The Marshall Mission (20 December 1945 – January 1947) was a failed diplomatic mission undertaken by United States Army General of the Army George C. Marshall to China in an attempt to negotiate the Communist Party of China and the Nationalists (Kuomintang) into a unified government.

Historical background

Committee of Three, from left, Nationalist representative Zhang Qun, George C. Marshall and Communist representative Zhou Enlai.

Throughout the length of the Second Sino-Japanese War an uneasy stalemate had existed between the Chinese Communists (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalists (KMT), while prior to the war, both parties had been in open conflict with each other. During the period numerous US military personnel and private writers visited and reported on the Communist Part of China. In 1936, international journalist Edgar Snow traveled and interviewed leading members of the Communist Party of China. Snow reported that Mao was a reformer rather than a radical revolutionary,[1] and many readers got the impression that the Chinese communists were "agrarian reformers."[2] In the 1944 Dixie Mission, US Colonel John Service visited the Communists and praised them, likening them to European democratic socialists rather than the Soviet Union and claiming that they were less corrupt and chaotic than the Nationalists.[3][4]

American attempts during the Second World War to end the off and on again civil war between the two factions had failed, notably the Hurley Mission: in 1944 General Patrick Hurley approached both groups, and believed that their differences were comparable to the Republicans and Democrats in the United States.[5]

Throughout the war, both the CCP and the KMT had accused the other of withholding men and arms against the Japanese in preparation for offensive actions against the other. Thus, in a desperate attempt to keep the country whole, President Harry S. Truman in late 1945 sent General George Marshall as his special presidential envoy to China to negotiate a unity government.

Marshall arrives in China

Marshall arrived in China on 20 December 1945. His goal was to unify the Nationalists and Communists with the hope that a strong, non-Communist China, would act as a bulwark against the encroachment of the Soviet Union. Immediately, Marshall drew both sides into negotiations which would occur for more than a year. Significant agreements failed to appear, as both sides used the time to further prepare themselves for the ensuing conflict. Both the communist and nationalist governments were riddled with corruption and had no intention of agreeing on anything that contradicted their ultimate goal, which proved to be a difficult feat to overcome during negotiations. In order to assist in brokering a ceasefire between the Nationalists and Communists, the sale of weapons and ammunition to the Nationalist forces were suspended between 29 July 1946 to May 1947.[6] Finally, in February 1947, exasperated with the failure of the negotiations, Marshall left China.


The failure of the Marshall Mission signaled the renewal of the Chinese Civil War. George Marshall returned to the United States and committed himself to the revitalization of Europe with the Marshall Plan in the role of United States Secretary of State, which became yet another roaring success in Marshall's distinguished career. By 1949, the Kuomintang was driven from the Chinese mainland into Taiwan by a victorious Communist Party, which established the People's Republic of China.

Attack by Joe McCarthy

On 9 June 1951, Douglas MacArthur charged that the post-war Marshall mission to China committed " of the greatest blunders in American diplomatic history, for which the free world is now paying in blood and disaster..."[7] in a telegram to Senator William F. Knowland. On 14 June 1951, as the Korean War stalemated in heavy fighting between American and Chinese forces, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy attacked. He stated that Marshall was directly responsible for the "loss of China," as China turned from friend to enemy.[8] McCarthy said the only way to explain why the U.S. "fell from our position as the most powerful Nation on earth at the end of World War II to a position of declared weakness by our leadership" was because of "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man",[9] an obvious hyperbole. McCarthy argued that General Albert Coady Wedemeyer had prepared a wise plan that would keep China a valued ally, but that it had been sabotaged; "only in treason can we find why evil genius thwarted and frustrated it." [10] Specifically McCarthy alleged:

"When Marshall was sent to China with secret State Department orders, the Communists at that time were bottled up in two areas and were fighting a losing battle, but that because of those orders the situation was radically changed in favor of the Communists. Under those orders, as we know, Marshall embargoed all arms and ammunition to our allies in China. He forced the opening of the Nationalist-held Kalgan Mountain pass into Manchuria, to the end that the Chinese Communists gained access to the mountains of captured Japanese equipment. No need to tell the country about how Marshall tried to force Chiang Kai-shek to form a partnership government with the Communists."[11]

