299. Memorandum of Conversation0


  • Communist China


  • Mr. Duncan Wilson, Former British Chargé d’Affaires in Peiping
  • Mr. A.J. de la Mare, Counselor, British Embassy
  • Mr. Marshall Green, Acting Assistant Secretary, FE
  • Mr. George Morgan, Deputy Assistant Secretary, S/P
  • Mr. Edwin W. Martin, Director, CA
  • Mr. Josiah W. Bennett, Acting Deputy Director, CA

In the course of a call on Mr. Green on the afternoon of September 18 Mr. Wilson, responding to questions put by Mr. Green and others present, gave the following views on the situation in Communist China.1

Mr. Wilson opened by saying that when he first went to China in the summer of 1957 he had thought that, if the Moscow–Peiping Alliance were to be split, the leverage should be applied in Peiping. He was now of the opinion that just the reverse was the case and the leverage, if any, should be applied in Moscow. Amplifying his remark at a later point, he said he saw three causes of stress in the Sino-Soviet alliance:

Soviet fear that failure of Chinese grandiose economic plans would result in Chinese Communist efforts to get the USSR to bail them out in a big way;
The Chinese Communists’ inclination to push a tougher, more aggressive foreign policy than the Soviets;
Ideological differences, particulary over the communes. Wilson said that he was inclined to disagree with CIA on the relative importance of this factor and felt that ideological differences were third rather than first in importance.

Mr. Green noted the trends of 1958 in the direction of frantic internal activity—the communes and the “big leap forward”—combined with aggressive foreign policies and asked Mr. Wilson what explanation he had for this change in Communist policies. The reply was that, while of course it was impossible to know, he, Wilson, felt that the success of the Russian Sputnik and the recession in the United States may have been partly responsible for a mood of over-confidence in Peiping. He said that [Page 592] he thought the Communists attached a great deal of importance to the recession in the United States and he had noted that it was given considerable attention in the Communist press.

One interesting point stressed by Wilson is the Chinese Communists’ way of offending and alienating foreign diplomats in their country. He noted that English diplomats by now were “used to being hated everywhere they went” but that it was quite a new experience for the representatives of the newly created Asian countries. The Indians, Indonesians and others have become extremely bitter at the insults and abuses they have encountered at the hands of Communist officials. In Peiping there was always a group of “good countries” and a group of “bad countries”. The bad countries were always the target of especially unpleasant treatment.

Asked about the behavior of Soviet Russians in Communist China, Wilson said that they kept very much to themselves. They lived in two large self-contained buildings and seldom appeared except when they were to be seen shaking hands madly at official receptions. Wilson had the impression that the Soviets were almost as much isolated in Peiping as any other foreign group, and given the same treatment by the Chinese Communists.

One phase of the prevailing mood in Peiping is what Wilson described as an anti-intellectual movement. Attacks on intellectuals have been carried even to the point where professors are told that they have more to learn from the students than the students from them.

Asked about the views of the Chinese Communists towards birth control, Wilson said this was a puzzling one, but it appears that the party has retreated from its former policy of promoting it. There are evidences that party officials make an effort to limit the size of their families; but the present line is generally that a human being is a producer, not a consumer. Perhaps it is a case of the technicians having discovered that birth control is not really possible in China, while the ideologues have discovered that it is not necessary.

Wilson several times mentioned that he in Peiping was in no position to observe certain facets of the situation and he mentioned that certain types of information were best obtained by a close study of the newspapers. He himself had only two friends outside official circles with whom he could have conversations of interest. The former Indian ambassador had told him that since the summer of 1958 he had had no worthwhile conversations whatever with Communist officials.

Asked about how people lived in China and whether or not they were better off than before, Wilson said that so far as the cities were concerned it was quite apparent that up until last April times were very hard indeed. Shortages of food and other goods were very evident. With reference to production of motor vehicles, he told the story of the English [Page 593] representative of an automobile factory in Coventry who, after visiting the Changchun Truck Factory, reported that the assembly line had had to shut down for several weeks in order to convert from production of trucks to cars for the big parade this coming October. After only a handful of cars had been produced, it reconverted to the production of trucks.

On the communes, Wilson said that the Communists had backtracked greatly. He said he thought the communes now were little more than units for the organization of labor and collection of taxes. He gave it as his opinion that the most difficult feature of the communes to implement was not so much the reorganization of family life as the “free supply system”. The latter has now gone out of favor and the return of money incentives is very much in evidence. Wilson said that although the communes and the “great leap forward” have failed and have been pushed somewhat into the background, the same basic factor in the Communist psychology which produced them remains. We can expect similar drives to be launched at almost any time.

Asked whether he thought this “crazy trend” in Communist China’s internal and external policies was likely to continue so that we could expect more and crazier things to be done as time went by, Wilson said yes. It seems apparent that the Chinese Communists are not willing to learn from anybody else’s mistakes, even those of the Russians. Instead, they are bent on making all their own mistakes and learning the hard way.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 661.93/9–1859. Secret. Drafted by Bennett.
  2. Wilson also met on September 18 with a larger group of Department and USIA officers; a memorandum of the conversation is ibid., 793.00/9–1859.