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

No. 103

Sir: I have the honor to refer to the Department’s Secret Instruction of December 24, 194785 (which was not received in the Embassy until January 21, 1948) and the Department’s Top Secret Circular Airgram of December 8, 1947, 10:45 A. M.86 concerning the United States information policy. The Embassy is in complete agreement [Page 124] with the necessity expressed by the Department for urgent reconsideration of our information policy in the face of the mounting and unending flow of abuse and false charges to which the United States is being subjected by the Soviet Union and its allied communist groups throughout the world. As the Embassy has previously pointed out, this campaign against the United States is having measurable success in China. This success is partially attributable to the internal conditions inherent in the Chinese situation and the failure of the National Government to cope with these conditions in a satisfactory manner. It is also partly the result of our failure to meet in a convincing manner the charges preferred against us. The Embassy is in substantial agreement with the outline of objectives and procedures as set forth by the Department; it would however make a few observations for the consideration of the Department.

On the basis of information presently available, the Embassy would be most reluctant to recommend any specific course of action. To do so with any reasonable prospect of success, we believe we should first have a competent and detailed study of Chinese public opinion by someone of recognized competence in the field such as Harold D. Lasswell.87 In distinction to other areas in the world, relatively little has been done in the field of public opinion in China. Public opinion in Europe and in the other American republics follows patterns and cycles which are sufficiently similar to our own so that we can with reasonable prospects of success plot a course of action and have some idea of the results we can expect to obtain. Furthermore, their media of expression and dissemination of information are comparable to our own. The same cannot be said of China where patterns of thought and of methods of expression are totally different. For the present, any campaign of information which may secure the objective we desire does so purely by luck. The Chinese even when they seem to have a fairly adequate command of the English language still do not speak our language and words do not have the same meaning to them that they do to us, to say nothing of the reaction when the language is Chinese. Even individual Chinese who, through schooling and long residence abroad, have acquired a thorough command of western media of expression and psychology, find great difficulty in projecting themselves into a sympathetic pattern of understanding with their fellow countrymen. It is no exaggeration to say that the western-oriented Shanghai Chinese probably are more hated by the mass of Chinese than any other group in the world. On the other hand, there are a few foreigners, some even who have no knowledge of the Chinese language, who for unknown reasons are wholeheartedly welcomed into traditional Chinese circles. To cite another example, everything we know about customary Chinese usage, [Page 125] politeness and face-saving, would certainly seem to counsel against a too direct or blunt approach. Yet, there is probably no line of propaganda being fed to Chinese public opinion at present which is any more abusive, insulting and at times even foul than what the Chinese Communists are directing at the National Government and at the United States. It is apparent that this line is not without success. It is important that we should know why. Material which is put out and which superficially at least seems to us cut out of the same pattern is sometimes acceptable to Chinese and is sometimes offensive to their sensibilities. There is as yet no obvious explanation for the variation in reaction.

By the same token, we are daily aware of the fact that whereas National Government propaganda is seldom believed by the bulk of Chinese public opinion, that which is distributed by the Chinese Communists is accepted altogether too frequently in uncritical fashion. The endless repetition of the charges against the United States are in fact accepted by large groups, even those which should know better.

At present we are in no position to evaluate the effectiveness of Soviet propaganda as distinguished from that of the Chinese Communists. There is some reason to believe that it is not wholly without success. To counteract it we must know what is being said, what is accepted and why.

The above factors lead us to the conclusion that unless an American information plan is based solidly on an accurate knowledge of Chinese public opinion it will not secure the desired objectives and in instances may even prove to be positively harmful to American interests. We therefore feel compelled to recommend that any program be preceded by an intensive and competent study of Chinese public opinion. This study could be carried out directly under the aegis of the Embassy or if it seemed desirable it could be worked out under the cover of a special project by the United States Educational Foundation in China.88

In view of what we consider the very real urgency of an effective program, the Embassy is now working on one or two intensive programs with specific and limited objectives which will shortly be submitted for the consideration of the Department.

The Embassy would welcome the Department’s comments and reactions.

Respectfully yours,

For the Ambassador:
Lewis Clark

  1. Telegram No. 1567 not printed; it suggested that until policy directive and actions thereunder were decided upon the Embassy refer to the Department specific projects proposed to counteract anti-U.S. propaganda (811.20200(D)/12–947).
  2. Not printed.
  3. Professor of law, associate editor of the Public Opinion Quarterly.
  4. Established under the United States-China agreement signed at Nanking on November 10, 1947, Department of State Treaties and Other International Acts Series No. 1687, or 61 Stat. (pt. 4) 3582.