― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia, James Bradley
In this book, James Bradley details the involvement of the United States in China, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century through the end of World War Two. I have previously written about his views on Pearl Harbor as he describes in this book, disagreeing with his interpretation. Despite the disagreement, I find the book very worthwhile in understanding the history of this time and place.
I have struggled with how to write about this book – several posts covering the story in some detail, or one post as an overview. I have decided on this single, albeit long, post – there is so much to the detail that I would almost re-write the book if I went into any amount of detail. I think if this overview captures your attention it would seem the best thing I can suggest is to read the book.
The Pusher Don't Care if You Live or if You Die
HT: Hoyt Axton
There is another line from this song (best known version performed by Steppenwolf) that would be more appropriate for this section, but taking the Lord’s name in vain is something I would rather avoid.
The Americans who got rich by supplying opium to the Chinese is almost a who’s who of wealth and power. Bradley’s primary focus – as it is a name that effected Asia for the next hundred years – is Warren Delano, grandfather of Franklin. Warren is the first famous (notorious) character for whom I find no Wikipedia page, although if you know where to look you will find him (along with a mention of the opium he traded).
But Warren isn’t alone in creating generational wealth from this trade, for example how about Samuel Russell, founder of Russell and Company (from whom a young Warren secured employ)? He was cousin of William Huntington Russell who was co-founder of the Skull and Bones Secret Society at Yale University.
In 1856, with several other Bonesmen, [William] incorporated Skull and Bones as the Russell Trust, later the Russell Trust Association.
Then there is Robert Bennet Forbes, a member of the Forbes family of Boston. From here you will find John Forbes Kerry and Michael Paine. The first one should be familiar to all, but who is the second?
Lee Harvey Oswald rented a room in Dallas but stored some of his possessions in [Michael] Paine’s garage, including a supposed rifle wrapped in a blanket which Paine thought to be camping equipment. Paine's wife helped Oswald get a job at the Texas School Book Depository. Paine's testimony would later become a central feature of the Warren Commission's investigation of the assassination, particularly in regard to the presence of the purported assassination rifle in the garage of his family home.
Then there is John Perkins Cushing, another Russell and Company Partner. Is it coincidence that one Caleb Cushing negotiated a treaty designed to continue and expand access to the lucrative trade?
U.S. President John Tyler chose Massachusetts Congressman Caleb Cushing as his representative in treaty negotiations with the Chinese. Cushing and his counterparts reached the terms of the treaty quickly and signed it at Wangxia, a suburb of the Portuguese port city of Macau, in 1844.
Yes, Caleb and John are kin.
That’s enough of that. From literary effect, it would be appropriate to insert that forbidden (to me) line from the song here.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
Missionaries played a key role in the development of the relations between the United States and China. The Chinese would make good Christians, Americans were constantly told. And American Christians would donate.
The former missionary, Arthur Henderson Smith wrote the most popular manual for American churchmen going to China, Chinese Characteristics:
China can never be reformed from within…She needs a new life in every individual soul…The manifold needs of China…will be met permanently, completely, only by Christian civilization.
Of course, Charles Denby, the US minister to China, had another use for the missionaries:
Missionaries are the pioneers of trade and commerce.
And one of the biggest trades for the Americans was opium; a new meaning to “salt of the earth,” I guess.
Missionary Reverend Absalom Sydenstricker’s daughter, Pearl, grew up watching her father preach countless sermons to these Chinese peasants. Regarding her father’s sermons to the Chinese, she would write:
They did not know what he meant by sin, guilt, and atonement, or who this man was who wanted to save them, or why he did. They stared, half listening, dropping to sleep.
Yet the missionaries raised significant financial support from back home.
She recalls her father carrying a big stick to beat back the dogs sicced on him, and to defend himself from the angry mobs chasing him out of town. The reverend recalls making perhaps about ten converts in ten years of work.
Yet someone funded him for ten years.
Why would you care about Pearl Sydenstricker? You might know her better by her married name, Buck.
You might know her novel, The Good Earth:
At the same time that Walt Disney was creating lovable characters like Mickey Mouse, Buck created the Noble Chinese Peasants, whose major attraction was that they embodied American values.
Both equally fictitious characters. This was the only book most Americans would ever read about China; and, boy, was it read:
The Good Earth became a phenomenal blockbuster, the only twentieth-century book to top Publishers Weekly bestseller lists two years in a row (1931 and 1932).
