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  • The Hijacked War: The Story of Chinese POWs in the Korean War by David Cheng Chang
  • James I. Matray
David Cheng Chang, The Hijacked War: The Story of Chinese POWs in the Korean War. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020. 476 pp. $40.00.

David Cheng Chang fills a void in the literature on the Korean War with this important book describing the experiences of Chinese prisoners of war (POWs) during the [End Page 268] conflict and assessing the impact of their incarceration and release. Although 7,109 men and one woman returned to the People's Republic of China (PRC), 14,342 prisoners rejected repatriation and went to Taiwan. Chang delivers on his pledge to answer the questions of who these POWs were, why they chose to return home or not, and whether their choice was voluntary. Significantly, he concludes that because twice as many POWs spurned the PRC in favor of Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek's regime "became the main beneficiary of a war with no clear winners" (p. 7). Chang insightfully defines Korea as two wars, with the first from June 1950 to late 1951 and thereafter a conflict over prisoners that extended the fighting fifteen more months. The Truman administration, he argues, was responsible for this "unintended and unplanned" outcome because its "arrogance, ignorance, and negligence led the United States to adopt inherently self-contradictory policies" (p. 11). Impulsiveness and simplistic moralism, rather than evidence, motivated President Harry S. Truman to insist on "voluntary repatriation." When the Communists objected, Chang persuasively argues, the U.S. "war agenda was wrested away by a bunch of prisoners and Chiang's tottering regime, [who] thus effectively hijacked the Korean War" (p. 16).

In the initial three chapters, Chang provides detailed profiles of the Chinese who became prisoners, tracing the origins of the deadly clashes in the POW camps to the Chinese Civil War from 1945 to 1949. As the Communist armies advanced, they conscripted Nationalist soldiers, many of whom welcomed the substitution of "order, discipline, care, and purpose" (p. 41), plus better food, for violence and corruption under the Kuomintang. However, the regimented political indoctrination alienated them, causing them to become diehard anti-Communists as prisoners. Notable among these was Li Da'an, "the devil incarnate" (p. 69). Chang then shifts his focus, explaining how the outbreak of the Korean War caused President Harry S. Truman to reverse his policy of not defending Taiwan but not his desire to jettison Chiang Kaishek. After discussing General Douglas MacArthur's visit to Taiwan and his meeting with Truman at Wake Island, Chang describes how National Security Council Report 81/1—the plan for the U.S. invasion of North Korea—provided for the creation of an interrogation and indoctrination program to promote anti-Communism among Chinese as well as North Korean POWs even before the PRC entered the war. Chinese military intervention delayed until April 1951 MacArthur's establishment of this program and his hiring of Nationalist interpreters who were Chiang's operatives. Chang reaches the halfway mark in his study after showing how General Matthew B. Ridgway halted the Chinese advance and counterattacked. U.S. forces shattered China's offensive in April–May 1951, when most of the defections occurred. Chang describes many of these former Nationalists, noting how they expected asylum but were treated as regular prisoners.

Chang provides an in-depth description of how conditions in the U.S. POW camps led to the anti-Communists seizing control in Compounds 72 and 86. Prison authorities, who lacked sufficient troops, had to rely on cooperative prisoners to maintain order. The Civil Information and Education Section, which had been borrowed from Japan, ran mandatory classes to train prisoners to be hostile to Communism, [End Page 269] but its lack of teachers led to the recruitment of anti-Communist prisoners, who acted as agents of the Nationalist government. Chang explains how U.S. leaders assumed that the indoctrinated POWs would undermine the PRC after repatriation but were shocked when anti-Communist prisoners, aware that death awaited them if they returned, started writing petitions for asylum in blood and tattooing anti-Communist slogans on their bodies. Their use of physical...


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