The China Lobby

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The China Lobby

Warren I. Cohen

"China lobby" is a pejorative phrase first applied in the 1940s to a disparate collection of Chinese and Americans who tried to influence the people and government of the United States on behalf of the Nationalist regime of Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jie-shī;) and in opposition to the Chinese communists. Opponents of aid to the Nationalists commonly used the term to imply that Chiang's American supporters were paid and that their activities were coordinated by Chiang and other officials of his government or members of his family. A second usage implied the existence of an organization of Chinese Nationalist officials and American rightists joined to stimulate anticommunism in the United States. Americans most commonly associated with the China lobby were the noted publisher Henry R. Luce; Alfred Kohlberg, a retired New York importer; Frederick C. McKee, a wealthy Pittsburgh manufacturer and philanthropist; Republican Representative Walter H. Judd of Minnesota; and the Republican senators William F. Knowland of California and Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin. The lobby was presumed to have tremendous influence in American politics by contemporaries. It has been credited with forcing a reluctant Truman administration to continue aid to Chiang during the Chinese civil war, preventing recognition of the People's Republic of China and barring it from the United Nations, and blocking the distribution of a book exposing the operations of the China lobby.

Although the Chinese Nationalist regime employed American lobbyists and public relations operatives and had the support of the American right in the struggle against communism in China, support for Chiang's China cannot be written off as either hired or right wing. In the United States popular support for Chiangor, more precisely, opposition to communist control of Chinawas broadly based, including liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, and southerners, northerners, easterners, and westerners. Popular antipathy toward the Chinese communists derived from a widespread and profound distaste for communism and from traditional sympathies for the heathen Chinese. But it was the Korean Warespecially the intervention of the People's Republic of China in the warthat brought about the results for which Chiang's supporters worked in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Without the Korean War, the limited public interest in Asian affairs and the reality of the communist victory in China might well have led to an early accommodation between the United States and the regime of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong), despite the efforts of the friends of Nationalist China.


Pressure group activity on behalf of the Nationalist regime dates back to the Nationalist revolution (19251928), when Chiang Kai-shek was struggling to unite China with Soviet and Chinese communist assistance. Fearing intervention by the United States and other governments, a group of American missionaries and educators, led by individuals like A. L. Warnshuis, secretary of the International Missionary Council; J. Leighton Stuart, president of Yenching University (Beijing); and Roger S. Greene of the China Medical Board of the Rockefeller Foundation, worked to alert policymakers, members of Congress, and the public to the need for an accommodation with Chinese nationalism. Links between Chiang's government and American missionaries and reformers continued into the 1930s as Madame Chiang Kai-shek and other American-educated Chinese leaders sporadically attempted to gain American assistance in the modernization of China. Major lobbying activities did not begin, however, until after the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937.

Of the various groups that were organized to influence U.S. policy on behalf of China between 1937 and 1941 the most important was the American Committee for Non-Participation in Japanese Aggression, also known as the Price Committee. In 1938, appalled by the inaction of the U.S. government in the face of Japanese aggression in China, Frank and Harry Price, sons of the famous missionary P. Frank Price, called together a small group of men, including an American employed as a propagandist for the Chinese government. To campaign against the flow of American supplies to Japan, they created an organization that soon received financial support from the Chinese government. There is no evidence that the formation of the committee was inspired by Chinese authorities, but given the relations between the two, especially during the early stages, this possibility cannot be ignored. Furthermore, the Chinese government considered itself entitled to reports.

Despite the initial role of the Chinese, the Price Committee subsequently attempted to restrict contributors to Americans and to sever potentially embarrassing ties to Chinese officials. One member who was employed by the Chinese government and required to register as the agent of a foreign principal resigned from the committee. Roger Greene and Henry L. Stimson served respectively as chairman and honorary chairman; Harry Price, as executive secretary; and Walter Judd, a former medical missionary, proved to be its most effective speaker. Frederick McKee and Geraldine Fitch, wife of the well-known missionary George A. Fitch, were also important members of the organization.

