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16. Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant for Special Operations to the Secretary of Defense (Lansdale) to Secretary of Defense McNamara0


  • China

The recent strong comments by Allen Dulles about troubles inside China1 should give pause to all of our policy makers. “The Great Leap Forward” in China apparently has landed it in the soup.

I have talked with some of his staff most concerned with China, with “China hands,” and with Chinese friends. They picture a China weakened [Page 39]by overwork and malnutrition, a political regime being forced by growing discontent to start relaxing its stringent rules, and clear indications of more trouble to come. It might well be the time to initiate some actions inside China and to keep the pressures on.

The immediate troubles in China stem from malnutrition and exhaustion. Unlike historic natural disaster areas in China, 1961 also includes North China. Millet and wheat are not on the market. There is similar shortage of rice in the south. And, this has happened prior to the usual “starvation period” of April-May. A combination of an economy dislocated to fit a political theory, bad weather, and floods brought this about.

Last year was a bad year. This year is worst. Next year might continue the trend. 1958, a good crop year, produced 212-million tons of grains (wheat, millet, rice). The estimate for 1961, with some 50-million more mouths to feed, is about 180-million tons of grains. Meat, fish, and oils are disappearing from Chinese diets. Conditions have reawakened the old Chinese political saying, “Three bad harvests and the mandate from heaven changes.”

Intelligence estimates now being compiled probably will describe the Chinese people as tired from the long hours of work under the commune system, weak from hunger, but taking their suffering with resignation. Despite trouble in the Army in Shantung and the granary riots there, in Hankow, and on Hainan not long ago, it is not believed that China is on the point of general rebellion. Chinese are realists and know that they would have little chance of succeeding—unless helped from the outside.

There is little information on the morale of the Army. Since the military have been a favored class under the Communists, get their rations even when the people starve, and are under the strong control of Lin Piao,2 it is probable that the Army is still effective. However, a strong psychological campaign could change this. There are reports that Army men are sending part of their rations home. Some observers feel that Mao wouldn’t dare undertake an adventure with his Army now, despite his threats to do so.

In summary, Defense responsibilities for our national security dictate that we should make sure that the U.S. takes a hard look at our policy towards China at this time. Holding back from permitting probing actions inside China, feeling that our Seventh Fleet can be looked upon merely as a diplomatic pawn, or giving undue weight to Chou En-lai’s political gambits, might well be exactly the wrong thing to do today. The threat of China has hung heavy over our heads in Asia. It may well be that we can start changing this in 1961.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, OSD Files: FRC 65 A 3464, 091 China. Secret. Also sent to Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell L. Gilpatric, and copies were sent to Lemnitzer and Nitze.
  2. Not further identified.
  3. Minister of Defense in the People’s Republic of China.