Another East Coast missionary to answer the call was Reverend Henry W. Luce. This one is not so tricky. His son was Henry Luce, founder of Time, Inc. Luce the younger developed a reputation of inventing facts, and he invented many facts when it came to China:
Beijing was China’s Boston, Shanghai was New York, Nanking was Washington, Hankow was Chicago, and southern Canton was “the teaming, sultry New Orleans of China.”
Just like home, with people just like us.
It should be remembered: just twenty-five years earlier, Japan was the extension of the Anglo race in the Far East. After the US over-ran the Philippines (the White Man’s Burden), Teddy Roosevelt sent Taft to cut a deal with the Japanese: you can have Korea and Manchuria, leave us the Philippines.
In February 1941 Luce wrote an editorial for Life magazine entitled “The American Century.” He defined Asia’s place in this American Century with a piece in Fortune entitled “The New China.” In “The American Century,” he called for US global domination; in “The New China,” he described a place that existed only in the American imagination – Pearl Buck’s China, if you will.
But back to their missionary parents: the Chinese couldn’t understand why they should embrace an exclusively white God and his white Son. It was insulting to be told that the American way was superior to their ancient Chinese culture.
The one lesson that the Chinese peasants learned very well: the missionaries were friends with the opium smugglers.
Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch
A slight detour in the story is called for…
The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882:
The Chinese Exclusion Act was a United States federal law signed by President Chester A. Arthur on May 6, 1882. It was one of the most significant restrictions on free immigration in US history, prohibiting all immigration of Chinese laborers….The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first law implemented to prevent a specific ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. It was finally repealed by the Magnuson Act on December 17, 1943.
The Statue of Liberty was dedicated four years later, in 1886.
Big labor didn’t want to compete against the Chinese laborer. Riots and massacres against Chinese living in the United States were regularly reported. Rock Springs, Wyoming, will serve as a representative example:
…a windy and dusty coal-mining town that produced almost 50 percent of the coal that fueled the Transcontinental Railroad. Seven hundred to nine hundred Chinese lived in Rock Springs, along with about three hundred whites.
On September 2, 1885, the white miners and others decided to solve their “Chinese problem.” As described by the first Wyoming state official on the scene:
Not a living Chinaman – man, woman, or child – was left in town, where 700 to 900 had lived the day before, and not a single house, shanty, or structure of any kind, that had ever been inhabited by a Chinaman was left unburned. The smell of burning human flesh was sickening and almost unendurable, and was plainly discernable for more than a mile along the railroad both east and west.
The justice of the peace was a dues paying member of the Knights of Labor. Despite sixteen white miners charged, there were no convictions.
In this reality, at the same time Americans could believe that the Chinese in China were (or could be) just like them.
Behind Every Great Man is a Great Woman
Chiang Kai-shek was the “great man” – just ask Henry Luce or pretty much any American government official speaking on the record. I believe Chiang needs little introduction.
The “great woman”? For now, let’s just say she was one of the daughters of Charlie Soong.
So who is Charlie Soong?
Charlie Soong was a wealthy Shanghai publisher and mill owner and one of [Sun Yat-sen’s] key moneymen.
Charlie Soong came to America at a time when it was rather difficult for a man from China to come to America. The Southern Methodists, however, embraced him; he was baptized in 1880. He attended Trinity College (now Duke University) and Vanderbilt, where he was awarded a degree in theology in 1885.
He returned to Shanghai to preach to the city’s pagans. He quickly realized that very few of his countrymen cared to be Christianized or Americanized. However, having lived amongst the Christians in the United States:
Soong understood the difference between the reality in China and America’s New China mirage…while…few Chinese would submit to being Christianized, there was a lot of money to be earned from American Christians who believed that mirage.
“Yeah, but what about the great woman?” Patience, young Grasshopper; I’m coming to that.
Charlie had three daughters (Ailing, Chingling, and Mayling, and one son (Tse-ven, called T.V.). All of his children were provided with an American education – Harvard, Wellesley, and Georgia’s Wesleyan College.
Ailing, a personal assistant to Sun Yat-sen (until his sexual advances drove her away), married H.H. Kung, a Chinese Christian reputedly China’s richest banker and a descendent of Confucius.
Chingling took Ailing’s place as Sun’s assistant. Twenty-six years his younger, she fell for him. Charlie didn’t like it, but what can a father do about young love? Sun abandoned his wife and married Chingling. Charlie disowned her, and died a few years later with no further contact with this daughter.
