Marshall Mission Files, Lot 54–D270

Minutes of Meeting Between General Marshall and General Chou En-lai at No. 5 Ning Hai Road, Nanking, August 12, 1946 10:50 a.m.

Also present: Colonel Caughey
Captain Soong21
Mister Chang22

General Marshall: I saw Doctor Stuart this morning and we had a lengthy conversation. He is not leaving for Peiping today.

I have been working on a message to Admiral Cooke,23 who has [Page 9] been pressing me regarding a statement as to the An-ping incident. Yesterday I saw a press release of August 10th in the New China News Agency which includes this statement: “Owing to the repeated provocative acts of the U. S. Marines, the U. S. Branch (meaning Executive Headquarters) who has been on the mediating position now takes side with the Nationalist Branch and becomes one of the initiators of military conflicts or at least the party concerned in the conflict. This aroused unbelievable confusion in the 25th Field Team. Against the various propaganda charging against the Chinese Communist Party released by the U. S. Marines who have got all possible assistance, it is strange to say, ‘They were attacked’ as asserted by the Kmt.23a U. S. Branches themselves have done their utmost to delay the start of the Special Team, while the only one who demands immediate investigation is the Chinese Communist Branch.”

This morning I received this from Peiping. “The following special article appeared today (August 11) in the Social Welfare: ‘The United States branch of the Sino-American Headquarters has reported to General Marshall the reason of the delayed departure of the An-ping incident team and it was learned that this report dealt with the delays on the part of the Communists. It was reported that the following agreements have been reached between General Chou En Lai and General Marshall and have been transmitted to the Executive Headquarters for implementation: (a) The team of investigation adopts a program of procedure first. (b) The senior members of the three branches will take turn to be the chairman of the team[’].”

This morning, an hour ago, I received a very lengthy message from Mister Robertson24 which, in effect, states this: that a tentative verbal agreement was reached by Mr. Robertson and General Yeh on Saturday regarding procedure and that was reduced to writing25 in Chinese and sent to the Nationalist Commissioner who agreed to Mr. Robertson’s side. The Communist Commissioner then declined to sign. He could not be reached until this morning (the 11th) at 11 a.m. Meanwhile the team met at 9 o’clock in the morning of the 11th and Colonel Davis announced the form of the agreement of procedure, stating that it was not yet delivered to him. He proposed that the team proceed with the examination of the Marine witnesses who were still standing by. The Communist representative voted no.

At 2 p.m. Commissioner Yeh submitted a new proposal for translation in which he had made more specific the agreement reached “between us yesterday afternoon”. The Commissioners met at 4 p.m. to discuss it. It contained new factors which were not previously discussed and upon which we could not agree. After contending for a [Page 10] week that Generals Hockey and Sun be interviewed, the new proposal eliminated these interviews. After a long discussion Commissioner Yeh agreed to restore them but insisted on adding the following:

Interrogate and record the testimony of the delegates of the Government force which took part in the conflict.
Interrogate and record the testimony of the Government forces’ enlisted witnesses, who took part in the conflict.

“I (that is, Robertson) pointed out that we could not record and accept as a fact in the problem of procedure the Communist claim that Government forces had participated in the conflict as this claim had been denounced both by the Marines and the Government as pure fabrication, that the truth or validity of this charge was one of the things to be determined by the investigation of the team. I offered as a substitute a clause that the team would interrogate and record the testimony of the National Government commander of the unit which the Communists alleged took part in the conflict. But this was not acceptable. The new proposal also identified Major Freese and Mr. Duke as Executive Headquarters personnel who took part in the Marines’ patrol activities. The interpreter informed me that the Chinese characters used indicated that the unit was an “armed Marine patrol” engaged in activities rather than an “escorted motor convoy”. After two hours of conversation, General Yeh suggested at 6 p.m. that we both further consider each other’s viewpoints and have another meeting. Knowing General Yeh as I do it is impossible to escape the conviction that he is delaying under orders from higher authority. As to procedure, we are right back where we started after eight days’ sessions and after eight days the team has not been allowed by Communists to hear the testimony of a single witness.”

