5-505 Editorial Note on Meetings with Yu Ta-wei and Chou En-lai

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Subject: Postwar, China

Editorial Note on Meetings with Yu Ta-wei and Chou En-lai

July 16-18, 1946 Nanking, China

YU Ta-wei, July 16, 10:30 A.M.

Communist troops were attacking in force some seventy-five miles east of Nanking in Kiangsu province, Yu reported; he thought they might be attempting to wipe out crack government troops north of the Yangtze River. Marshall thought that Yu’s fears flew in the face of the seeming belief by a majority of government officials that the government could liquidate Communist forces in China in three to six months; moreover, there were other possible explanations for the Communists’ actions, such as strikes in retaliation or to preempt government attacks.

Yu began an analysis of the government’s position, but Marshall stopped him. What General Yu was discussing was a justification for the government’s military procedure; what he, Marshall, had in mind was an estimate of Communist intentions. When he talked with T. V. Soong the previous day, Marshall said, Soong indicated that his previous estimate that China had the economic strength to stand six months of war was erroneous. Indeed, Marshall asserted, “as early as December 1945, China was faced with an economic situation the like of which no other nation ever survived.” The Generalissimo seemed to think that delaying negotiations would help the government, but Marshall suspected that this would most likely result in civil war. Chiang’s military commanders were “leading him into a situation that will develop beyond control”; when that happened, “these same military commanders will be calling for assistance [from the U.S.] which will be unobtainable.” (Foreign Relations, 1946, 9: 1360-62.)

Chou En-lai, July 16, 6:00 P.M.

Chou described his trip to Shanghai—in Marshall’s plane—to discuss U.N.R.R.A. aid and reconstruction matters. Meanwhile, he asserted, government attacks had intensified in nearby Kiangsu province. Marshall read from two notes he had received that day from the government concerning Communist attacks. Chou disputed the government’s assertions. The present situation “cannot continue without developing into general fighting,” Marshall said; “we should make an extraordinary effort to find some solution to the civil government dilemma,” so that a cease-fire order could be issued.

As a step toward clearing away the local administration roadblock, Marshall asked Chou to consider the possibility that the Communists agree that in Kiangsu any hsien (county) they controlled prior to Japan’s surrender would continue under their administration, but in those areas they occupied after Japan’s surrender they would not resist government control of local administration. Moreover, perhaps some temporary agreement could be reached regarding the Communists’ “land adjustments” in the latter counties. “If we don’t find some solution in the next four or five days it will be too late.” (Ibid., pp. 1363-69.)

Yu Ta-wei, July 17, 9:30 A.M.

General Yu reported on the Communist attack in Kiangsu province, which had produced heavy casualties. The government had no assurance that the Communists would not attack in other places, he said, and “it would appear that the Communists must accept all consequences.” Marshall asserted that “a continuance of that attitude would inevitably lead to civil war.” He repeated his proposal made the previous day to Chou En-lai (which originally had been made to Marshall by Foreign Minister Wang Shieh-chieh), that the civil administration of hsiens should reflect the status quo as of V-J Day.

Besides a lull in negotiations, Marshall stated, “Executive Headquarters appeared to be out of business.” Nevertheless, he was “willing to make a last desperate effort” to reach an agreement. Marshall then read extracts from a letter (a copy of which had come from a confidential, non-Chinese source) that purported to be a report from a high government official to army chief of staff General Chen Cheng recommending that the government prepare plans to exterminate the Communists while continuing the peace negotiations.

General Yu stated that he wished to withdraw from participation in the Committee of Three, as he could no longer influence the Generalissimo or other government military authorities. A week previously, Yu said, he had assured Chiang that the Communists would not attack in Kiangsu province, and shortly thereafter they launched a major offensive. (Ibid., pp. 1369-71.)

Chou En-lai, July 17, 10:45 A.M.

They began with a discussion of the problems of diverting the Yellow River into its prewar bed. Chou noted that two important leaders of the Democratic League had been assassinated in Kunming (see note 2, Marshall to Truman, July 22, 1946, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-509 [5: 634]), and the Communists believed that the government’s secret police were about to launch similar attacks elsewhere. Marshall said he shared Chou’s shock and horror at the deeds and the U.S. Embassy was vigorously protesting to the government and endeavoring to prevent future episodes.

Regarding Marshall’s proposed solution to the local administration issue, Chou En-lai said that he did “not find it wise to bring up this subject” to Communist leaders, given their bitter experience with the government since V-J Day. Moreover, since the Communist evacuation of Changchun, the military formula Marshall advocated had been “almost completely acceptable” to the Communists but not to the Generalissimo, who sought to use force and intimidation to force further concessions from the Communists, who preferred to resist attack rather than capitulate. Marshall noted that each side had asserted that they attacked in order to forestall the other side’s planned assault—“each side accuses the other of exactly the same thing.” (Ibid., pp. 1371-78.)

Yu Ta-wei, July 18, 11:30 A.M.

The main reason for the meeting, Marshall said, was to show General Yu an alleged government order (sent to him by Chou En-lai) for a general attack in Kiangsu beginning July 15. If true, this was another embarrassment to the government, which had heretofore insisted that the Communists had attacked first. Marshall also brought up the assassinations in Kunming and indicated that he had received a list of people to be murdered and the name of their assassin. “Negotiations could not be conducted in an atmosphere of this nature,” he said. (Ibid., pp. 1283-84.

Recommended Citation: ThePapers of George Catlett Marshall, ed.Larry I. Bland and Sharon Ritenour Stevens(Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 5, “The Finest Soldier,” January 1, 1945-January 7, 1947 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), pp. 629-631.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 5-505

Rights: Public Information