The central program of the Price Committee called for an embargo on supplies of military value to Japan. Beginning in 1939, it worked closely with key figures in the U.S. government, especially with Stanley K. Hornbeck of the Department of State and with Stimson, who became secretary of war in 1940. Individual members, like Greene and McKee, were also active and influential in the most important of the pressure groups espousing collective security. The activities of these friends of China may have been responsible for President Franklin D. Roosevelt's decision in July 1939 to notify Japan of the intention of the United States to terminate the commercial treaty between the two nations, thus facilitating economic sanctions. With access to Roosevelt and other top administration officials, Greene and Price may have shaped a number of important government actions, such as credits to China for the purchase of trucks and the National Defense Act of 1940, which gave Roosevelt authority to control exports. Similarly, these lobbyists on behalf of China utilizing the most sophisticated public relations methods then availablemass mailings, press releases, speaker tours, petition drivesmobilized opinion leaders in the colleges, churches and civic organizations across the country behind administration efforts to help China. Indeed, they generated pressures designed to push Roosevelt faster than he wanted to move. In the autumn of 1941, their warning against a Far Eastern Munich made a modus vivendi with Japan extremely difficult.

After the United States entered World War II, many groups emerged to raise money for China, enlisting men and women who had participated in the Price Committee's efforts. Most of these groups were brought together under United China Relief, a kind of holding company that attempted to coordinate private aid to China. Typical of the new groups that were organized during the war was the American Bureau for Medical Aid to China (ABMAC), with which Greene was involved and in which Kohlberg played a major role. All of these organizations reminded the American people of the long suffering of their Chinese allies, filled the country with stories of Chinese resistance and heroism, and, to simplify their story, personified China in the figures of Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-shek. From the Weekly Reader to the newsreels and the public prints, these glamorous figures appeared as the spirit of Free China, with greatly exaggerated references to their dedication to democracy and to the Four Freedoms that Roosevelt had offered as symbols of the ideals for which Americans fought.

From 1937 on, as Americans who believed China to be worthy of American support exercised their right to attempt to influence the policies of their government, various Chinese officials worked toward the same end. The Chinese ambassador, Hu Shih, made strenuous efforts to obtain aid for his country; and he was supported by a host of other officials, most prominent among them Madame Chiang's brother, T. V. Soong. Madame Chiang was herself probably the most effective propagandist for her country: an attractive, American-educated Christian who made marvelous copy for the mass media. Lin Yu-tang, a well-known popularizer of Chinese culture, also spent the war years in the United States on a diplomatic passport, advertising the virtues of Chiang's regime to the American people. These and similar Chinese activities were sometimes irritating to U.S. officials who resented pressures to do more for China, but the Chinese were not known to be violating any laws and were engaged in practices whose legitimacy was sanctioned by custom in the United States.

Chinese officials and American friends of China naturally came together frequently to discuss China's needs and strategy for various campaigns. Again, there was nothing improper about this sort of cooperation. Most of the American participants were not acting as agents for the Chinese government and those who were did so openly and legally. They shared a concern for China, and their countries were allies in war, sharing an interest in the effort to defeat Japan. Problems developed only as questions arose as to whether Chinese and American interests remained congruous, and whether Chiang's regime represented the best interests of the Chinese people.

In 1943 the cohesiveness that Japanese aggression had produced among Americans interested in China began to wear away. The initial friction between the Chinese and U.S. governments had come about because of the limited Chinese share of lend-lease material, and American friends of China generally shared Chinese dissatisfaction. But in 1943 the focus was shifting to the Chinese war effort and to tensions between Chiang's regime and the Chinese Communiststensions that threatened to erupt into civil war and already prevented Chinese forces from devoting their full attention to the Japanese invader. More and more criticism of Chiang was heard in U.S. government circles and leaked to the press. A few knowledgeable Americans began to argue in favor of sending aid to the Chinese communists, who seemed more willing to fight against Japan and more committed to democratic principles than were Chiang's Nationalists. Among China's American friends a growing number despaired of Chiang's repressive tendencies, brooded over corruption in his regime and, although apprehensive of the Chinese communists, wondered if the U.S. government might find an alternative to its total support of Chiang.

