40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2001
White and Jacoby, both correspondants for Time Magazine during WW2 and its aftermath, provide an insider's portrayal of China's convoluted mechanisms of governence. While other contemporary accounts are mostly small in their scope, and unapologetically biased towards either the Communists or the Nationalists, Thunder Out of China is brutally fair, sympathetic to the Nationalists while exposing their corruption, and detailing the incompentence of the American intervention which resulted in a resumption of the disasterous civil war 1945-1949. The book covers such disasters as the Hunan famine, the farce of Chinese "resistance" to the Japanese invaders, the recalcitrant corruption and conservatism of the Nationalist leaders, and the sacking of Stillwell.
Snow's Red Star Over China may be more readable, but it's chatty, personal, pro-Red, and semi-fictionalized account is much less revealing historically than Thunder Out of China. Time was unapologetically, even fanatically, supportive of the Chiang Kai-shek regime, and the magazine's propaganda in the US explains much of America's distastrous intervention (read China Hands for more on this). White and Jacoby used this book to expose much of what their employer wouldn't let them say, and it remains one of the best accounts written of wartime China.
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2001
This book, along with "Wild Swans", is a must read for anyone who would understand the history of China and why things are the way they are. It is well written and fast paced. The corruption of Chiang Kai-shek before Mao took over was enlightening. The media gives such a biased (pro-American) and simplistic (black and white) view of events in China. This book will take you behind the scenes.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 11, 2004
I first encountered Thunder Out of China in the late 1960s after Lin Yutang caused me to have a yearning to know more about the China of the early 20th Century. Theodore White was one of my early reads. Because of the rabid anti-communism of the times I found myself wondering how White managed to keep himself out of the clutches of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee, writing such things. This book was responsible for the historical amoeba of WWII gradually spreading through my life for several years.
Read it. This is a side of WWII, Mao, Chang, Vinegar Joe Stillwell from personal acquaintance and observation, you won't get anywhere else.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 5, 2007
This is an interesting narrative of China at the end of World War II and start of civil war by TIME Magazine correspondents Annalee Jacoby (1916-2002) and Theodore H. White (1915-1986). With their sympathies focused on the long-suffering Chinese populace, the authors show the political realities of that troubled land. Readers see how the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek was beset by corruption, cruelty and incompetence. These problems contributed to disasters like famine in Henan Province, and led many to side with Mao's Communists. The authors also relate such events as the sacking of General Joe Stillwell, and the listless Nationalist opposition to the invading Japanese. By honestly reporting Nationalist incompetence and the possibility of a communist takeover (as happened in 1949), the authors soon found themselves in hot water. TIME publisher Henry Luce fired White for refusing to heed Luce's party line, and both authors were later accused of having helped "lose" China to the Reds.
Theodore White went on to a stellar career as a U.S. political writer with his superb MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT series, while Jacoby married author and media personality Clifton Fadiman. This is a worthy and realistic narrative, although not quite up the standards of most of White's later books.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2006
I came across this book while going through a box of my grandmother's old books. What a find! As a student of Asian History, I found it fascinating and can't believe that I never read this while majoring in Asian Studies (shame on you San Diego State!). It is very well written and a true asset to anyone studying China's past and what lead up to the Coummunist revolt.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2002
This is investigative journalism at its best, starting in 1939 with a report of the then Kuomintang capital and ending with the renewed civil war well under way in 1946, the years this book was published in the present, unchanged form. All important historical event in this time bracket are treated as they were realized by the authors based on their investigations and understanding of China - but to many questions of personal motives or details answers then couldn't be presented. The hero of the story is the Chinese peasant and the more efficient way to help him to progress into the modern world is seen with the communists. But it is not the complete history of China between 1937 and 1949 I hoped to find ....
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2005
White has for many years been noted for his observations of current political affairs. His "Making of the President..." works are well thought of by many students of American politics of the period from 1960 on. But he did not spring fully formed from obscurity. He perfected his trade in partnership with Annalee Jacoby in China from 1939 to 1946 as a reporter for Time Magazine. Henry Luce, the publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune, all major and widely circulated and influential, was a prominent member of the notorious China Lobby, composed of Americans with family and commercial ties to China.
In that period Time did not give bylines to their reporters so White did not receive public notice for his work until this book appeared. Even though Luce was a political conservative he gsve the liberal White much leeway in his reporting. White's sympathies were with the long suffering Chinese people, and it did not matter to him which of the contending factions won out so long as the people's lot was improved.
This work summarizes and preserves in a readily available form the reporting. I have found in contrast that many valuable reports of the conduct of the Mexican Revolution have never been gathered snd republished, thus the value of this work as first hand reporting and "real time" personal narrative is apparent.
