The Clare Spark Blog

June 30, 2011

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (3)

Hemingway and Fidel Castro

[Added 6-10-12: It was revealed in 2010 that EH was recruited to the KGB in October 1940. Details on part one. Keep this in mind as you read this segment and the others. For a hint regarding EH’s attraction to anything smacking of Spanish culture, see For my review of the HBO movie on the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage, see]

Like William J. Lederer, the admiring friend and student of Hemingway in China, Moreira wants to be read as humble ally of “the grass roots” against “corrupt officials”: he is no communist (p.134). This populist-progressive slant may follow the analysis of historians such as Michael Schaller and R. Bruce Craig arguing that misled by the China Lobby, liberal anticommunists fatally misperceived Third World nationalism as products of a global communist conspiracy masterminded by the Soviet Union; they should have understood such nationalist movements as rational sociopolitical responses to intolerable local conditions. Conservative critics of Roosevelt-style internationalism [1]  have consistently and mistakenly opposed anti-imperialist movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. How could the Roosevelt administration have supported the Nationalists? Were they unaware of Chiang’s dubious political support in a collaborationist and exploitative bourgeoisie? (Moreira: pp.115, 132-33)  This cosmic error, incessantly pushed by crypto-fascist militaristic crusades, would set the pattern for future disastrous U.S. interventions in the Third World.  Though he knew almost nothing about the Far East prior to this trip, Hemingway’s “probing” insights and “geopolitical” analysis, made visible in For Whom The Bell Tolls, “the greatest political novel in American literature,” (19, 133) should have been, but were not, commandeered for world peace through balance of power politics[2] [Schaller] and integrated capitalist-socialist economic systems achieved through free trade. [Craig, p.148].[3]

Moreira complains that Gellhorn knowingly sold out (p.144) to powerful others in her favorable reporting on Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang in her Collier’s pieces; unlike Chou or Theodore H. White, similarly agitated by the Russian-Soviet pact of April 14, 1941 that might impel Nationalist capitulation to the Japanese and attack on the Communists holding Yenan province (pp.135-136), Gellhorn echoed pro-Chiang puffery by Henry Luce (p.138). With equal vehemence, the author faults Hemingway for lazily swallowing the Nationalist line served up by the manipulative Chiangs: Hemingway, suspicious of Communist propaganda in Spain, was overly impressed by Chiang’s claims to be fighting the Japanese (pp.130-131), a claim that Moreira had gone to great lengths to discredit, especially in his incensed description of a “mock” or “fake” battle staged by cunning Nationalists for the benefit of visitors known to be “foreign dignitaries” close to Roosevelt (Chapter 7). However, Gellhorn’s article, reprinted in The Face of War, only praises the “maneuver” “put on …for our benefit” at “the front [that] was the most restful place in China.” “These soldiers moved with the sureness and purpose of much experience and good training,” ending her piece with “…in the long run, I’d hate to be Japanese.” How then to explain this photograph caption in Moreira? “Hemingway and Gellhorn spent months traveling to cover fighting with the Japanese in China. They were shocked and thoroughly dismayed when they finally witnessed these Chinese troops marching off to a mock battle.”

This is an inexcusable distortion of Gellhorn’s piece, but Moreira must do it to support his thesis, reiterated throughout: Publicizing their insights to a broad readership, Hemingway and Gellhorn could have inflicted damage to the Nationalist regime that was hoarding “hundreds of millions” of American dollars (to destroy the true antifascists–the Communists?) while refusing to attack the Japanese invaders (91, a judgment contradicted in the description of the Chengtu airfield building project, chapter 9). Sadly, “the articles Hemingway and Gellhorn eventually published, in some small way, contributed to the popular support in America for the fascist Chiang regime, which increased the pressure on White and Morgenthau to send aid to China. Finally, far from battling fascism in her articles, Gellhorn became the stooge for a pair of right-wing dictators” (referring to Chiang and Madame Chiang, p.192).

Moreira is a financial journalist, hence it is surprising that he devotes a single paragraph to the inflation that brought the Nationalists down, making the unsupported claims that H. H. Kung, Minister of Finance, “denied that there was any inflation” and that “rigid exchange controls” benefited “Chiang and his family to the detriment of U.S. taxpayers.” (p.106) [4] Moreira cites Jonathan D. Spence and David Rees, but the pages given for Rees quote Arthur N. Young, who, elsewhere, blamed the imposition of exchange controls on the U.S. Treasury under the leadership of Harry Dexter White,[5] while the pages on inflation in Spence’s In Search of Modern China mention neither H. H. Kung nor embezzlement by the Chiang family.[6] A similar unsourced judgment appears later: Complaining about Hemingway’s PM article “Aid to China,” Moreira states, “…Chiang hoarded the materiel and money he got from the Americans and used it to fight the Chinese Communists rather than using it to attack the Japanese” (p.190). Moreira never states that modernizing social and political advances were reversed or stymied by Japanese aggression. The KMT was far from completing the political reunification of China, a unification that would not be tolerated by the CCP, unless it was under their sole control, though that was not the impression they gave to American interviewers from the OSS in 1942, and published in Morgenthau Diary (China): 870-879.