On a trip to China in 1943, Kohlberg was troubled by criticisms he heard of Chiang's regimecriticisms that did not appear to him to be justified. Increasingly he brooded about the source of these charges. Increasingly the Chinese government became fearful of the effects on American support if a corrupt and repressive image prevailed. Lin Yu-tang and Hu Shih publicly and privately contended that communist agents were responsible for the attacks on Chiang. Hu Shih maintained that American scholars affiliated with the Institute of Pacific Relations (IPR) depended on Chinese researchers who were in fact communists. Greene was troubled by the publication of articles that appeared to substantiate Hu Shih's argument. Kohlberg gradually became convinced of a communist conspiracy to deceive the American people, convinced that the IPR, the center of East Asian studies in the United States, was an instrument of this conspiracy.

As Chiang's regime and some of its staunchest American friends, such as Judd and Fitch, tried to preserve the idealized image of the early war years, Kohlberg attacked the IPR. A man of great energy and considerable wealth, Kohlberg conducted a one-man campaign to purge the IPR of alleged communist domination. His initial charges in 1944 were ignored, but he persisted tirelessly, gaining support from professional ex-communists and Red-baiters who helped him to formulate charges and to obtain broader publicity for his effort. In particular, George E. Sokolsky, a widely syndicated Hearst columnist with strong ties to the House Un-American Activities Committee, helped Kohlberg with contacts and provided a public platform for his accusations.


At the end of World War II, China faced civil war, and U.S. efforts to mediate failed. The few Americans interested in East Asian affairs fell into two main categories. One group argued that American interests would be served best by a scrupulous neutrality, allowing Chiang and his communist enemies to work toward their own resolution of China's problems. Another group contended that the interests of the United States would be served best by providing whatever aid short of troops was necessary to maintain Chiang in power. Members of the former group generally warned that the communists enjoyed greater support among the Chinese people and would ultimately triumph. They contended that U.S. aid to Chiang left him unwilling to compromise while peace was possible and would prolong the war and the agony of the Chinese people once the conflict began. The latter group generally mistrusted the Chinese communists, fearing they would serve Soviet rather than Chinese interests and bring misery to the Chinese people. They argued that a communist-controlled China would be a negation of the ends for which the United States had fought in the Pacific. As fear of the Soviet Union increased in the United States in the late 1940s, anticommunist sentiment grew apace, and more and more Americans became receptive to the arguments of Chiang's supportersthat is, to the China lobby.

In the late 1940s the two major organizations calling for American aid to Nationalist China were the American China Policy Association and the Committee to Defend America by Aiding Anti-Communist China. The American China Policy Association was founded by Kohlberg; John B. Powell, one of the best-known American journalists in China during the 1920s and 1930s; and Christopher Emmett, a writer with decidedly liberal pretensions. The members worked to reveal what they considered the insidious nature of the Chinese communist movement, and, within the matrix of intense anticommunist feeling, the association began on a moderate note. Soon, however, it was dominated by Kohlberg, who was himself becoming increasingly irresponsible in his charges against diplomats and scholars critical of Chiang Kai-shek.

The Committee to Defend America by Aiding Anti-Communist China was run by Frederick McKee, who had long contributed to liberal causes and to the collective security wing of the peace movement. Since the late 1930s, he had contributed both time and money in China's behalf, joining existing groups and organizing his own. Unlike Kohlberg, McKee did not become involved in extremist activities. Restrained and responsible, McKee was easily overshadowed. Membership in the Kohlberg and McKee organizations overlapped, but McKee was able to muster the support of several prominent men not identified with Chinese affairs, such as the former Democratic National Committee chairman James A. Farley and the labor leader David Dubinsky.

