5-378 Memorandum for the President, February 28, 1946

Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Date: February 28, 1946

Subject: China

Memorandum for the President

from James R. Shepley

February 28, 1946 Washington, D.C.

Top Secret

In accordance with your instructions I have prepared the following written report on General Marshall’s negotiations in China.1

When General Marshall arrived in China to carry out your directive it was necessary for him to make an exact estimate of an extremely complex military and political situation. It was essential that he accurately gauge:

1. The military capabilities of the opposing armies of the National Government and of the Communist Party.

2. The degree of willingness of the controlling leaders of the Communist and Kuomintang (Government) Parties to resolve their differences by political means and end the civil war then in progress.

3. The effect of your statement of American policy with regard to China.2

4. The Soviet objectives with regard to China and the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the U.S.S.R.

Immediately upon his arrival in China on December 20, General Marshall conferred with General Wedemeyer and the Chiefs of all his Staff sections. He then proceeded to Nanking where he met the Generalissimo and had his first official discussions with him, at the Generalissimo’s request, the night of his arrival.

From Nanking General Marshall went to Chungking where for 10 days he made himself available to all who desired to see him. In this period he heard representatives of all major factions in the country.

General Marshall’s initial estimates of the unknown factors stated above (which throughout his mission have remained largely unchanged) were:

1. That neither the National nor the Communist Armies had the capability to bring about a military decision with their own resources, and accordingly, without the intervention of foreign powers, a stalemate was likely to result and produce a China divided between at least two independent governments and possibly three.

2. That both the National Government and the Communist Party were willing to negotiate so long as they could win their own objectives by political means, and that both sides were filled with such a deep-seated distrust of the good faith of the other that no concrete results were likely ever to result from such negotiations if the Chinese factions were left to themselves.

3. That your statement had an extremely healthy effect throughout China. It had clearly opened the way for American assistance in bringing about a peaceful settlement.

4. That the Soviet objectives in China and the relationship between the Chinese Communist Party and the U.S.S.R. were extremely obscure but, insofar as they could be judged, made it all the more imperative that the Chinese factions reach a political settlement.

In addition to his deepseated distrust of the Chinese Communists the Generalissimo was extremely fearful of his and their relationships with Russia. His first statements to General Marshall were in this vein and he repeated them on almost every occasion. It seemed at first that his views might be colored by the thought that he might thus be able to press the United States into supporting the Central Government in the liquidation of the Communists. However, with the more recent developments of Russian failure to leave Manchuria on the agreed date of February 1 and their heavy demands for economic concessions, he seemed to have more justifiable grounds for his grave concern.

General Marshall concluded that so long as there remained in existence an independent Communist Government and independent Communist Army, China was highly vulnerable to undercover Soviet infiltration, which could result in the Communists overthrowing the Generalissimo by force of arms. It was his opinion that the Communist forces which lay across the throat of the strategic areas of North China and controlled the vital north-south railways, could not be liquidated by National forces without full-scale American intervention both in the movement of Chinese forces with American equipment and the use of American personnel, possibly even combat forces.

Since this was utterly out of the question the Generalissimo would be left unable to eliminate Communist Armies, which, with their backs to Soviet Siberia, could easily be supplied and equipped and led under cover by the Soviets.

The only hope of maintaining a sovereign China appeared to lie in a political settlement which would present a unified nation to the world and force any other power that might be intent upon creating a puppet China to do so by overt aggression.

The Generalissimo clearly was not, and will not be for many years, in any position to defend himself against armed Soviet aggression. His only hope and sovereign China’s only hope in the event the Soviets should make hostile moves was to place China in the position of a victim of open aggression and hope for the same world support that was drawn to the victims of German and Japanese aggression.

General Marshall proceeded to attempt to carry out your instructions, to strive for a cessation of hostilities in China, a coalition government in which all factions might participate in the government, and the integration of autonomous armies into the national armies of the Republic.

Each step along the way was extremely laborious and required extremes of tact and patience and diplomacy. The Chinese were able to agree to almost anything in general and almost nothing in specific; and even when they were able to agree on specific terms they had not the slightest conception of how to put agreements into operation.

Basically, General Marshall was able to convince the Generalissimo that it was imperative to him to get an agreement which would put an end to the independent Communist Government and Army, and that this would require concession on his part. General Marshall was able also to convince the Generalissimo that without such an agreement it was politically impossible for the American Government to make available the aid to China which she needs so critically. Essentially, this was the way in which the Government was brought to make the necessary concessions which produced the agreement, but it was far less simple than this mere statement. The Generalissimo was continually unable to relate his general logic to the day by day incidents that occurred in the negotiations with the Communists.

The cessation of hostilities, for example, was brought about only after General Marshall went to the Generalissimo late at night and prevailed upon him to discontinue efforts to take over the provinces of Jehol and Chahar. The Generalissimo was determined to move into these two provinces, both before and after the truce, to gain only a minor advantage, and continued to fail to perceive that he was risking everything. In this course he was urged continually by his generals and the Kuomintang irreconcilables who were not and never have been in sympathy with, nor understood the vital necessity for the agreement. These “diehard” elements of the Kuomintang present one of the Generalissimo’s most serious problems at this time. It is likely that the Generalissimo can handle them, but before the progress in China that is now promised becomes certain, there will undoubtedly be many tense moments precipitated by the “diehards”.

