The CIA and Third Force Movements in China during the Early Cold War: The Great American Dream by Roger B. Jeans
In Roger Jeans' earlier study of Zhang Junmai (Carsun Chang)1 and his best-known book, The Third Force in China,2 we learn that, by "third force," Zhang was referring to a political alternative to the Nationalist and the Communist parties in twentieth century China. Zhang Junmai was a major political and intellectual leader in Republican China. In this new study, Jeans has used numerous sources, including a hitherto untapped history of the Civil Air Transport (CAT) by CAT President (1949–1955) and later CIA officer Alfred T. Cox, and the recollections of both Cai Wenzhi (commander of the CIA-sponsored secret third force army) and Zhang Fakui (the pivotal figure in the Hong Kong-based third force movement), providing us a detailed and thoughtful picture of the CIA's failed efforts to back a Chinese third force between the Communists and the Nationalists in the early Cold War (1949–1954). The thoroughly researched book will be of great use to scholars of twentieth century Chinese and Cold War history. Although Chinese scholars have researched and published on many Cold War history subjects, including the CIA's psychological warfare and covert operations against China, this "Third Force" movement or operation is still a largely unexamined subject among mainland Chinese scholars.
In recounting the CIA's involvement with and support of China's third force movements, Jeans provides considerable historical background. It was in June of 1948 that the National Security Council created the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), which "was charged with the lead in battling Communism in China by supporting anticommunist resistance groups and [End Page 28] guerrilla forces" (p. 1). It was in 1949 that the OPC established contact with ex-Nationalist General Cai Wenzhi. In April 1949, Cai had broken relations with the Nationalist regime and its leader Chiang Kai-shek (p. 13).
After China's entry into the Korean War in October 1950, the United Nations Command (UNC) forces suffered huge loss in the winter of 1950 and 1951. U.S. officials became more interested in the third force movement. According to Jeans, the CIA renewed its effort to recruit Zhang Fakui, an ex-Nationalist general then living in Hong Kong, in the hope of creating "guerrilla bands" on the mainland so as to pressure the Chinese Communist regime. But by late 1951 and 1952, it became quite clear that no anti-Communist guerrilla groups were able to survive and sustain themselves on the mainland (p. 47).
Almost simultaneously, the CIA tried another approach, launching a third force organization in Hong Kong in early 1951. The Fighting League for Chinese Freedom, the short-lived political wing of the third force emerged from the shadows in Hong Kong in October 1952. Zhang Fakui, ex-Nationalist leader Gu Mengyu, Zhang Junmai, and ex-Communist leader Zhang Guotao formed the Third Force leadership. Its mission was twofold: publication and anti-Communist propaganda in Hong Kong and intelligence collection on the mainland regime. With the CIA funding and advisers, the Hong Kong-based third force had money and an organization. Meanwhile, the CIA also set up its third force training and operations bases in Japan, Okinawa, and Saipan. General Cai Wenzhi, nicknamed the "CIA's general," commanded the Chinese third force trainees. He also supervised the training and actual airdrops of Chinese agents into China (pp. 111–112). These trainees were recruited from Hong Kong under the cover of employment with the "Far East Development Company." These trainees were immediately killed or captured as upon parachuting into Manchuria. The capture of the CIA agents John T. Downey and Richard Fecteau in November of 1952 was "one of the most glaring examples" of the CIA's "failed covert policy" directed at mainland China in the early 1950s (p. 147). The trial of Downey and Fecteau in November of 1954 by the Chinese government "marked the beginning of the end for the CIA's third force project, which finally petered out after the Korean War armistice was concluded in July 1953" (p. 147).
Both the Chinese Nationalists in Taiwan and the Communists on the mainland were concerned about a third force movement. For the Nationalists, they worried that the third force movement would compete for U.S. aid and the allegiance of overseas Chinese (p. 165). Jeans points out that the Nationalists focused their attack on the third force in Hong Kong, and their methods included dispatching Nationalist agents to Hong Kong to co-opt, threaten, and sow discord among its leaders; physically attacking third force members in Hong Kong; and banning it and its publications from Taiwan. The [End Page 29] Communists were equally hostile to the third force. But it seems that the Communists were better in infiltrating the third force organizations and co-opting several leaders of the third force. Zhang Fakui's suspicion that Cheng Siyuan, the first secretary of the Fighting League, worked for the Communists was not far-fetched (p. 180). Indeed, during World War II, Cheng had established contacts with Zhou Enlai, the first premier of the People's Republic of China. From 1956 to 1965, Cheng served as Li Zongren's secret envoy, making numerous trips to Beijing. Through Cheng's negotiation with Zhou Enlai and persuasion of Li Zongren, the ex-Nationalist Vice President eventually agreed to return to Communist China in 1965, an obvious win for the Communists. When Deng Xiaoping came to power in the late 1970s, the Communists warmed to former third force leaders. When Zhang Fakui died in Hong Kong in 1980, Ye Jianying, Zhang's fellow Cantonese (who was then Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress of China) sent his condolences. Cai Wenzhi, after becoming a U.S. citizen, started to make regular trips to mainland China in the 1980s and 1990s. While in China, he was treated as an honored guest of senior Chinese leaders such as Ye Jianying and Xu Xiangqian.
The reviewer believes that the termination of the CIA support of the third force project in 1954 was not accidental. Many scholars argue that, during the period between 1949 and 1954, U.S. policy toward Chiang Kai-shek's government in Taipei underwent a significant transformation. Washington gradually came to believe that supporting the Republic of China in Taiwan as a rival government served American purposes by fundamentally contesting the legitimacy of the People's Republic of China. In December 1954, Washington finally agreed to sign a mutual defense treaty with Taipei, signaling U.S. determination to side with Chiang (p. 237).
Readers sometime might find Jeans' narrative of the larger historical background a bit confusing and inaccurate. For instance, Jeans writes, "on November 20, UN troops reached the Manchurian border. Five days later, three hundred thousand Chinese Communist 'volunteers' drove the overextended American and UN forces back down the peninsula with heavy losses" (p. 37). The Chinese People's Volunteers Force (CPVF) crossed the Yalu to Korea on October 19, 1950. The CPVF units started to fight the unprepared South Korean and the United Nation Command (UNC) forces in the "first campaign" on October 25 and then quickly disengaged. When the UNC forces launched an all-out offensive toward the Yalu on November 24, the CPVF counterattacked in force, inflicting heavy casualties and sending the UNC forces into an undisciplined retreat. This was the CPVF's "second campaign", which lasted from November 25 to December 24. By mid-December, the CPVF was able to push the UNC forces to the South of the 38th parallel.3 [End Page 30]
After reading this book, one can't help but be left with some larger questions: Why does the CIA still try to cover up this hidden history? What is the relationship between this failed CIA project, "The Great American Dream" (as Jeans terms it), and U.S. overall Cold War policy, in particular U.S. China policy at the time? Was this project primarily driven by institutional interest and manufactured by personalities of the CIA at the time?
Yafeng Xia is a professor of history at Long Island University specializing in Cold War history.
1. Roger B. Jeans, Democracy and Socialism in Republican China: The Politics of Zhang Junmai (Rowman and Littlefield, 2011).
2. Carsun Chang [Zhang Junmai], The Third Force in China (New York: Bookman, 1952).
3. For a good description of the sequence of events, see Michael Sheng, "Chinese Intervention," in The Ashgate Research Companion to the Korean War, ed. James Matray and Donald Boose (England: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2014), pp. 367–368.