If the Kohlberg and McKee operations could claim some degree of respectability, there were other operations that could not. The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., and a variety of more or less independent entrepreneurs like T. V. Soong and his brother-in-law, H. H. Kung, lobbied frenetically for aid. Although their operations appear to have remained within the law, there is evidence of some sleight of hand within the embassy, resulting in the disappearance of large sums of money, the disappearance of senior Chinese military officers attached to the mission who presumably had the money, and the appearance of Chinese documents revealing some of their operations and including extravagant claims of success with U.S. congressmen. These activities had no discernible effect on American policy, and only the Chinese government seems to have been swindled.

Another unsavory but legal Chinese activity was the employment of William J. Goodwin as a lobbyist. In the 1930s, Goodwin had distinguished himself by his affiliation with the Christian Front and with the American fascists Gerald L. K. Smith and the Reverend Charles E. Coughlin. Like the Chinese operatives in the embassy, Goodwin was probably most effective at obtaining money from the Chinese government while claiming to be influencing American politicians.

A majority of congressmen in both houses were sympathetic to the Chinese Nationalist cause and willing to vote for aid to Chiang in his fight against the communists. There is no evidence that any of these congressmen had been bought by the Chinese government or by Kohlberg or McKee. Virtually all of these people equated the Chinese communist movement with Soviet totalitarianism and looked with regret upon the likelihood of such oppression being levied upon their erstwhile Chinese allies. Most of these congressional supporters of the Chinese Nationalists were not committed to Chiang or his regime but rather to what they saw as a worldwide struggle against international communism. Furthermore, if the administration asked for funds to protect endangered Greeks and Turks against communist subversion, why not aid the Chinese as well? Having once conjured up fears of an international communist conspiracy for world domination, the Truman administration failed to convince Congress or the American people that China could be or had to be written off. When providing aid for a beleaguered Europe, Congress forced the administration to continue aid to Chiang Kai-shek and anticommunist China.

Despite congressional and public sympathy for Chiang, and the intimidating efforts of Kohlberg and his allies in the Hearst press, when the communists drove Chiang from mainland China, the Truman administration was prepared to recognize the People's Republic of China and to allow it to take the Chinese seat in the United Nations. Even in early 1950, when Kohlberg and Sokolsky found an ally in Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, the Truman administration proceeded with plans to thwart them and to come to terms with reality. The outbreak of war in Korea and the subsequent confrontation between troops from the United States and troops from the People's Republic of China accomplished what Kohlberg and his friends and the Chinese embassy could not have accomplished by themselves. It created a climate of opinion in the United States in which Kohlberg's charges of treason in high places could be taken seriously and in which an accommodation with the People's Republic of China proved impossible.

Ironically, it was the Democratic senator Pat McCarran of Nevada, an archconservative whose reelection McKee had earlier tried to prevent, who chaired the congressional committee that investigated the Kohlberg-McCarthy charges against the Institute of Pacific Relations. The 1952 hearings were used to discredit and intimidate American critics of Chiang Kai-shek. But from 1951 to 1953 it was McCarthyadvised by Kohlberg, Sokolsky, and Roy Cohnwho succeeded in driving some of the State Department's ablest men from Chinese affairs and from the foreign service. Whether from McCarran or McCarthy, Kohlberg or Sokolsky, the story was always the same: China had been lost to the communists because disloyal Americans had prevented Chiang from receiving the aid with which he could have won; and American boys died in Korea because they had been betrayed by disloyal and stupid liberals who had turned China over to the communists. It was not until the marked change in the climate of opinion that came with revulsion against the war in Vietnam that some of the men vilified during the McCarthy era were vindicated.

By 1952, the legitimate concern some Americans had for the future of China had been transformed into an instrument with which the extreme right tried to destroy liberalism in the United States. Sokolsky, whose earlier writings showed him to be unusually well informed about the history of the Chinese communist movement, consistently misled his readers, in keeping with his assumed role as a spokesperson for the extreme right. The success that he and his colleagues enjoyed in discrediting Dean Acheson, George C. Marshall, John S. Service, and Owen Lattimore demonstrated the validity of George Washington's warning about the consequences of "excessive partiality" for a foreign nation. In the 1950s, when criticism of Chiang Kai-shek invited charges of disloyalty to the United States, foreign service officers and scholars were intimidated, with a consequent crippling of both national policy and scholarship.

