The Clare Spark Blog

June 30, 2011

Links to review essay on Hemingway spy mission to China

 [Added 6-9-12: Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in October 1940, months before he and Gellhorn went on their “spy mission” to China in early 1941, though Harvey Klehr, co-author of Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America (2009) does not believe he gave them anything. It is thus crucial to read my essay in all its segments.] HBO screened a movie based on the Gellhorn-Hemingway marriage, May 28, 2012. The film stars Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen, and has been shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Part 4 has the money quote from Gustav Regler, demonstrating EH’s defense of Communist tactics in Spain, and also suggesting mental instability.  The movie, directed by Philip Kaufman, is remarkably pornographic and grossly distorts history along Stalinist/Popular Front lines, meantime making Gellhorn a Great Woman and pioneer war correspondent, while Hemingway is a slobbering idiot for much of the script. In my view, it parrots a common hot pink line on the lead up to World War 2, alleging that 1930s Communists were THE true and only antifascists.

My review of Peter Moreira’s book took eight months of focused research, went through many drafts, and was vetted by scholars. (Because of Nicole Kidman’s star power and sex appeal, over 3300 views of this segment alone) (This segment has the Gustav Regler quote that demonstrates EH’s support of the Communists in the Spanish Civil War)


Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (4)

Cover design, T. H. White’s Thunder Out of China

[Added 6-10-12: It was revealed in 2009 that EH was recruited by the KGB in October 1940.  For my review of the HBO movie on the Hemingway-Gellhorn marriage see]

Astonishingly, Moreira waits until the end of his book to suggest that both Harry Dexter White and Lauchlin Currie were passing secret intelligence to Moscow (pp.192-193), but cannot explain how the pro-KMT articles in Collier’s and PM might have served both Soviet and U.S. interests as they were perceived by the Roosevelt administration and Moscow.  Moreira cites Barbara Tuchman’s pro-Stilwell biography. Might he agree with Stillwell’s protest to George C. Marshall (after Chiang had requested that Stilwell be relieved of his command) that Chiang had “no intention of instituting any real democratic regime of forming a united front with the Communists?”[1] Might H. D. White have sent Hemingway to report back on “difficulties” between the KMT and CCP, hoping to get damaging material that would condemn the KMT for subverting the united front (a persistent claim of the CCP), a task made urgent after the New Fourth Army incident that provoked “emotional hysteria”,[2] and might Hemingway’s critical remarks about Communists in Spain account for Lauchlin Currie’s advice not to “inflame” the situation, with the unabridged letter to Morgenthau unpublished until conservative senators investigating Communist subversion of the U.S. Treasury and State Departments excerpted the nine-volume Morgenthau diary? Or was Hemingway, notwithstanding his reservations about Communist exaggerations of their military successes, still an admirer of the discipline and organization of the Communists, quietly aiding their objectives, while appearing to be even-handed? His friend Gustav Regler, purged political commissar of the Twelfth International Brigade in Spain, certainly thought so in his memoir, The Owl of Minerva (1959), describing an outburst from a probably tipsy Hemingway:

Mexico, 1941:…Hemingway came from Cuba to see the bullfights. We had drinks at the Tampico Club. When we were out in the street again he clapped his hand on my shoulder and thrust me against the marble façade. ‘Why did you leave them?’ (He meant the Communists.)… but he would not let me go; he was in an alarming state of emotional confusion. ‘Why did you believe them in Spain? There has to be an organization, and they have one. Go back to them! Beat the slanderers in their own house!’ After a time he turned away from me and cursed the whole world. ‘The US is finished, just like France. All Nazis should be castrated. The Russians are the only ones who are doing any fighting.’ Then he came back to me. ‘What do you care about the lies they are telling about you? All that’s just chicken-shit!’ ”

