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China Hand: An Autobiography (Haney Foundation Series) Hardcover – January 6, 2012
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"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
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
""[This] globetrotting memoir is rich in intrigue, candid, credible, and masterfully told."—Andrew Burstein, The Advocate
"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
"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
A History Book Club selection
"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
"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
"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
"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
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.
Top customer reviews
China Hand is simply an exquisite memoir by a talented, intelligent, brave, and patriotic American public servant. Davies and his family had a long association with 20th Century China, beginning with his missionary parents, who bore and raised their eldest son in China. From there the book quickly moves along following the peripatetic Davies around the world as he substantially self-educated in America, Asia, Europe. His decision to join the foreign service was a prelude to some of his greatest service during World War II in the China-Burma-India theater of operations, where he was assigned as the political officer to General Joseph Stilwell (Vinegar Joe).
Without delving into the nitty gritty of Davies's trials and triumphs in the foreign service (and they are legion), I'll say that this was a most satisfying read. Davies is an exceptional narrator, with a keen eye for detail and a gift for prose. His account of American relations with China is an essential start point -- we are today grappling with the very issues and consequences that Davies presciently wrote about over fifty years ago. We, as a people, remain woefully undereducated about east Asia -- probably a consequence of our several bad experiences there, which is all the more reason that this voice from the past is so timely for our present.
A forward and epilogue by Todd Purdum and Bruce Cumings, respectively, serve useful purposes, though I do agree with another reviewer that Professor Cumings could have excised his editorial commentary on provincial America without any loss of his justifiable admiration for John Davies the man.
While the McCarthyites were correct about communist infiltration of the American system (the opening of the Russian Military Intelligence and KGB files after 1991 proves this fact), the twin cases of John Paton Davies and John Steward Service illustrate how ham-handed and mis-informed much of their investigation was. In fact, much was driven by political connections: Davies' to Stilwell, particularly, in which capacity he incurred the wrath and distrust of a host of vocal establishment conservative voices, from Henry Luce of Time Magazine to T.V. Soong, Madame Chiang's brother and head of the KMT secret police in DC. Davies, the realist and China expert fluent in Chinese since childhood, was simply not equal to the carefully crafted publicity game set up and managed in DC by Madame Chiang and T.V. Soong, and their American supporters.
A tragic tale, grippingly written by a man who was, after all, an American hero.
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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