Now, I further have a long message from Admiral Cooke,26 who is the responsible military officer in the China region for the Marines. He takes note of the protest reported in the newspapers being made by General Chou En Lai of the bombing of Yenan while the facts are still in dispute. He notes the press reports regarding the delays in Peiping, including the Communist refusal to accept testimony of the Marines and Army officers present at the time of the incident; the delays in securing safe conduct, etc. He states that in the meantime additional incidents have been reported. On August 5th an undetermined number of Chinese with Thompson sub-machine guns fired at a Marine sentry who was guarding a Marine ammunition dump near Tangku and the fire fight continued for a lengthy period. In the same morning a Marine officer in Tientsin was fired on and when a truckload of Marines was sent to investigate they ran into an ambush.

[Page 11]

Now a report27 has come in that a coal train between Kuyeh and Tientsin near Linsi ran into an explosive on the track which derailed the train. There was an escort of four Marines in the last car, or caboose. They were immediately put under fire from individuals along the road, to which they replied. Two of the Chinese were killed and none of the Marines.

Admiral Cooke protested to me over this delay; protested to me over the statements being made, the propaganda; and insists on early action and statement.

Dr. Stuart and I had a lengthy discussion of the situation this morning. We differ in part as to what is to be done. I am going to be frank and explain to you exactly what the difference is. Dr. Stuart feels that an immediate statement should be made by me of what I consider the cause of the An-ping incident and to the effect that there has been continuous delaying procedure followed by the Communists at Peiping towards the investigation of this matter. I agree with him that some such action by me is demanded under the conditions at the present time. My reluctance to this procedure, despite the fact that I feel that it probably must be done, is that it almost completely destroys any power I may have to influence the Government towards a settlement of the political disputes in China by ordinary processes of negotiation. Since I arrived in China in December, I have been told by the Generalissimo a number of times that such negotiations were not practical because the typical Communist tactics of obstruction would inevitably make them abortive. That view has been impressed on me time after time by various military and political leaders of the Government, to the effect that I was endeavoring to persuade the Government into an impossible position. I have maintained throughout that they had never given such a procedure a fair test and that, on the other hand, there had been so much provocation by irreconcilable political members of the Government and confirmed militarists that it was not practical to judge the possibilities. Now, if I make the statement that Dr. Stuart and I feel should be made at this time, it means to me that the Government would instantly seize upon this as positive proof of their claims just referred to, and therefore it would terminate any possibility of my being able to influence the Government into a position of settling the political differences with the Communist Party by the peaceful processes of negotiation. They would tell me that in the one instance in which I became involved and one which would seemingly be not too difficult of negotiation as to the simple matter of procedure, that I had failed utterly and therefore could not expect the Government to commit itself to a policy to negotiations regarding matters of vital importance to the people of China as well as to the security of the Government itself.

[Page 12]

Dr. Stuart feels that the effect of the statement would not be as drastic as I have outlined and that he had sufficient faith in General Chou’s representations of the Communist interest to feel that the political negotiations could still be entered into. On my side, I have had the Government arguments put to me so many times that I think I can clearly interpret their inevitable reactions.

There is another consideration in my mind, and that relates to the effect of such a statement by me on Executive Headquarters. I feel that it would virtually terminate the usefulness of Executive Headquarters, and the extract from Yenan propaganda which I just read to you plainly confirms that fact. Dr. Stuart did not think the result would be quite so catastrophic. You will recall my unwillingness to establish a team because I felt sure that propaganda would immediately result charging that the Government and the United States personnel had aligned against the Communist force. That is exactly what has happened. Now I have given all of my reasons for reluctance to make the statement which I do feel called upon to make. I am completely at a loss to understand the tactics of the Communist Party at this time; whether their representatives are the victims of a reaction to conventional procedure or not I do not know; whether their local leaders in Hopei and Jehol are so bitterly anti-American that they cannot easily be controlled I do not know. But it seems clear to me that their course in this matter is definitely destructive of any possibility of peaceful political settlement of the issues in China and will confirm the militaristic group and a certain political group in the Government in the policy of force.

