The Ambassador in China (Stuart) to the Secretary of State

No. 109

Sir: I have the honor to comment on the most recent political trends in this country. In general the deterioration, military, economic and psychological, is accelerating. The last of these is both cause and effect in the armies and in fiscal matters. It is also becoming more apparent even in the higher ranks of government officials. Chinese fatalism and the passive acceptance of what they feel cannot be helped paralyze the will. The lack of solidarity, except in the central core of the Kuomintang, is a fatal weakness. It was this that I had chiefly in mind in my Statement to the Chinese people. The Government leaders saw in this principally one more criticism of themselves and resented it which may be partially due to an almost pathological sensitivity and a fear of whatever might further disturb the market and weaken morale.

Apart from the loss of morale, the military disasters derive from bad generalship and shortage of equipment. In Manchuria it is now chiefly the latter. After at last removing the leaders whose incompetence [Page 129] you repeatedly pointed out the Generalissimo sent General Chen Cheng94 who was ill and was caught by the Communist “sixth offensive” last autumn when he was in the midst of his attempted reforms. General Wei Li-huang seems to be a really good man but his desperate need of ammunition has been fully reported by us. As this leaks out among the troops the already low morale may crack completely.

General Barr95 is beginning to give much-needed advice, primarily in the logistics of relief for Mukden. I am more and more pleased with his whole approach to his assignment—improvements within the Army Advisory Group itself, social relations with Chinese, his careful study of all factors entering into the problem, and especially his dealing with the Generalissimo. The choice of him by General Eisenhower96 and yourself seems to me to have been thoroughly confirmed by his record since arrival here. I have tried to impress on the Generalissimo that all such advice is informal and confidential and shall continue to do so. But even with such precautions I am fearful of leaks. General Barr himself is on guard against this danger.

The Chinese public, including officials all through the Government, are already talking as though Manchuria were lost and that North China will follow soon after, including ultimately the whole region north of the Yangtze River. The disintegrating effects of this fatalistic mood are seen not only in the spiritless attitude of the troops and the mounting inflation, but also in the attempts of individuals to take their families and funds to some haven of safety such as Hong Kong or Formosa. Fantastic rumors succeed one another, many of them started no doubt by exchange speculators. On the other hand, the common danger is bringing together hitherto unfriendly groups within the Government and the determination to fight Communism at any cost is hardening among almost all the more influential leaders. There are some among them who look in desperation to the Soviet Union—rather than the Chinese Communists—on the ground that anything is better than the lengthening of the present distress, But their influence is almost negligible as long as President Chiang stays in office. None the less there are clear indications that Russia is becoming more interested in Chinese affairs and is offering to mediate in the civil strife.

The present tension is accentuating the peculiar Chinese dread of public criticism and the fallacious habit of thought to the effect that the maintenance of proper appearances is the supremely important [Page 130] emphasis. This “make-believe” is a deeply-ingrained instinct and helps to explain why in the present debacle Government officials issue statements which are manifestly unreal and why they fear and resent any revelations to the contrary. It is hard for them to break away from government by fiat in the effort to preserve reassuring illusions. This also explains in part the repressive policy toward freedom of thought and expression. I have in speeches and personal conversations, and especially in my recent message to the Chinese people, gone far beyond the diplomatic proprieties in a rather futile effort to bring about better understanding and cooperation between the Government and the large numbers of loyal, public-spirited citizens. I am more than ever convinced that the top men in the Government really want to effect the needed reforms and that the great majority of the thinking people, although very critical of the Government and supinely passive, do not want China to be communized. In this respect, therefore, the situation remains hopeful. I have been eagerly waiting for a renewal, either within Government circles or among the intellectuals, of a new patriotic movement with something of the passionate enthusiasm which I had witnessed in 1911, and again repeatedly in anti-Japanese resistance. The Communist Party could not long withstand any such unified and determined awakening and our assistance could then be so much more easily and effectively given. It may be that this urge will even yet take form before it is too late, although the present rapid demoralization will be increasingly difficult to neutralize. The economic aspects of the problems have already almost reached the point where even the highest morale could not do very much to alter the hard objective facts.

What may be expected, therefore, is withdrawal by degrees from Manchuria to south of the Yangtze River, or quite possibly the breakup into regional and loosely federated units. The Central Government instead of removing the capital to Canton might encourage the strongest men to scatter and carry on, each in his own territory, with virtually independent authority. This would have the advantage of more direct control of local administration and of rallying militia bands to protect their homeside from bandits or Communists. These federated units might maintain a common organization for foreign affairs, etc. T. V. Soong97 is making an excellent beginning in Kuang-tung and is reaching out into Hunan. These two provinces with Kuangsi and in time perhaps Fukien and Kiangsi might be grouped into a single bloc.

General Fu Tso-yi is another instance of what one competent man can accomplish. His professional ability combined with moral purpose [Page 131] and genuine concern alike for the people and his own soldiers have already brought a measure of order and of hope in the north. He is cooperating well with the newly appointed Civil Governor of Hopei.98 His chief fear is that some of his troops will be withdrawn for the defense of Manchuria.

This last sentence suggests the importance of an over-all strategy. At present there seems to be no such plan and the Government is usually on the defensive or at best recovers towns which the Communists have abandoned. I am still strongly of the opinion that what the Chinese need most is technical advice and assistance in Service of Supply. If this can be broadly interpreted so as to include replacement training centers and the provision for troops essential to reviving their lost morale, there seems to me good reason to hope for a definite reversal in the present unfavorable trend. The training should include inspiration and indoctrination, and the American advice should be explicit and insistent as to personnel. Further advice from us as to reforms in civil administration and effective publicity would be heeded not too reluctantly in their present mood of despondency and the renewed hope in the military outlook. Such a program is almost provided for in principle within our present policy and the consequences are so enormously important that prompt implementation seems to be abundantly worth the effort. All of us here will continue to assist you as best we can in whatever further instructions you give.

Respectfully yours,

J. Leighton Stuart
  1. Former director of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Headquarters in the Northeast.
  2. Maj. Gen. David G. Barr, Chief of U. S. Army Advisory Group.
  3. General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, Chief of Staff, U.S. Army.
  4. Governor of Kwangtung and Chairman of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s Canton Headquarters.
  5. Lt.-Gen. Chu Hsi-chun.