Public opinion became bitterly divided along party lines on Marshall's record despite his impressive military career and good standing throughout Washington, D.C. as a trustworthy man who worked hard for America's interests in a nonpartisan manner. In 1952, Eisenhower, while campaigning for president, denounced the Truman administration's failures in Korea, campaigned alongside McCarthy, and refused to defend Marshall's policies.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Brady p. 47.
  2. ^ Kenneth E. Shewmaker, "The "Agrarian Reformer" Myth," The China Quarterly 34 (1968): 66-81. [1]
  3. ^ John Service, Report No. 5, 8 March 1944, to Commanding General Fwd. Ech., USAF – CBI, APO 879. "The Communist Policy Towards the Kuomintang." State Department, NARA, RG 59.
  4. ^ U.S. Congress. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee to Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and the Other Internal Security Laws. The Amerasia Papers: A Clue to the Catastrophe of China. Vol. 1 (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1970), 406 – 407.
  5. ^ Russel D. Buhite, Patrick J. Hurley and American Foreign Policy (Ithaca, NY: Cornell U Press, 1973), 160 – 162.
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ The speech was published as a 169-page book, America's Retreat from Victory: The Story of George Catlett Marshall (1951).
  9. ^ Joe McCarthy, Major Speeches and Debates (1951) p. 215
  10. ^ McCarthy, Major Speeches and Debates (1951) pp. 264.
  11. ^ McCarthy, Major Speeches p. 191, from speech of March 14, 1951; see also Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (1982) pp 371-74.
  12. ^ Reeves, McCarthy 437-8

Further reading

  • Homeyard, Illoyna. "Another Look at the Marshall Mission to China." Journal of American-East Asian Relations (1992): 191-217.; disagrees with Levine (1979); the mission was in fact an attempt to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a stable, democratic China. in JSTOR
  • Levine, Steven I. "A New Look at American Mediation in the Chinese Civil War: the Marshall Mission and Manchuria." Diplomatic History 1979 3(4): 349-375. ISSN 0145-2096
  • May, Ernest Richard. The Truman Administration and China, 1945-1949 (1975)
  • May, Ernest R. "1947-48: When Marshall Kept the U.S. out of War in China." Journal of Military History (2002) 66#4: 1001-1010. online
  • Pogue, Forrest. George C. Marshall: Statesman 1945-1959 (1987) pp 51–143. online edition
  • Rose, Lisle Abbott. Roots of Tragedy: United States and the Struggle for Asia, 1945-53 (1976)
  • Song, Yuwu, ed. Encyclopedia of Chinese-American Relations (2009)
  • Stueck, William W. The Road to Confrontation: American Policy Toward China and Korea, 1947-1950, (1981) online edition
  • Tsou, Tang. America's Failure in China, 1941-50 (1963) online edition
  • Westad, Odd Arne. Decisive Encounters: The Chinese Civil War, 1946-1950 (2003)

Primary sources

  • Marshall, George Catlett. The Papers of George Catlett Marshall. Vol. 5: "The Finest Soldier," January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947. Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens, eds. Johns Hopkins U. Press, 2003. 822 pp.
  • US Congress, House, Committee on International Relations. Selected Executive Session Hearings of the Committee, 1943-50 (8 vols., Washington, 1976), Vol. VII: United States Policy in the Far East pt. 1 and Pt 2.
  • U.S. Department of State. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1945. online
  • ---. Volume VII. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1969.
  • ---. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1946. Volume IX. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972.
  • ---. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1946. Volume X. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972.
  • ---. Foreign Relations of the United States: Diplomatic Papers, 1947. Volume VII. The Far East: China. Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1972.

Further reading

  • The MacArthur Hearing: The China Mission Time Magazine article dated Monday, 21 May 1951. General Marshall responds to questions about the China Mission regarding both the political and military situation.
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