General Chou: I appreciate your telling me the whole story concerning what you have learned with regard to the An-ping incident. I recall that in the very beginning you were reluctant to dispatch a team, but you will also recall that I insisted to have such a team. The information you received and that which I have received differ a great deal. The main points of difference are: (1) The cause of the conflict, which side is responsible. (2) The Nationalists’ part in the conflict, whether they participated. As to all the other points, such as; the convoy itself was a patrol unit; some fighting took place and both sides sustained casualties; reinforcements were sent later on; they are not points of difference and it is not necessary to discuss them. Should each side submit and publish its own report, it would form a complete opposition of two sides. With a view to avoid such opposition, I suggest that the true facts should be determined. Therefore I suggest that a prompt investigation be made of the situation so that we can at least find out what facts are acceptable to both sides.

I never expected that the matter would be stalled for 10 days. Rather I was thinking that the quicker the matter could be taken up the better it would be. Therefore on August 2nd I not only wired to [Page 13] General Yeh that he should immediately participate in such a team, but he also should send his own representatives to the field to clarify the situation so far as possible to dig out the true facts and to determine the responsibility. Unexpectedly the dispute over the procedure was raised and I learned about the question of rotation of chairmanship only from the message of Mr. Robertson as you told me. At that time you also told me that you thought such a suggestion seemed reasonable and practical. So, on the same night, I wired to General Yeh and at that time I merely told General Yeh that a decision should be made on the procedure and that the procedure should be a fair one.

On the morning of Saturday, August 10, I then told you about the procedure which was published by the Kuomintang papers and I received a report from General Yeh on the proposed Communist procedure. In effect that report and the conditions reported by the Kuomintang papers were almost the same. Early the next morning I sent a letter28 to you indicating that I thought the Communist proposal was a reasonable one which includes such points as first, to hear the report of the U. S. Marine commander; second, the report of the Communist local commander; third, the report of the local Nationalist authorities; fourth, to receive the testimony of the eye witnesses; fifth, to take any necessary actions; sixth, to form a conclusion and submit a report to the commissioners for publication. This proposal was incorporated in the instructions I sent to the Communist branch, Executive Headquarters which has paid due respect to the American side. However, the special team could not reach agreement on the matter of procedure and on Saturday the matter was referred to the Three Commissioners.

As to the matter of responsibility, the Kuomintang papers charged that the Communist side is to blame because they are obstructing the proceedings. This charge cannot be accepted because, according to the report of the Kuomintang papers (the Central News), the American and Kuomintang side only intended to hear report from the American side and from the local civilians on the situation and that would be sufficient. I feel rather embittered by such a claim because while I have given my best intention to formulate a fair basis, the proposal of the American and the Kuomintang members is not fair because even in the case of trying the war criminals as in Tokyo the International Tribunal has to hear the report of both sides and American lawyers were to be assigned as defendants for the war prisoners. General Chin, who is a representative of China, will still be crossfired by the defendants of the Japanese war prisoners. So, in the case of the An-ping incident it is only fair that a report of the Communist side should be heard by the team, before a conclusion can be formed.

[Page 14]

It appears that the American version is that they proceed with one step before considering the next one. Such a procedure would not let the Communist representative feel at ease because he knows beforehand that both the Americans and the Kuomintang members have in mind not to hear the report from the Communist side. They may make a conclusion without interrogating the Communist side. This is tantamount to forming a judgment in the absence of a defendant. This attitude of the Kuomintang and the American members as also reported by General Yeh as well as by the Kuomintang papers seems to be unreasonable to me. Even if the whole incident as alleged by the Kuomintang and American side is caused entirely by the Communist troops and without the involvement of the Nationalist troops, they still should hear the report of the Communist side. I feel that the procedure suggested by the Communists should be adopted because you also expressed to me that a procedure is necessary. I don’t feel that we can be charged as responsible for the four-day delay, or can I blame our own representative because of this delay. Even the Kuomintang papers admitted that we have made such a proposal which seems to me to be reasonable.

Regarding the propaganda after the An-ping incident, the Kuomintang papers released lavish propaganda against the Communists through the Central News Agency almost every day. Breaking all antecedents, Commissioner Cheng Kai Ming and General Tsai Wen Chih29 made public statements; and also the American side in the form of a spokesman made a statement to the press. All these statements are charging the Communists for the delay.