In her favorable essay on Moreira’s book for the Hemingway Review, Kaimei Zheng contributes an item not found by Moreira: Renjing Yang, author of Hemingway in China, has consulted the Chinese Communist Central Archive’s Chou En-lai Chronology published in 1989, discovering that “a month after Chou En-lai met with Hemingway, Chou telegraphed Liao Cheng Zhi and Mao in Yanan from Chongqing on 16 May 1941….Chou said, “According to our conversation with Hemingway, we still have a lot of room to maneuver diplomatically. We suggest adding several people in Hong Kong to coordinate our activities, and the objectives and guidelines in Hong Kong have to be the same as in Chongqing” (Central Archive 503)…. It suggests that Hemingway’s conversation had an impact on Communist diplomacy.” [3] As presented, this nugget suggests that Hemingway saw himself as an ally to the CCP; or, alternatively, perhaps he was as willing to display his analytic capacities and connections to major players to the Communists as he was to White and Morgenthau, but we learn nothing about the sources of his (hinted) inside dope, and nothing in Moreira helps us here.  Compare this report (suggesting partisanship) with the praise heaped upon the objective Hemingway by Hollington K. Tong, Vice-Minister of Information in the Chinese government, and who does not appear in Moreira’s book, who claimed in his book Dateline:China (1950) that Hemingway saw through Communist prevarications, an observation consistent with Hemingway’s letter to Morgenthau.

I am not proposing that Hemingway was either a compliant mouthpiece for the Roosevelt administration or a duped fellow-traveler. For instance, the Hemingway lengthy letter of July 30, 1941 to Morgenthau, the centerpiece of Moreira’s book, contains his solution to the China problem, (a suggestion not included in White’s digest of Hemingway’s letter[4]). Hemingway wrote, “To keep the whole thing as simple as possible, I think we can be sure that war between the Kuomingtang [sic] and the Communists is inevitable unless the Soviet Union and the Chungking Government come to some mutual agreement which will make part of China really Soviet China with a defensible frontier which will be respected by both the Chungking Government and the Communists.” (p.204). This is a remarkable suggestion, one that would not have pleased the CCP. When asked by the OSS, “Would the Chinese Communists welcome formal separation of Communist and Kuomintang China accompanied by international recognition of a Chinese Soviet,” Chou En-Lai responded, “…the Communist Party does not want the breakup of China into separate states. It wishes to help in establishing a democratic regime throughout all China—this system would involve elections, local choice, and freedom for all parties to organize a voting electorate. The Communist Party wants no more than one-third representation in China from top to bottom. The Communist Party wants the Kuomintang to study and learn from the success of democratic procedures already established in the Northwest.”[5]

Moreover, the partitioning of China would have appalled both the Roosevelt administration and the Chinese Nationalists, looking to a unified Chinese republic as a prospective great power in the postwar United Nations, and as a democratic capitalist bulwark against either Japanese or Soviet expansion; while the Soviet Union was sending aid to Chiang Kai-shek’s forces (even after the Soviet-Japanese Pact) to forestall further Japanese incursions into the Asian land mass. Moreira writes that Hemingway committed “the classic mistake of mid-century Kremlinologists of assuming that the Soviet Union could control Mao and restrict his ambition of ruling all of China” (p.191, ignoring Hemingway’s initial proviso that the Communists “will attempt to expand their sphere of influence in China no matter what territorial limits they may accept on paper”). But Hemingway’s waffling judgment may indicate that, at rock bottom, he was out of his depth, a peacemaking “moderate” hoping against hope for compromise.  As Kenneth S. Lynn has argued, Hemingway struggled to achieve unity between the warring impulses in his personality, to the detriment of political clarity. It was a struggle that he famously lost.[6]  We are left with a mystery: how is it possible that so many biographers and Hemingway fans miss the irrational cast to his politics?