The author is similarly confused about the “united front,” the ostensible object of Roosevelt’s curiosity. The intricate relations between Soviet Leninists and the CCP are either invisible or unspecified, while the concept of a united front comes and goes.  Referring to the career of Chou as he returns to China from Europe (Chou was “the great statesman of the Chinese Communists, admired by foreign diplomats and adored by the Chinese people”), Moreira writes, “In 1924 [there was] “the period of cooperation between the Communists and Kuomintang” (pp.129, 128, my emph.).  The only impetus to a “united front” appears as a strategy to avoid exacerbating the “feud” (pp.77,132); a strategy insisted upon only by Americans (i.e., Lauchlin Currie acting on behalf of the Roosevelt administration, warning Hemingway not to make trouble), not Leninist protocols as mediated by Soviet national interests, however much they were occasionally resisted by Mao’s ultra-leftism.[7] The point is that the pressure was on, and Hemingway could not have been unaware of Soviet designs. Yet Moreira condemns Hemingway’s silence in the PM articles regarding influential “peace groups” (Chiang-supporting wealthy collaborationists with the Japanese) he learned about in Chungking (132): “What Hemingway failed to appreciate was that Chiang got his money—both for his army and his family—from two sources: the Soviets, who would never have tolerated an overt anti-Communist offensive; and the Americans, who were insisting upon a united front against Japan.” Actually, the USSR did tolerate an anti-Communist offensive: they did not cut off aid at the time of the New Fourth Army Incident, and Moscow did not send military aid to the relatively weak CCP until 1945. [8] (For part four of this review of Peter Moreira’s book see


[1] R. Bruce Craig, Treasonable Doubt: The Harry Dexter White Spy Case (Lawrence, Kansas: UP ofKansas, 2004): 136.

[2] Michael Schaller, The United States and China in the Twentieth Century (N.Y.: Oxford UP, 1979):193.

[3] I am synthesizing Moreira, Craig, and Schaller here. See Michael Schaller, The U.S. Crusade in China, 1938-1945 (N.Y.: Columbia UP, 1979); 141 and passim.

[4] Kung’s remark was possibly taken from Theodore H. White, In Search of History, p.163. That the economy may have been deliberately undermined by Chi Ch’ao-ting and Communist-leaning Treasury Department officials is suggested in Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, The Amerasia Spy Case (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1996):159.

[5] Young’s testimony to the Internal Security Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, July 13, 1956, is quoted extensively in Anthony Kubek, How The Far East Was Lost (N.Y.: Twin Circle Publishing, 1972): 179-181. Young was defending free markets against statist regulation. I have found a mention of rumored Chiang family benefits from inflation in David Rees, Harry Dexter White: A Study in Paradox (N.Y.: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1973): 161, but Rees also quotes Herbert Feis: “the evidence of that was evanescent.”

[6] Moreira cites the first edition of Spence, In Search of Modern China (1990). The second edition discusses the sources of “the economic crisis” of 1945 to “the muddle and graft involved in the return of Japanese and puppet businesses to their previous owners; widespread unemployment compounded the cutting back of defense industries and the demobilization of many soldiers; the complexities of redeeming puppet government currencies; speculation based on the regional variations of currency values; and the additional problem of the new currency introduced by Chiang in Manchuria.” (474). Although he is writing from the left and is not friendly to the Nationalists, I have found nothing to support Moreira’s citation of his book.

[7]See Niu Jun, “The Origins of the Sino-Soviet Alliance,” in Brothers in Arms , ed. Odd Arne Westad (Washington, D.C.: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998): 47-89. Also, Dieter Heinzig, The Soviet Union and Communist China (Armonk, N.Y.: M.E. Sharpe, 2004): Chapter 1. On shifting relations between Moscow and CCP, see 4-28; pressure from USSR to accept the united front, 3-17. Heinzig notes two instances of Soviets directly aiding the CCP (militarily), one of which failed. Michael Sheng’s Battling Western Imperialism, goes much farther in describing the influence of the Soviet Union on the CCP.

[8] See Sergei N. Goncharov, John W. Lewis, and Xue Litai, Uncertain Partners: Stalin, Mao, and the Korean War (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1993):14.  Mostly Japanese equipment was transferred to the CCP, sufficient to arm 600,000 fighters.

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