13 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2004
Make no mistake, Teddy White was an excellent writer. His writings communicates vividly and sympathetically. He makes you see what he sees and what he feels. He also gives you a feeling of what that age was like from the eye of an American reporter. However, White was no more than a man of his profession and his times. He did not have the hindsight of history and what would come out of the triumph of Chinese communism. Therefore this work is a good source material for historical research but should not be regarded as a good book of history. The work is remarkable for what it covers, but also remarkable for what it did not cover. For example, he would use two sentence to describe the heroic defense of Hengyang, but he would spend two pages describing how pathetic the Chinese soldiers were. He even gave us the wrong name for the general who defended Hengyang. He would discuss about the corruption that took away big portions of American aid. He did not discuss how Treasury Secretary Morgenthau withheld vital aid from China, after he agreed to provide the aid. A lot of these facts he probably did not know at the time. I would suggest reading Lin Yutang's book Vigil of a Nation along with this book. It will give you a more balanced view of the complexity of the situation. I am still waiting for a good book that will provide the definitive history of this very important era.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2015
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
A tale of Peanut and Moose Dung.
This is not a historian's view of mid century China, but a surprisingly readable and fresh contemporary (1946) look by two American journalists. The authors worked for Time in China. (White would later become very successful with a series of books about American elections.) Though Time was strongly supporting Chiang Kai-shek and the Kuomintang, the book criticizes the nationalist government strongly.
The advantage of contemporary perspective, ie the freshness and the first hand views, outweighs the problems of contemporary shortsightedness, ie the lack of access to knowledge that was discovered later. The book mentions no sources, but the story is told well. Most books of that kind lose their luster within a few years, they become dated. Apart from the aging problem of subject matter, few journalists can really write good prose. These could.
The structure combines chapters on special subjects with a chronological narration of the war. It starts with a superb essay on Chongqing, the war time capital. Much of that is the authors' own observation, or fresh second hand information. We get a chapter on China's peasants, a key subject for the understanding of the country. It tells a consistent story, but is it true, or is it just conventional knowledge? A skeptical attitude might be justified.
The KMT is characterized as an alliance of coastal business people with rural landed gentry. A mini biography of CKS shows him as a highly incompetent military leader and administrator, but a skillful political manipulator. His government was inefficient, corrupt and tyrannical.
A chapter on the communists and their headquarters in Yenan is, regrettably, a little romantic, and rather mistaken in its confidence that moderation in land right questions could be expected in future.
The most relevant subject for American readers: the role of Americans in China, the relation between the two countries. Was America 'allied to a corpse', as Ludendorff had said about Germany and Austria in WW1? As weak as the Chinese military machine was, it did manage to keep substantial Japanese resources tied down. The American commander, Vinegar Joe Stilwell, was expected to perform miracles on a shoestring. Priority on China was low in terms of resources. On the other hand, the Chinese were hoping for a Japanese defeat at the hand of the Americans. Hence, no whole hearted commitment by either side.
The authors agree with Stilwell's acidic view of the Chinese army and leadership. After CKS succeeded in getting Stilwell replaced, American policies in China changed towards taking clear sides in the internal Chinese confrontations. Unfortunately, Peanut (Stilwell's 'code name' for Chiang) was about to lose against Moose Dung (Ambassador Hurley's pronunciation of Mao's name). Americans were blind arbiters, meaning that neither ambassador nor new military chief had a clue what was happening.
Would the confrontation between the USA and China have been avoidable with a more intelligent and more diplomatic approach? Pure speculation.
The following quote strikes me as an insight that is as true today, under party rule, as it was then, under the various previous rulers: (Page 29)
'Appeal by the peasant against the oligarchy that rules him is useless. The local government to which he must appeal against iniquitous taxes, usurious interest, common police brutality, is by its very constitution the guardian of the groups that crush him.'
We can read the book as a study of the trouble that is caused by the absence of the rule of law.
on June 8, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
I saw a movie based on information in this novel. I was a youngster during WWII so I had a big interest in what was going on. I watched the window flags in the windows of the homes of service men change from Blue (serving), to Bronze (missing), to silver (wounded) to gold (killed in action).
My brother was in the Navy in the Pacific and after the invasion and typhoon in Okinawa, he went to Japan and China. My cousin was on the Lexington when it was sunk by the Japanese at the Battle of the Coral Sea. He swam to another ship, then went to the Atlantic where he was on the pocket carrier, the Block Island. He wore the Lexington patch on his shoulder so when he was rescued, the sailors said, "We don't want you Lex Guys. You are bad luck.
I was very interested in the early raid on Tokyo. The bomber pilots who flew the bombers who took off the carrier in the Doolittle Raid landed in China, at least some of them make it.
I also watched shows about the Flying Tigers and Merrill's Marauders, and such. So, I still have an interest.
I'm not quite half way through the book. It is somewhat repetitive but the author could not avoid that. He paints a vivid portrait of Chiang Kai-shek which did not change my opinion of him as a leader. He was not loved by the United States and British Military.
One thing that is prominent is the corruption of Chinese officials, most of them anyway, and the sorrowful state of the Chinese peasantry.
I'm eagerly waiting for entries of British and American Military operations.