In conclusion, by framing his book as a corrective to Hemingway studies, the author masked the political message that runs throughout: that the U.S. should have vigorously opposed Chiang Kai-shek’s thieving, collaborationist, decadent, and authoritarian regime—one that, unlike the Communists, lacked a popular base–, and that his protagonists, the generally populist Hemingway and Gellhorn, erred in bowing to pressures from editors and the Roosevelt administration, hiding their true responses to personalities and dispiriting conditions encountered in February through late May, 1941. I have shown Moreira’s indebtedness to the prevalent left-liberal interpretation of U.S.-China relations during the Sino-Japanese war, a line sympathetic to the Chinese Communists who had presented themselves to the OSS as twin New Dealers, the bearers of Lincoln-style democracy and a progressive capitalist economy.  Moreira relies upon what Hans J. van de Ven calls the “overwhelming” “Stilwell-[Theodore H.] White paradigm,”[7] for instance in his identification of “the key flaw in the Allied strategy in the Asian theater—the flaw being the Kuomintang’s unwillingness to attack the Japanese. Censorship prevented American reporters from actually saying that the Nationalists wouldn’t attack….” (p. 77). But this was precisely the propaganda line of the CCP and was identified as such by Edward Dreyer, one of  Moreira’s abused sources.[8] Moreover, the author perpetuates the view that Chinese Communism developed, in both politics and ideology, independently from the directives and example of the Soviet Union. Moreira’s scholarly apparatus of endnotes and bibliography are outdated, incorrectly transmitted, skimpy or absent where crucial, and grossly inadequate in tackling the subject at hand. The faults and biases of this book deserve exposure because it has been favorably received, notwithstanding its failure to engage previously hidden archival materials from China and the Soviet Union, revealed for example in the work of Michael M. Sheng, Niu Jun, Dieter Heinzig, Jung Chang, Jon Halliday,  and many others.[9] Moreira’s book is emblematic of a troubling pattern of partisan histories written by non-specialists for educated audiences.


[1] Stillwell to Marshall, 26 Sept. 1944, U.S. Relations With China, p.68, quoted in Kubek, p.217.

[2] “The…incident drew a line of emotional hysteria across all future relations of government and Communists.” Theodore H. White and Annalee Jacoby, Thunder Out of China (N.Y.: William Sloane, 1946): 76.

[3] Kaimei Zheng, review of Moreira, p.120, Hemingway Review, vol. 26, No.1 Fall 2006, 115-121.

[4] Morgenthau Diary (China): 457. See item 6. White includes Hemingway’s statement about “an agreement between Generalissimo’s Government and Soviet Union [to settle] definite limits to the territories the Communists are to occupy,” but omits the next sentence that warns of Communist expansionism, regardless of paper promises (458).

[5] Morgenthau Diary(China), 879. This was not a direct quote, but a synopsis taken from the notes of an anonymous interviewer.

[6] Kenneth S. Lynn, Hemingway (N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1987):593. See also Stephen Koch, The Breaking Point: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and the Murder of Jose Robles (N.Y.: Counterpoint, 2005): esp. 37-38, 171, 211, 250.  In a review of both Koch and Moreira for The Spectator, August 19, 2006, Caroline Moorehead, the only biographer of Martha Gellhorn with access to her papers, mostly panned Koch’s depiction of Hemingway, and was supportive of Moreira.

[7] Hans J. van de Ven, War and Nationalism in China 1935-1945 (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003): 7. Ironically, Theodore White disowned his younger self in a letter to a conference on reportage from China, held at the Nieman  Center at Harvard: “We were all very young men, ignorant men, unskilled men. China was a mystery to all of us as it remains to this day a mystery to the most learned scholars. We never knew who was doing what to whom and why; we could not penetrate Chinese politics. We lived on the slope of a volcano; we could see it steaming, record an eruption now and then, knew the landscape was heaving, and all of us sensed that this volcano would blow its top.” Nonetheless, White (writing in the third person) named Chou En-Lai as one of his heroes: “Whatever the entries on the balance of violence, his net judgment was that Chou En-Lai was a man who had done more good than harm.” See In Search of History (N.Y.: Harper & Row, 1978): 528.

[8] This allegation is directly contradicted by one of Moreira’s sources, Edward L. Dreyer, China At War, 1901-1949 (N.Y.: Longman, 1995): 248 “…the CCP propaganda line that the KMT did not have its heart in the war.”

[9] Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism: Mao, Stalin, and the United States (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1997). See also Jung Chang and Jon Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (N.Y.: Knopf, 2005).

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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