The political agreements in the Political Consultative Assembly were effected only after General Marshall prepared a complete draft charter for a coalition Government, which specifically stated the method in which it would be brought about and guaranteed the freedoms on which the minority elements in China were so insistent. This was done in the utmost secrecy by General Marshall so as to preserve “face” for the Generalissimo and must remain secret at the risk of nullifying all that has been accomplished so far.

The agreement on the consolidation of the armies and the demobilization was accomplished through the preparation of concrete and specific schedules by competent American staff officers borrowed from General Wedemeyer. The Chinese themselves seemed to have no idea about how to proceed.

It is this inability of the Chinese to carry out even the things they agree to in good faith that is so critical in the present and in the future situation. The Executive Headquarters which General Marshall created to carry out the cessation of hostilities on the ground is one of the most essential operations now going on in China. It would be utterly hopeless to expect the Chinese to carry out their present agreements without the most detailed and exact kind of American assistance. Because of its success in bringing about the truce, the Executive Headquarters is already a powerful instrument in the unification of China. So long as it is supported by this Government with highly competent personnel its chances of doing an unprecedented job of combining two armies, both of which have been fighting for years and neither of which has been defeated, remain from even to good. Without American assistance and “know how” there is no chance. This same principle is true of all that is going forward in China at this moment. Without the most liberal kind of American aid and the best expert personnel we can provide, the chances of the new coalition Government to succeed are dismal.

The Chinese Government must have in the next few years generous quantities of American money, American machinery and equipment and personnel, and American guidance, or it is almost certainly foredoomed to collapse.

If the efforts to make this coalition Government effective should fail we can reasonably expect that China will revert to political and economic chaos and break up into many small autonomous war-lord-dominated areas, which would be easy prey for the Soviet if it is her intent to make a puppet of China and a great temptation for the Soviet if that is not her present intent.

At the same time General Marshall feels strongly that this American assistance must be made available to China with the utmost of efficiency and skill. Since it will be necessary for us to prop up the Chinese militarily, economically, financially, and politically for some time, there will be unquestionably many different groups of American experts and advisers and missions and individuals loose in the country. It will be chaotic if these groups are not placed under a single authority and coordinated toward a single objective, which must be the policy fixed by the President for our relations with China. This will require that all American groups and missions in China be placed under the direct control of the Ambassador. At the same time the effort must be coordinated carefully in Washington, just as the office established by General Marshall under Colonel Davis has been doing thus far.

The man who is made Ambassador to China must necessarily be of the highest type. He must, General Marshall believes, have a certain amount of prestige in the world at large and in this country and must at the same time have no record of prejudice or advocacy which would irritate either the Chinese nationalists or the Chinese communists. He must be a man competent to control and administer all of the various groups and missions which we will send to China and he must be a man who will receive his orders from the President and carry them out faithfully.

General Marshall has been searching for some time for a name to suggest to you for this appointment. General Wedemeyer seems to meet the many-sided requirements for the job.

His own plans are now fairly definite, as he radioed you this week.3 He hopes, with your approval, to leave China about the 12th of March in order to consult with you personally and return soon enough to keep the preliminary moves of the Army consolidation and governmental consolidation well on the track. He is desirous, with your approval, of completing his mission by no later than mid-summer and feels that it would be highly beneficial if the appointment of the Ambassador could be made in time for him to help the new man on his way.

General Marshall feels that no international situation which involves this country is more important than that which will exist for the next 18 months in China. He feels that it is imperative that China receive all the assistance from this country that is necessary to start her toward conversion into an effective, peaceful, democratic, modern nation. It is of equal importance that the United States give its assistance with careful regard for Chinese “face”. Several “leaks” in Washington which created the impression in China that General Marshall was to conduct high-handed negotiations threatened for a time to damage the great effect of your well-phrased statement of policy. Dr. Soong, for example, was exceedingly hard to work with on this account for nearly two months, and put General Marshall to considerable effort to get on a basis of understanding with him.

Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, China Mission, Memoranda-Messages-Cables, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.

Document Format: Typed memorandum.

1. Marshall had arranged to have Shepley visit President Truman. (See Marshall to Truman, February 23, 1946, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-370 [5: 469].) Shepley saw Truman on February 27, but “the President was harassed by an appointment jam and an upcoming cabinet meeting,” and he directed Shepley to distill his remarks in a memorandum. Shepley summarized his memorandum in a February 28 message to Marshall, part of which is in Foreign Relations, 1946, 9: 446-47.

2. See “U. S. Policy Towards China,” December 15, 1945, Foreign Relations, 1945, 7: 770-73.

3. See Marshall to Truman, February 26, 1946, Papers of George Catlett Marshall, #5-376 [5: 478-79].

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. 480-485.

Digital Downloads




Holding Rights: Public Information
Holding ID: 5-378

Rights: Public Information