There were reactions against the work of Chiang's friends even at the height of their power, but to no avail. The Truman administration tried to neutralize them in 1951, promising friendly senators that it would cooperate in an investigation of the China lobby. In Congress, however, there was little interest in the investigation and the administration's own effort could turn up nothing to stimulate interest on Capitol Hill or in the press. In April 1952, the Reporter published two long articles that named some of the participants (Kohlberg, McKee, and Goodwin), implied more shady dealings than could be proven, and provided less than a model example of investigative reporting. Nonetheless, the articles contributed to the notoriety of the China lobby, and there were reports that mysterious Chinese were buying enormous quantities of the issues of the Reporter, in which the articles appeared. In April 1952, the Republican senator Wayne L. Morse of Oregon introduced into the Senate Chinese documents outlining the plans of the Nationalist regime to influence American policy. Some of the documents referred to cooperation with Goodwin, Judd, and Knowland, who was sometimes referred to as the senator from Formosa. Although the authenticity of the documents was never proven, the Chinese embassy admitted that they were cables sent from its offices, but denied that the counselor of the embassy had sent them, as alleged by Morse. There was little to be learned from the documents, which contained merely evidence of the deceits the embassy was practicing on its principaland its agents were practicing on it.

As a result of the Korean War, American determination to keep the People's Republic of China out of the United Nations intensified, and a powerful new pressure group was created to retain the seat for Chiang's rump regime. Beginning with a petition drive, a Committee of One Million Against the Admission of Communist China to the United Nations emerged in 1953. After collecting the requisite million signatures, including those of prominent Democrats and Republicans, the organizers disbanded in 1954, only to reorganize as the Committee of One Million in 1955. Liberal Democratic and Republican senators lent their names to the new committee, including the Democrats Paul Douglas of Illinois, William Proxmire of Wisconsin, and Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota, and Republican Thomas H. Kuchel of California. As with earlier organizations, anticommunism rather than approval of Chiang's regime explains the widespread support for the Committee of One Million, run by Marvin Liebman, an ex-communist.

In 1960, Ross Y. Koen, a young professor in California, prepared to publish his dissertation, The China Lobby in American Politics, but the book was not distributed. The Chinese embassy reportedly threatened legal action against the publishers for defamatory statements in the book, and it was widely assumed that the power of the China lobby had succeeded in frightening them. That power continued to seem impressive as President John F. Kennedy shied away from a rapprochement with the People's Republic, secretly promising Chiang that the United States would veto any effort to seat the communist regime in the United Nations. Lyndon Johnson's presidency brought no hope of change, although McCarthy, Kohlberg, and Sokolsky were dead, Judd and Knowland had lost their national offices, and the reality of the Sino-Soviet split had finally penetrated the American consciousness.


The election of Richard M. Nixon in 1968 provided no expectation of new directions in American policy toward China. Nixon, the personification of the cold warrior, had been close to many of Chiang's staunchest supporters and had repeated many of the same inflammatory and unsubstantiated accusations that Kohlberg had levied. But, slowly and cautiously, the Nixon administration moved to improve relations with the People's Republic, and in July 1971 presidential adviser Henry Kissinger suddenly turned up in Beijing. A few months later a stunned world watched Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong exchanging pleasantries in Mao's study. In 1972 the United States facilitated the admission of the People's Republic to the United Nations and acquiesced in the expulsion of Chiang's government. There was hardly a whimper of opposition and that from a few supporters of the president who felt they had been betrayed. The day of the China lobby had passed.

American recognition of the People's Republic of China in 1979 did not end lobbying activities aimed at influencing American policy toward China and Taiwan. The governments in Beijing and Taipei remained intensely active and found support across the political spectrum in the United States. The Republic of China, headquartered in Taipei, and led by Chiang Kai-shek's son, Chiang Ching-kuo, was not abandoned.

