 551-6, 637. Most of Service's reports from China have been collected into a volume edited by Joseph W. Esherick, Lost Chance in China, The World War II Despatches of John S. Service, New York: Random House, 1974. The Service reports cited in FRUS above appear on pp. 178-82, 192-8, 283 in Esherick's volume.

5. Schaller, pp. 181-2, 186-8, 197; Buhite, p. 187.

6. Cambridge, vol. 13, p. 709; FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 635-6.

7. Kataoka, p. 305.

8. Kataoka, pp. 262-3; FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 538-9, 564-5, 670-1.

9. Kataoka, pp. 262-3.

10. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 667-70..

11. FRUS, China, 1944, p. 537.

12. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 422-4, contains a summary of Mao's treatise "On New Democracy." See also Kataoaka, pp. 260-62; Cambridge, vol. 13, p. 857-8; White, pp. 234-40. For a detailed analysis of Mao's thought during the Yan'an period, see Raymond F. Wylie, The Emergence of Maoism, Mao Tse-tung, Ch'en Po-ta, and the Search for Chinese Theory 1935-1945, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1980, specifically pp. 115, 118-27, 135, 137, 156-60.

13. White, pp. 237-8, points out that Mao's emphasis on an alliance with the Soviet Union came in 1940, before the United States had entered in any significant way into events in China. But the Russians had provided the Chinese Reds virtually nothing during the war and moreover had recognized Chiang Kai-shek as head of state. By 1944 the Chinese Communists recognized that the United States was making tremendous contributions to the defeat of Japan. As a result, the U.S. became more important to the Chinese Reds and the Soviet Union less.

14. Stuart Schram cites Mao's "The Chinese Revolution and the Chinese Communist Party," written in December, 1939, and his introduction in the inner-party periodical, The Communist, in October, 1939. Both state that leadership belonged to the Communists. The December, 1939, treatise was openly sold. See Cambridge, vol. 13, p. 857. See also Kataoka, pp. 246-55.

15. The "New Democracy" demand for giving farmland to the tiller was far more than the Kuomintang could accept, since this move would have destroyed the landlords as a class and landlords were a major element in the KMT coalition. Mao Zedong's proposals, even in their most moderate guise, were so radical to the KMT as to be revolutionary. Mao doubtless knew this, since land reform alone would have set off such a social upheaval that further radical changes would have been almost impossible to stop.

16. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 544-51.

17. Hurley and Nelson arrived in Chongqing on September 6, 1944. According to White, p. 219, Ambassador Gauss conferred with them and Stilwell for an hour and a half the first evening, Gauss analyzing the Chinese situation. However, it is not known whether Gauss raised the issues about Red Chinese strategy or Chiang's unwillingness to compromise with the Communists.

18. FRUS, China, 1944, p. 154.

19. Ibid., pp. 559-67.

20. Ibid., pp. 595-6.

21. Ibid., pp. 599-614. Mao knew that exposure in a provisional assembly of the Nationalists' errors, avarice, suppression and incompetence would undermine their legitimacy. Therefore, they would lose any genuine popular election. The Communists would be certain to dominate the first democratically elected congress. After that, they could seize control and move on to dictatorship by their party.

22. Ibid., pp. 745, 750. Patrick Hurley listed these aims as two points of American policy in a letter to the secretary of state on December 24, 1944. Two days later John Carter Vincent, chief of the Chinese affairs division, wrote that these points were basically sound, though "it is desirable to maintain sufficient flexibility in our attitude toward the political scene in China to avoid embarrassment in the unlikely event that Chiang with his government is ousted and to take immediate steps to support the elements most likely to carry on resistance."

23. Ibid., pp. 650-1, 655-6; Buhite, p. 165; Davies, p. 343.

24. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 659, 666-7; Davies, p. 344, 368, 377, 379; Buhite, pp. 165-6; Schaller, p. 195.

25. Barrett, pp. 56-57; White, pp. 246, 253; Schaller, pp. 194-7; Davies, pp. 365-9.

26. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 673-4; Davies, p. 366.

27. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 674-87.

28. Ibid., pp. 687-8; Pratt, p. 641; White, p. 254.

29. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 615-22.

30. White, p. 254; Buhite, p. 170. Hurley wrote Mao a letter expressing his appreciation for Mao's "splendid cooperation" in drawing up the list. See FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 689-90. Buhite (p. 172) believes Hurley was not averse to the Communist proposals because he didn't think the Reds had enough strength to gain power.

31. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 698-700; Buhite, pp. 170-1, 172-3.

32. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 700, 703, 737-8. On December 15, 1944, W. Averell Harriman, U.S. ambassador to Moscow, informed Roosevelt that "if no arrangement is made before the Soviets attack the Japanese, I believe that it must be assumed that the Soviets will back the Communists in the north and turn over to them the administration of the Chinese territory liberated by the Red army. Then the situation will be progressively difficult for Chiang." This and concern that Soviet troops would have to drive deep into China proper in order to defeat the Japanese led the U.S. to seek, in the Yalta conference in February, 1945, to spell out terms by which the Soviet Union would operate in East Asia. See Buhite, p. 173; Dallek, p. 500.

33. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 549, 649-50.

34. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 693, 697, 748-9; Dallek, p. 501; Harriman, pp. 317, 379-80, 737-8.

35. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 697-8, 703-04, 706-07; Buhite, pp. 175-6.

36. FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 715, 723-4, 732-4, 739-40; Schaller, pp. 198-9; Davies, pp. 380-1.

37. Barrett, pp. 75-76; Davies, p. 381; FRUS, China, 1944, pp. 727-32.

38. Schaller, p. 198. According to Davies, p. 380, Hurley and Wedemeyer tried to persuade Zhou that the Communists should accept the Nationalist terms. See FRUS, China, 1944, p. 728.

39. Davies, pp. 382-3; FRUS, China, 1944, p. 737.