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China Hand: An Autobiography (Haney Foundation Series) Hardcover – January 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


A History Book Club selection

China Hand is low-key but forceful, at times quite deliciously witty. . . . No doubt China Hand will be of particular interest to students of Chinese history from the 1930s to the 50s and of American diplomacy during the same period, but its greatest value is as the personal testament of a man who was the wholly innocent victim of political opportunism yet retained his sense of personal worth and, equally important, his undying loyalty to the country that had served him so poorly. His life should be an object lesson to everyone.—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

"The book is filled with vivid personalities and brings to life the fluid strategic situation at the end of the war. Its wry style makes for a delightful read, even though the foreordained outcome suffuses the story with regret."—Foreign Affairs

"An often funny, always insightful account of an adventurous and wonderful life. John Paton Davies was an American hero—judicious, discreet, and reliable—who deserves to be remembered by a book as good as this one."—Nicholas Thompson, author of The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War

"From his battles with Senator McCarthy, to his heroic achievements in the Burmese jungle, from his insightful predictions of the Chinese civil war, to his ultimate dismissal from the U.S. Foreign Service, Davies holds nothing back. Loaded in story and analysis, China Hand is a terrific book about a fascinating figure in American history."—Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of American Lion

"An important book about a pivotal time in America, with relevance for the present and future. As history and biography, China Hand is first rate."—Dan Rather

"Among the State Department's 'China Hands' of the 1930s and 40s, John Paton Davies was one of the most eminent, until our domestic debates destroyed his career. China Hand is a gripping account of that era."—Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

"Davies predicted more accurately than anyone else, prior to the Cold War, what China's course would be during it. We are most fortunate to have his posthumous autobiography available at last, in which he explains, in shrewd and sparkling prose, how he did this. His book is a major new contribution to World War II and early Cold War history."—John Lewis Gaddis, author of George F. Kennan: An American Life

"China Hand is a vital missing link in the terrible story of America savaging itself politically over the Communist conquest of China. This testimony by a leading victim in that maelstrom of hysteria and falsehood makes sobering reading in today's political climate."—Robert MacNeil

""[This] globetrotting memoir is rich in intrigue, candid, credible, and masterfully told."—Andrew Burstein, The Advocate

About the Author

John Paton Davies, Jr. (1908-99) was a Foreign Service officer in the U.S. Department of State from 1931 to 1954. He was also the author of Foreign and Other Affairs and Dragon by the Tail: American, British, Japanese, and Russian Encounters with China and One Another. Todd S. Purdum is national editor of Vanity Fair. Bruce Cumings is Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor in History and the College at the University of Chicago. He is the author of several books, most recently Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Power.
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Product Details

  • Series: Haney Foundation Series
  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press; First Edition edition (January 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081224401X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812244014
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #675,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jo Manley on February 23, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Just got my copy yesterday and couldn't put it down. This is a personal history of tumultuous times, told with dry wit and extraordinary understanding. One of those books you're sad to finish because you'd love to keep reading.....
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By MikeinSeattle on April 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I found myself hoarding the last 30 pages, or so. I thought, "If I don't read them all now, I'll have some some more for tomorrow." John Paton Davies was in an unique position to observe some of the key events of an extraordinary era. We are lucky he was such a keen observer and a gifted writer, as well as being a significant participant. He writes of the key players and events in an easy, accessible style, with a subtle humor and much wit. His understatements and objectivity make the struggles and follies of the principal actors in World War II China stand out in sharp relief. He saw General Joe Stillwell clearly and sympathetically, and he clearly details the enormously complex structure Vinegar Joe had to contend with. There are portraits and glimpses of Stalin, Mao, FDR, and more, as well as a jungle adventure among head-hunters in Burma. What a great read! And there are some valuable lessons about the vagaries of politics, the price of honesty and loyalty, and the need to assess policies clearly and honestly. Worth remembering in a presidential campaign year...

"China Hand" is an entertaining and worthwhile read.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Christian Schlect VINE VOICE on April 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very good on the internal struggle for China in the 1930s-40s; and on the United States role then with China, both militarily and diplomatically. All interested in modern China would benefit from reading this well written autobiography.

It provides one intelligent observer's viewpoint, not a balanced history. One comes away, however, thinking the career diplomat John Paton Davies, Jr. was correct about a lot of things related to the political future of China and the region. It is highly unfortunate that his views eventually lost out to those of the sharp-elbowed "China Lobby," led by supporters of Chiang Kai-shek.

The book is quite informative on Mr. Davies' start at the State Department and his close ties in the early years of World War II to U.S. General "Fighting Joe" Stilwell. His description of Washington, D.C. foreign policy making under FDR, especially as related to China and winning the war against Japan, is clear, incisive, and devastating.

There are oddities in this narrative to the modern eye, such as Mr. Davies' ardent defense of media leaks and cavalier approach to classified official documents. Also, his failure to mention much about his father-in-law, who just happened to be our country's first ambassador to India.

The book tails off in both form and substance when the now-deceased author hits the 1950s and his eventual dismissal from the State Department.

The epilogue provide by Professor Cumings might have been much better if it kept a focus on the book's subject (the life of and career of John Paton Davies, Jr.), rather than bemoaning the current state of diplomacy in our "still provincial country."
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By P. Backstrom on April 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating combination of world history and personal events. The author is a very keen observer, and writes with a wry wit that makes the first-hand accounts of history all the more enjoyable.
Each person in the book, whether a train driver, a tribal chief, or a world leader, is equally interesting and their opinions are equally worthy.
It is an unexpected treat to have a new first person account of this time in our history. I was educated and enlightened, and will remember many of the stories for a long time. I recommend it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Franny Glass on April 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating look behind the scenes at an extraordinary time in history from a distinguish writer, a exemplary statesman, and true American patriot. The destructiveness of the McCarthy era and how it robbed our government of the wisdom and expertise of this brilliant diplomat, left me shaking my head...what a tragic and terrible waste. His leadership and courage when his plane crashed in the Burmese jungle was heroic, but most remarkable to me, and what I found most inspirational, was the lack of bitterness, self-pity or revenge as Davies tells his absorbing story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By John Richard Schrock on July 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover
China Hand: An Autobiography of John Paton Davies, Jr. University of Pennsylvania Press, hardcover © 2012, 351 pages.

In 1949, Dean Acheson released the official "United States Relations with China, with Special Reference to the Period 1944-1949" based on the files of the Department of State. The Foreign Service officers who worked in China for our Department of State were coming under fire from the "China Lobby" led by ex-Ambassador Hurley, publisher Henry Luce and the pro-Kuomintang Taiwan faction. "Why did we lose China to the Reds?" became the blame game of this era and was led by the Republicans who had been out-of-office for the long duration of the Roosevelt presidency. This was about to erupt as the Great Commie Scare or "Joe McCarthy Era" of the early 1950s, the black period in our history that drove the United States to excesses of firings, blacklistings, and persecution that demonstrated that our republic could approach the despotism of dictatorships. As a result, nearly all of the Foreign Service officers who worked in China were fired after being publicly pilloried for their correct intellectual assessments and diplomatic work. John Paton Davies, Jr. was one of the most outstanding of these public servants and this is his autobiography.

There is a phrase in Chinese "zhong guo tang" that roughly translates "China expert" and it is used far too casually by the Chinese today to refer to any Westerner who understands just a little of Chinese society and customs. To really understand China, you have to grow up as a child in China, learning the language as a first language along with your Chinese playmates and internalizing the Chinese view of the world.
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