As to the new dispute among the commissioners on Saturday, I am not yet informed about the conditions of the dispute. Mr. Robertson also did not indicate expressly in his message as to what the new factors are. It appears as if the Communists are demanding a report from the Nationalist troops or representatives of the Nationalist units who took part in the conflict. The Nationalist side denied that it participated in the conflict and it appears to me that a solution of the procedure can be easily settled because we are to have a report of the local Nationalist authority anyhow. That authority may lend evidence that it has not participated in the conflict while the Communist side will have to bring forward evidence to show that it has. I learned that our forces are reported to have captured some arms from the Nationalists, but anyhow the local Nationalist military authority can prove their absence. Before I have received any report from Commissioner Yeh it may appear that the delay may not be necesary. On this matter I will take the responsibility to wire to Commissioner Yeh to get the matter clarified, but I still associate myself with the [Page 15] original proposed procedure. If Mr. Robertson would also accept it then it would be a very good thing.

There are two other points I would like to mention:

After the outbreak of this incident on July 29 we still had no direct contact with the local Communist forces nor has Commissioner Yeh this support. The American side has now received a complete report from its own people and they have the opportunity to meet their personnel and see that they have been fired upon. Of course there is a bitter sentiment among the staff of the American side. This is quite comprehensible. On the Nationalist side they have facility of transport. They can easily establish contact with the National troops. On our side from the angle of transportation we are entirely at a loss. I don’t know whether Commissioner Yeh has brought up this point to Executive Headquarters. It appears to me that he did not know what was actually going on at An-ping except the first report which was released by the Yenan broadcast. No further report came in so we still are at a loss on what actually happened there. This places us in a very difficult position. It is for this reason that on August 1st I immediately wired to General Yeh asking him to send his own people to investigate the matter. Now on the many points you brought up I am still very confused because I have received no report of my own. We must hear our own local commander’s report and collect our own eye witnesses before we can comment on this matter.
After the An-ping incident the Kuomintang immediately sent army units to such places as Hsian-chu and Paoti and other places along the Tientsin-Peiping highway to launch attacks against the Communists. In An-ping we originally had an inspection station on the highway. All cars passing through that point had to report to the station. According to the original arrangement the American side will be exempted from inspection but they have to carry flags and other signals to make it known to the Communist side. Later on it was not fully practiced. Some firing occurred sometimes between the U. S. Marines. On these matters the Kuomintang is already grasping the incident to launch attacks against the Communists and drive us out despite the fact that we actually evacuated from An-ping itself. No troops were left.

Now, you have just mentioned the difficulties and the reservations you have on the effect of this incident on the negotiations. I fully appreciate that. The day before yesterday I also explained that difficulties were caused by the stationing of the U. S. Marines along the railway lines and highways because although they gave some help to the Executive Headquarters, they simply constituted assistance to the Nationalist side. The Nationalist side is using those military garrisoned railways and highways as their basis to start operations. The Marines are carrying out the mission of repatriating the Japanese and maintaining communications. Therefore they feel that they can have free action and sometimes they fire a shot. It also occurs that sometimes the people get hurt. They do not care very much about that.

[Page 16]

The American Marines are virtually assisting the Nationalist troops, and freak accidents are bound to occur. Hence if the matter cannot be settled no one can be sure that no other incident will take place. I have told you very frankly about that. You also told me your views on this matter. There is a possibility, for example, of withdrawing the Marines, but then you suggested that they be replaced by the Nationalist troops and that was not accepted by us. As a matter of fact, despite our objection, the Nationalists are still sending reinforcements to several places—Tsingtao and Tientsin. I am wondering, as another alternative, whether it can be met this way; that the Marines controlled areas be made completely neutral to both parties so that the Nationalist troops would also be committed not to enter those areas. The area will be completely garrisoned and completely maintained by the Marines. This may be a better way to prevent any unfortunate incident. Otherwise the situation is geting more and more complicated day by day. Under such circumstances we are forced into a dead corner. While I fully appreciate the consideration and the difficulty you have in mind with regard to this incident, I also wish to express the difficulties as I see it. I hope you will carefully weigh the suggestion I just referred to. The Nationalists are making provocations and sowing dissension between the Marines against the Communists. This is an urgent matter even when there is no incident.

