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FOREIGN OFFICE FILES FOR CHINA, 1949-1976
(Public Record Office Class FO 371 and FCO 21)

Part 2: Complete Files for 1950 (PRO Class FO 371/83230-83579)

Publisher's Note

Foreign Office Files for China, offers complete coverage of PRO Class FO 371 on China for the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s and documents the most significant events in the history of modern day China. Part 1 covers 1949, a crucial year which saw the fall of the Nationalist government and the triumph of the Communist forces.

Part 2 continues with files devoted to the question of world-wide recognition of the People’s Democratic Republic of China during 1950. Following decades of hard struggle and armed conflict the People’s Republic of China (PRC) was formally established on the 1st October under the leadership of Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communist Party. 1950 then, was inevitably going to be a year of consolidation in which the new government would extend its control and implement its radical new policies across the vast country it now ruled. The enormity of this task cannot be overemphasised not only was China the most populous nation on Earth, encompassing numerous ethnic minorities, it was also a country ravaged by a century of civil war, foreign domination, political fragmentation and localised rule of powerful warlords. Economically China was still an overwhelmingly agricultural nation relying on its peasant class to produce the essential rice crop, lacking the large-scale heavy industry essential to the new government’s independent ambitions. And, as if all this was not challenge enough, the People’s Republic has earned the bitter enmity of the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America.

The year started well enough for the Communists, and Britain’s recognition of the new regime in early January, must have helped strengthen Mao’s resolve to continue pushing for the PRC to take Taiwan’s seat at the United Nations. Internally, the country was firmly under communist control (apart from a few pockets of Kuomingtang resistance) and the new Government enjoyed “a wide measure of support from the great majority of the people” {FO 371/92189]. Internationally, although not popular with Western countries, an increasing number were recognising the new regime at the expense of the Nationalist Government on Formosa/Taiwan; and, despite the hostility of the United States, the People’s Republic was not without friends. The Soviet Union and its satellites were quick to establish links with the Peking Government, and various treaties were signed to strengthen the growing body of countries that were joining the Communist camp. But China’s needs were so vast that even the Soviet Union, herself still suffering from the ravages of the Second World War, could offer only token material help to Mao.

If China was to become the world power that her size and history suggested, she would have to undertake the task pretty much alone. To this end, numerous committees were established and conferences held, aimed at reorganising and modernising every aspect of Chinese life. These included a National Conference of Combat Heroes and Labour Models, a Press Conference, a Relief Workers Conference, a Customs Conference, a Co-operative Conference, Health, Judicial and Scientific Workers’ Conferences, a Higher Education Conference, and a Water Conservative Conference, to name but a few. In areas of local government there was also radical reorganisation, with regional conferences and congresses held throughout the country to establish a systematic model of local administration. New national laws were passed to regulate taxation, trade unions, religion, and the treatment of China’s minorities; the most radical measures, however, were those relating to marriage and agrarian reform.

The Marriage Law was designed to end the traditional subservient role assigned to Chinese women and to ‘release the political energies of women for the benefit of the revolution’. The Agrarian Reform Law of June 1950 was equally radical in its attempt to bring benefit to the peasant classes who made up the bulk of Chinese society. Ambitious in its aims to reform the agricultural forces of over a hundred million peasants, the Law was designed to distribute land and collectivise agriculture.

In all, the new government began 1950 with the sense of positive urgency and radical action to be expected from an administration as ideologically committed as the Chinese Communist Party ws, and many positive measures were undertaken to unite and modernise the country. But, on the horizon, storm clouds were gathering heralding events that would threaten not only China, but the peace and stability of the entire region.

China’s easterly neighbour, Korea had been divided into two opposing states since the end of the Japanese occupation in 1945. On 25th June 1950, the North Korean army launched a surprise and highly successful invasion of the South, with the intention of reuniting the country under communist rule. Within two days of the attack, President Truman announced America’s intention to send US forces to help the South Koreans repel the invaders. Taking advantage of a Soviet boycott of the UN, Truman managed to pass a resolution in the Security Council condemning North Korea’s actions and sanctioning Military action under United Nations auspices. On 1st July 1950, the first United Nations troops arrived in Korea, and were soon pushing the North Koreans back toward the 38th Parallel, the Boundary between the rival Korean states.