The Carter administration had won agreement from Deng Xiaoping to allow the United States to maintain "unofficial" relations with Taiwan and to permit continued arms sales to Taipei. Taiwan's diplomats quickly rallied their friends in the U.S. Congress and won a much stronger Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) than the administration had intended. The TRA explicitly stated that the use of force against Taiwan would be a matter of "grave concern" to the United States and committed the United States to provide such arms as Taiwan required to defend itself.

In the 1980s and 1990s, as Taiwan evolved into a democratic society, and especially after the Tiananmen massacres in Beijing in 1989, support for Taiwan increased dramatically among the American people and their elected representatives. The island's economic success allowed it to spend vast sums to woo the American media as well as American officials. Taiwan's lobbying activities, considered by specialists in foreign policy second only to those of Israel in effectiveness, frequently forced administration officials to take actions they considered undesirable. Most notable among these was the decision to issue Taiwan's president, Lee Teng-hui, a visa to visit the United States in 1995, precipitating a crisis in relations between Beijing and Washington and generating serious tensions in the Taiwan Strait.

Less effectively, the People's Republic also lobbied for support in Washington. Hampered by its human rights record and American admiration for democratic Taiwan, Beijing was fortunate to win powerful friends within the American business community. The U.S.China Business Council, the Emergency Committee for American Trade, and major corporations, most prominently Boeing, labored assiduously to persuade Congress of the congruity of Chinese and American interests. In the 1990s, they succeeded in protecting China's most-favored-nation trade relations with the United States against attacks from human rights and labor organizations, ultimately winning passage of the Permanent Normal Trade Relations Act. China was thus assured that increased tariffs on its goods would not be used as a weapon by its adversaries in the United States.

In the early twenty-first century, lobbying by both Beijing and Taipei continued, with most of the public criticism directed against presumably pro-China groups who were accused by some conservatives of sacrificing U.S. security interests. Complaints against Taiwan's activities came primarily from within the executive branch of the U.S. government, where those responsible for policy toward China feared being pushed into an unnecessary and dangerous confrontation with Beijing. But the notorious China lobby of the Cold War era was gone.


Bachrack, Stanley D. The Committee of One Million: "China Lobby" Politics, 19531971. New York, 1976.

Borg, Dorothy. American Policy and the Chinese Revolution, 19251928. New York, 1947. Includes references to the activities of Americans sympathetic to the Chinese Nationalist cause during the 1920s.

Cohen, Warren I. "The Role of Private Groups in the United States." In Dorothy Borg and Shumpei Okamoto, eds. Pearl Harbor as History: Japanese-American Relations, 19311941. New York, 1973. Discusses the lobbying activities of a number of groups and individuals between 1931 and 1941.

Friedman, Donald J. The Road from Isolation: The Campaign of the American Committee for Non-participation in Japanese Aggression, 19381941. Cambridge, Mass., 1968. A useful study of the organization and its work.

Keeley, Joseph. The China Lobby Man: The Story of Alfred Kohlberg. New Rochelle, N.Y., 1969. A biography that epitomizes Kohlberg's exploitation by the American right.

Koen, Ross Y. The China Lobby in American Politics. New York, 1974. A comprehensive account of Chinese Nationalist and pro-Nationalist activities in the United States during Truman's term as president. Koen is better at describing the impact of these activities than at explaining how the Chinese and their American friends functioned.

Liebman, Marvin. Coming Out Conservative: An Autobiography. San Francisco, 1992. A first-person account of the origin and activities of most of the right-wing fronts of the Cold War era, including the Committee of One Million.

Sutter, Robert G. U.S. Policy Toward China: An Introduction to the Role of Interest Groups. Lanham, Md., 1998. Focuses on lobbying activities on behalf of China and Taiwan in the postCold War era.

Thomas, John N. The Institute of Pacific Relations: Asian Scholars and American Politics. Seattle, Wash., 1974. An unsympathetic study of the organization with a useful chapter on Kohlberg.

See also Congressional Power; Economic Policy and Theory; Foreign Aid; Public Opinion; Recognition .

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