Marshall Mission

George C. Marshall with Mao in Yen'an.

The Marshall Mission (December 20, 1945 – January 1947) was a failed diplomatic mission undertaken by United States Army General of the Army George C. Marshall to China in an attempt to negotiate the Communist Party of China and the Nationalists (Kuomintang) into a unified government.

Historical background

Committee of Three, from left, Nationalist representative Zhang Qun, George C. Marshall and Communist representative Zhou Enlai.

The end of the Second World War on 15 August 1945, also represented the conclusion of the Second Sino-Japanese War. Throughout the length of the war an uneasy stalemate had existed between the Chinese Communists (CCP) and the Chinese Nationalists (KMT), while prior to the war, both parties had been in open conflict with each other. American attempts during the Second World War to end the off and on again civil war between the two factions had failed, notably with the Hurley Mission. Throughout the war, both the CCP and the KMT had accused the other of withholding men and arms against the Japanese in preparation for offensive actions against the other. Thus, in a desperate attempt to keep the country whole, President Harry S. Truman in late 1945 sent General George Marshall as his special presidential envoy to China to negotiate a unity government.

Marshall arrives in China

Marshall arrived in China on December 20, 1945. His goal was to unify the Nationalists and Communists with the hope that a strong, non-Communist China, would act as a bulwark against the encroachment of the Soviet Union. Immediately, Marshall drew both sides into negotiations which would last for nearly two years. Significant agreements failed to appear, as both sides used the time to further prepare themselves for the ensuing conflict. Both the communist and nationalist governments were riddled with corruption and had no intention of agreeing on anything that contradicted their ultimate goal, which proved to be a difficult feat to overcome during negotiations. Finally, in February 1947, exasperated with the failure of the negotiations, Marshall left China.


The failure of the Marshall Mission signaled the renewal of the Chinese Civil War. George Marshall returned to the United States and committed himself to the revitalization of Europe with the Marshall Plan in the role of United States Secretary of State, which became yet another roaring success in Marshall's distinguished career. By 1949, the Kuomintang was driven from the Chinese mainland into Taiwan by a victorious Communist Party, which established the People's Republic of China.

Attack by Joe McCarthy

On June 9, 1951, Douglas MacArthur charged that the post-war Marshall mission to China committed " of the greatest blunders in American diplomatic history, for which the free world is now paying in blood and disaster..."[1] in a telegram to Senator William F. Knowland. On June 14, 1951, as the Korean War stalemated in heavy fighting between American and Chinese forces, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy attacked. He stated that Marshall was directly responsible for the "loss of China," as China turned from friend to enemy.[2] McCarthy said the only way to explain why the U.S. "fell from our position as the most powerful Nation on earth at the end of World War II to a position of declared weakness by our leadership" was because of "a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man."[3] McCarthy argued that General Albert Coady Wedemeyer had prepared a wise plan that would keep China a valued ally, but that it had been sabotaged; "only in treason can we find why evil genius thwarted and frustrated it." [4] Specifically McCarthy alleged:

"When Marshall was sent to China with secret State Department orders, the Communists at that time were bottled up in two areas and were fighting a losing battle, but that because of those orders the situation was radically changed in favor of the Communists. Under those orders, as we know, Marshall embargoed all arms and ammunition to our allies in China. He forced the opening of the Nationalist-held Kalgan Mountain pass into Manchuria, to the end that the Chinese Communists gained access to the mountains of captured Japanese equipment. No need to tell the country about how Marshall tried to force Chiang Kai-shek to form a partnership government with the Communists."[5]

Public opinion became bitterly divided along party lines on Marshall's record despite his impressive military career and good standing throughout Washington, D.C. as a trustworthy man who worked hard for America's interests in a nonpartisan manner. In 1952, Eisenhower, while campaigning for president, denounced the Truman administrations failures in Korea, campaigned alongside McCarthy, and refused to defend Marshall's policies.[6]

See also


  2. The speech was published as a 169-page book, America's Retreat from Victory: The Story of George Catlett Marshall (1951).
  3. Joe McCarthy, Major Speeches and Debates (1951) p. 215
  4. McCarthy, Major Speeches and Debates (1951) pp. 264.
  5. McCarthy, Major Speeches p. 191, from speech of March 14, 1951; see also Thomas C. Reeves, The Life and Times of Joe McCarthy (1982) pp 371-74.
  6. Reeves, McCarthy 437-8


Scholarly studies
Primary sources

Further reading

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