The collapse of the North Koreans, and the vast UN military force, under the command of the virulently anti-communist American General MacArthur, were of grave concern to Mao and the PRC Government. Tension was heightened further when, on the 14 September MacArthur launched a daring offensive, landing UN forces behind the North Koreans at Inchon, and putting the communists into a full retreat. Worried by the success of the UN forces, the Chinese Foreign Minister warned the US, via the Indian Government, that China “could not stand idly by if UN forces cross the 38th Parallel”. MacArthur, however, dismissed Chinese threats as bluff, and within two weeks had crossed the 38th Parallel and was advancing swiftly into North Korea, capturing the Northern capital Pyongyang by the middle of October.

The rapid advance of the UN forces was a situation that the Chinese could not ignore: not only was North Korea an important buffer zone between themselves and the pro-Western South, but China had important strategic interests in North Korea, including hydro-electric power stations supplying energy to much of southern Manchuria. It was also not beyond belief that MacArthur, backed by hard-line ant-communist elements in the US and Taiwan, would try push on over the Yalu River and enter China in hope of topping the infant PRC Government.

Accordingly, on 8 October, Mao ordered the creation of Chinese .’Volunteer’ forces to help the beleaguered North Korean army stem the UN advance and push MacArthur back across the 38th Parallel. The use of volunteer troops, rather, than regular Chinese PLA forces was a deliberate ploy by the Chinese to avoid the necessity of the PRC actually declaring was on the UN and its constituent countries involved in the Korean conflict. Despite its volunteer tag though, the introduction of the 200, 000 Chinese soldiers, combined with the onset of the bitter Korean winter, had a dramatic influence on the course of the war. The UN advance was blunted, and following a major offensive at the end of November was soon in full retreat. The US 10th Corps finding itself out numbered and cut off and had to be evacuated by sea.

Despite attempts at a counter attack, the UN forces soon realised the hopelessness of the situation, and resisting calls to resort to nuclear strikes, ordered the withdrawal of all its forces south of the 38th Parallel. By December Pyongyang was back in communist hands and the political map had reverted pretty much to its pre-1950 boundaries. Despite this situation the was far from over, and 1951 would witness a major Chinese-North Korean offensive and massive UN efforts to defend the South.

The Korean situation had a number of effects on China, her allies and her enemies. Despite being less than a year old the People’s Republic had demonstrated, not only her ability to take on militarily the western powers, but also her resolve to do so when her interests seemed threatened. To the communist ‘liberation movements’ throughout Asia, China’s action in Korea must have provided a great inspiration and source of encouragement. To the US and her allies, the Chinese intervention was a further sign of the dangers of the spread of communism, and the PRC’s successes underlined the imperative of bolstering those pro-Western Asian countries threatened by communist subversion.

The year 1950 was then, one optimism for the People’s Republic; it was in the words of the British Chargé d’Affaires in Peling.

… a year of consolidation in China. Militarily, politically and economically the Central People’s Government strengthened its position to a degree that made it appear unassailable except possibly in the event of a large scale foreign invasion, and the policies which, under the Common Programme adopted by the People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Government was enjoined to follow have made substantial progress in many fields. (FO 371/92189)

The robust military action taken by China in Korea, however, sent a clear warning to all such would be enemies that such a foreign invasion’ could not be undertaken lightly and that the PRC was likely to remain the dominant political force in China for the foreseeable future.

The documents in this collection offer an unparalleled insight into the development of post-revolutionary China, its policies, economy and strategies, as witnessed by British diplomats both in the People’s Republic and Taiwan, and the Foreign Office. Particular interest is shown in such topics as:

• Recognition of the Communist Government by the UK and other countries
• Sino-Soviet relations
• Relations between Hong Kong and the PRC
• American policy toward China
• Events in Formosa, and relations with the Nationalist Government
• British commercial policy in China, and China’s financial position
• The Blockade of the Yangtse by the Nationalist Government
• The repatriation of Chinese from Malaya, and Chinese intentions towards Malaya

As part of Adam Matthew Publications’ ongoing series Foreign Office Files for China, 1949-1976 this part will prove an invaluable resource for scholars and researchers trying to understand how the communist revolution affect, not only the millions of people living in China, but also the entire global political situation.

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