Meanwhile, Sun promoted Chiang Kai-shek – the “great man” of this story – to Generalissimo of the Nationalist Army. Sun died in 1925.
Ailing took charge. She made Chiang an offer he couldn’t refuse, but she had two conditions. First, her husband, H.H. Kung, would serve as Chiang’s prime minister. Second, Ailing’s little brother, T.V., would serve as Chiang’s finance minister.
What would Chiang get in return? The hand of Mayling, giving Chiang a marriage into the Soong clan and the aura of the Mandate of Heaven: Mayling’s sister, Chingling, was married to the now deceased Sun Yat-sen; Chiang would marry the sister of Sun’s wife.
But you would be wrong to think Mayling is the woman to whom I refer, although Mayling would prove to be no slouch herself. The great woman behind the great man was not Chiang’s wife; it was his sister-in-law, Ailing. If the term “power-elite” ever meant anything in early twentieth-century China, Ailing’s face would be carved into the Gònggá Shān of Chinese power elite.
Their marriages and alleged motivations have been summarized…"One loved money, one loved power, one loved her country" referring to Ai-ling, May-ling, and Ching-ling in that order.
Before entering the next chapter, it should be noted: needless to say, Mayling and Ailing were supporters of Chiang; however, Chingling, not so much. She supported the elephant in the room…but you will have to wait a bit for that.
Bought and Paid For
The Elephant in the Room
The way the story was told in the US, you would think Mao Zedong didn’t even exist until about mid-1944. The only story the American people knew – and that the government in Washington paid any attention to – was that of the Christianized Chiang, his Christianized wife Mayling, the great (and Christianized) woman Ailing, tales from missionaries about how the Chinese were American and Christianized, Chiang’s forces are beating back the Japanese, all fed by a PR machine in the form of Henry Luce’s magazine and the China Lobby now headed by Stimson.
Chiang-positive articles appeared regularly in Fortune magazine; in 1937, Chiang and Mayling were named Time’s Man and Wife of the Year; Americans knew of the smiling Christian Noble Chinese Peasants who stood firmly against the Japanese – it was on the cover of Time, so it had to be true.
By the spring of 1945 in China, the Mandate had already passed to Mao, and Time had yet to have Mao on the cover even once; Chiang Kai-shek had appeared at least four times.
About Mao Zedong and his growing movement, Luce made no mention. About Chiang’s inactivity against the Japanese invaders, Luce said that Southern Methodist Chiang was simply “turning the Christian other cheek.”
Mao fought, Chiang sought funds and equipment from any outside power; Mao stood against the Japanese, Chiang cheered with glee when Pearl Harbor was bombed as this would bring in the “barbarians” to fight the Japanese for him; Mao’s forces grew with volunteers, Chiang’s grew with conscripts; Mao wanted to team with Chiang against the common enemy, Chiang wanted to save his military and equipment to fight the later civil war against Mao.
Henry Luce’s presentation of a united China led by democracy-loving Christians left out informed coverage of Mao Zedong’s revolution, which meant that Time, Inc. missed what was certainly – in terms of number of people affected – one of the twentieth-century’s biggest stories.
While the Japanese killed Chinese, Chiang chased Mao. After the Long March, Mao had but a few thousand soldiers, but many followers in the countryside. He slowly rebuilt his army, built a community in the mountains, and eventually won China.
And until the war was almost over, almost no one in the US public knew of Mao, and the politicians pretended not to know. The diplomatic service in China sent back accurate reports – for this they would later be drummed out of service by the McCarthy hearings: “Who lost China?” It had to be those commie sympathizers…who, by the way, happened to be telling the truth about the corruption of Chiang and the power-base of Mao.
The American diplomats in China couldn’t understand: the US armed the Soviet Union to do all of the heavy lifting against fascist Germany; why not arm the communists in China to fight against the fascist Japanese?
Eventually in America, they learned about Mao. Four years later, with Mao chasing him, Chiang fled (with most of the gold in Shanghai) to Taiwan.
Then Nixon went to China; he was able to do what those “commie sympathizers” wanted to do all along – build a bridge to China, allowing Mao to do what he said he wanted to do all along – create industry by selling stuff to the United States!
After working Primus into the last sentence of this post, do you think I have anything that can top that?