Of course, I admit that if those areas are declared as a completely neutral zone, there still remains the possibility that some plot can be staged, seeing that the administrative authority is still in the hands of the Kuomintang and that some danger still exists. But it would alleviate the situation a great deal.

Anyhow I wish to reiterate this one fact which relates to the difference of the attitude of the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. While we requested that Americans would withdraw its economic and military support of the Kuomintang we never implied that such assistance should be stopped forever. There should be no question about such cooperation, but on the Kuomintang side they cooperate a different way. They say that it is impractical to negotiate with the Communists and that the Communists cannot be trusted. What they want is to monopolize the relation with the U. S. while we are only trying for a fair and equitable cooperation.

As to the firing in Tientsin which you just mentioned, I don’t [doubt?] that it can be by the Communists within the city itself.

Now, regarding the dispute over the procedure, I will immediately send a wire to General Yeh expounding my views as I just told you. I think the six points which I mentioned are very fair and can be adopted without much amendment. If Mr. Robertson would also agree to this proposal then I would feel very gratified. I still don’t [Page 17] know whether Mr. Robertson would agree to that proposal, in view of the new factors which Mr. Robertson mentioned. Regardless of whether the Nationalist side did take part in the conflict or not, a report from the Nationalist side seems essential.

General Marshall: I am not so much interested in the propaganda aspects except to quote them as they reflect what I had anticipated and commented on to you. You spoke at length regarding the unfairness of the Communists not being accorded the opportunity to present their side of the case according to the procedure proposed by Mister Robertson. I have not seen what General Yeh communicates to you but I have been exceeding frank in quoting, or actually furnishing, you with what Mister Robertson reports to me. The message which arrived this morning provided that “A visit to the area of conflict to interview and record the testimony of such Communist field commanders and other witnesses as may be made available.” That would certainly permit the Communists to present their side of the case. The proposal also included the testimony of the American general commanding the Marine division, the National Commander of the 11th War Zone and the senior Communist commander in the area. It further included the interview and recording of the testimony of such other witnesses as each branch considered necessary to establish the facts directly related to the incident. Now that certainly includes a full opportunity for the Communists to present their case in the investigation, and I therefore do not understand that portion of your presentation that implied that the Communists were being barred from such opportunity. That would be completely repugnant (that is, antagonistic) to all American ideas in such matters. The more serious aspect of the case is indicated to me in this message of this morning whereby the Communist representative insisted on including in the program statements presumably to be accepted as facts which were actually issues to be investigated. I referred to those specific points. I will repeat them again because they represent to me the definite Communist obstructional tactics. The first was this proposal from General Yeh, “Interrogate and record the testimony of the delegates of the Government forces which took part in the conflict.” That is a deliberate insertion of something that is yet to be determined as a fact and which, if accepted as part of the schedule, of the program, would obviate any necessity for such investigation.

The second point of that nature read, “Interrogate and record the testimony of the Government forces’ enlisted witnesses who took part in the conflict.” It further proposed that Major Freese and Mr. Duke, who were passengers in the convoy, be referred to as “Executive Headquarters personnel who took part in the Marine patrol activities”, which means of course stating in the record before any investigation that this force was in no way a convoy but was instead a patrol. [Page 18] Further it implies that those two individuals were members of the patrol and not members of Executive Headquarters, which agency has been established in China to promote a peaceful settlement. Now, those particular proposals by General Yeh to me are definite, absolutely definite, indications of a manoeuver either to obstruct or to secure action preliminary to investigation, which would determine critical factors regarding the incident.

Mr. Robertson uses this expression, “Knowing General Yeh as I do, it is impossible to escape the conviction that he is delaying under orders from higher authority”. I am not implying that the higher authority is you because I think you are far too wise to have this matter develop in the manner it has. I must, therefore, assume that it is strong influence from the Communist leaders in that region or strong pressure from his leading subordinates in Peiping, who in the past have indicated a far more antagonistic attitude than General Yeh, or direct instructions from Yenan. I say this because General Yeh enjoys the admiration of Americans and you may even say their affection. They all like him. They all trust him. That is a matter of common remark. I think you are unwisely judging American attitude in the light of your long experience with the battle of wits and propaganda and manoeuvers between the Communist Party and the Central Government.

To me it is literally impossible for a group of Americans educated in the standards of the Army, or the Navy, or the Marines who could be involved in deliberate misrepresentations in such an investigation. A single individual might, but never a group. Our standards are too high and our judgments are too severe to encourage or permit such collusion. The first person to react, if there were any such evidence, would be Admiral Cooke, commander, who would immediately bring the individual officer to trial at the hazard of his commission and his career. So, I agree with General Chou that it is highly desirable to have a fact finding group. At the same time there is no doubt whatever in my mind as to the main factors in the case or that there is any action or intention on the part of the American authorities on the ground to conceal the facts or to bend them to their advantage. I cannot think of any more to be said at this moment, except to emphasize the importance of straight-forward action without delay. I answered your letter last night but it was not retyped until this morning and then had to be retyped again because of information recently received, and now still later comes this message I have been quoting from this morning which bears very directly on the subject. I will have the principal portions of this message that I have been quoting typed and sent over to your house early this afternoon so that there can be no confusion as to just what was said.

General Chou: I will not make a lengthy comment. I know from [Page 19] personal contact that the American friends are full of liberal spirit and therefore it is impossible for a group of Americans to make a deliberate misrepresentation. However, from my personal contact I also have the impression that though they are not in collusion with the Kuomintang, on the other hand they are quite sentimental, speaking as individuals. Though they do not make a deliberate misrepresentation they are guided by personal sentiments and may feel at the same time that they are fair but actually they do not deal with the matter cool-headedly and objectively.

About the discussion I just had with you with regard to the dispute in the Executive Headquarters, we were referring to different periods. I was referring to the stage prior to Saturday because I have not received any news from General Yeh regarding the discussion, etc., so at the present time I can only rely on the report of Mr. Robertson. It might be by this time Mr. Robertson has agreed to such a procedure and, if so, the thing is now as I have presumed. I believe that any further argument seems out of place. The reason that this procedure should be referred to the Three Commissioners is just as I mentioned in my letter to you; that the special committee itself could not resolve the matter for four days, and that the attitude of the American representative has been that he would not accept a procedure for the moment but he prefers to record the testimony of the American eye witness first. The Communists are afraid of such a situation because without a fixed procedure, except recording the American eye witnesses alone, may imply that the fact will be established on the basis of American testimonies. Therefore they would not feel enough assurance. Therefore, I would like to point out that we were referring to two different periods. If the matter stands now as Mr. Robertson has stated then I would like to state that it is not advisable to first accept matters which are still to be settled. It is not advisable to do so. I do not want to think that this action as reported by Mr. Robertson would have great effect of the course of events. It might be due to a misunderstanding; or due to the advice of the subordinate members of General Yeh; or due to the insistence of the local Communist commanders, because they claim firmly that the National troops did participate. Anyway we should not make too much inference on this attitude of General Yeh as reported by Mr. Robertson but we should deal with the matter business-like. I fully agree with the conclusion that you have just made that we should deal with it in a straightforward manner.

Regarding the latest Marine incident, I learned about this incident from the newspaper report by the Central News. I immediately wired to Peiping to inquire about this incident yesterday and at this moment I cannot say what is the actual situation. Therefore, I am afraid that as the matter now stands, similar things might happen later on. [Page 20] It might be due to participation of the Kuomintang, or due to misunderstanding of the Communists and Marines. I am very much worried about the situation and that is why I brought up the status of the Marines. I hope definite measures can be worked out so that we could get rid of possibilities of incidents.

  1. John L. Soong, U. S. Army interpreter.
  2. Chang Wen-chin, personal secretary to General Chou En-lai.
  3. Telegram No. 1302, August 12, p. 6.
  4. Kuomintang.
  5. Telegram No. 6768, August 11, p. 3.
  6. See memorandum of August 10 by the Three Commissioners of Executive Headquarters to Field Team No. 25, p. 329.
  7. August 10, not printed.
  8. Cabled to General Marshall via Navy channels; not printed.
  9. MM 117, August 10, vol. ix, p. 1507.
  10. Chief of Staff of the Chinese Government Branch at Executive Headquarters.