The Clare Spark Blog

June 30, 2011

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (2)

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Gellhorn and spouse on honeymoon

[Added 6-10-12: Hemingway was recruited to the KGB in October 1940 (his control was Jacob Golos); it is not yet known if he gave them anything; I think that he was more populist than Red, and would be amazed if he ever submitted to Moscow. Keep that in mind as you read these segments and see part one for details. Also, if you don’t read the introduction (part one), you might not have a clue as to what you are reading in other segments. Added 6-15-12: for my views of Gellhorn’s achievements see Her views were strongly progressive.  No wonder the British Leftists took her up in her old age, while rejecting her partisanship on behalf of Israel. (See For another blog on celebrated primitivists, see For my review of the HBO movie on her life with Hemingway see  For all my blogs on Gellhorn and/or Hemingway, see]

Martha Gellhorn gets the same rough treatment. In contrast to some recent feminist publications on behalf of Gellhorn’s daredevil achievements as one of the premier war correspondents of the twentieth century,[1] Moreira depicts Gellhorn’s political naiveté and opportunism in “toadying” to the “fascist dictatorship” of Chiang Kai-shek and his besotted generals, the latter indifferent to suffering soldiers (pp. xvii, 75-76, 99). Hemingway’s reportorial objectivity is lauded as a result of stoic adjustment to filth, vermin, and the repulsive effluents of lower-class Chinese bodies: the manly, modern Hemingway appreciates cultural differences (p.98). Though her heart bleeds for the impoverished Chinese, as for underdogs in general (pp.9, 43, 62, 66), Martha is graceless under pressure, indulging a “fetish”  or “cleanliness addiction” that Moreira  attributes to irreligion, a tendency that Hemingway was forced to “keep…in check”: “Despite her adventures in backward places, Gellhorn was obsessed with cleanliness. Being an atheist, she placed it well above godliness” (pp. 74, 196). Repeating an anecdote from Carlos Baker, Moreira is particularly brutal when he writes about Gellhorn’s shocked response to conditions in Hong Kong among the poor: “Gellhorn…had a fit when she caught up with Hemingway again….Hemingway responded calmly, ‘The trouble with you, M., is you think everyone is exactly like you….If it was as bad as you think, they’d kill themselves instead of having more babies and setting off firecrackers’” (p.62). Nonetheless, the author relies heavily upon neo-missionary Gellhorn’s published articles for Collier’s (mid-1941), and Travels With Myself And Another (1978) to fill out his book, almost to the point of plagiarism.

Moreira says he is telling the story of a botched “honeymoon” that presaged the doom of Hemingway’s third marriage (pp. 34, 197). The relentlessly gross details of the newlyweds’ adventures and mishaps in a war-torn region should not be dismissed simply as voyeurism irrelevant to cold war studies, for the relatively jolly early chapters build toward a tendentious political argument, shared with other “progressive” internationalists:  The political Right (i.e., the Chiang gang) is heartless. Moreira drives home the contrast between selfish Chinese Nationalists and his compassionate egalitarian visitors from America: “…Hemingway’s patience with standing in the cold winter rain and paying tribute to these boys [at “the Canton front”]…showed a side of his character that is often overlooked. Though brash and self-centered, Hemingway was frequently touched by the plight of the common people, whether they were his Cuban fishing buddies, refugees from the Spanish Civil War, or the American Indians he knew as a boy in Michigan.” (p.86)

For Moreira, antifascist democracy is a quality of the heart, though, oddly, one guided by statist reforms that necessarily precede political democracy. After listing Gellhorn’s recommendation for improved material conditions in The Face of War (1959), Moreira writes, “It might have reassured her that less than fifty years after she had laid out this plan, rather than the century she envisaged, virtually all of these measures [public health, education, government-issued birth control pills, increased rice production] had been implemented in China” (p.197). Remarkably, Moreira does not mention the cost in human lives imposed by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and the Cultural Revolution, where it is estimated that thirty to fifty million lives were lost, directly attributable to those policies. Moreover, he is not amazed that Gellhorn was silent in the updated Face of War (1986) regarding intellectual censorship and material conditions in China under the Communist regime. [2]

Moreira is frustrated that he could only partly recruit Hemingway and Gellhorn to his own mission: “Though Hemingway was greatly impressed by Chou the man, he accepted little of what the diplomat told him. He kept Chou’s notes [on the New Fourth Army incident] but was swayed more—and history has proven this was an error in judgment—by the Kuomintang officials he met (pp.130-131).” Moreira clearly believes that the Roosevelt administration and its meddling Department of the Treasury were, in 1941, backing the wrong horse. (Morgenthau had annexed State Department turf to fight European fascism, perhaps because he is “a Jew” p.17.) Chinese Nationalists are presented as fascists and thugs throughout, echoing the CCP line and White and Jacoby’s Thunder Out of China (1946). By contrast, Chinese Communists are portrayed solely as victims of “the Kuomintang pogrom” of 1926-27 and other atrocities (pp. 129-130) including the New Fourth Route Army incident of January 7-13, 1941, in which the Nationalists “ambushed” mostly compliant Communist allies.[3]  Moreira sets the scene leading to the Hemingway-Gellhorn interview with Chou En-Lai to further this martyrology.[4] Notwithstanding the presence of a few “window-dressing” Communists permitted to surface so that journalists would transmit the impression of a working anti-Japanese united front, Chou was underground, hiding from the Nationalists in the hills of Chungking (chapter 10, p.135). The reader may infer that such leaders as Chou, the dazzling object of non-communist Gellhorn’s secret admiration and even lust (p.129), were amenable to friendly relations with the West—had the democracies lived up to their vaunted antifascism. Opposing the Kuomintang line that the CCP were “allies” of the Soviet Union (p.136), Moreira writes, “Hemingway and most other western observers were unaware of the tensions between the Soviets and Chinese Communists that would persist for decades” (pp.120-121).  The author ignores both CCP resistance and acquiescence to orders from Moscow to maintain the united front, while preparing the reader to recognize the relative independence of the CCP from Soviet direction.[5] Thousands of viewers have seen this blog by now, but it is incomprehensible without reading the links and other segments, but especially this one:


[1] See Sandra Whipple Spanier, “Rivalry, Romance, and War Reporters: Martha Gellhorn’s Love Goes to Press and the Collier’s Files,” in Hemingway and Women; Female Critics and the Female Voice, ed. Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland (Tuscaloosa: U. of Alabama P., 2002): 256-275. In an email to me, 3/24/07,  Professor Spanier writes, “…Martha Gellhorn was one of the most dedicated, observant, perceptive, and articulate war correspondents of the 20th century.  She was irrepressibly passionate about telling the truth as she saw it, considering it her solemn moral obligation to bear truthful witness to history, even if only for the integrity of ‘the record.’ ”

[2] See Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War (London: Virago Press, 1986): 73-74. In the introduction to her republished article in Colliers, March 1941, Gellhorn blames herself for falling victim to the “hampering hospitality” of the Chiangs, then outlines the material preconditions for “democracy,” which she did not expect to see in her lifetime.

[3] Compare to Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism, pp. 48-49. Mao saw no value in the united front, and was defying Moscow. Moreira cites Edward L. Dreyer and Jonathan D. Spence for this example of Nationalist duplicity and willingness to violate the united front. But Spence’s account suggests that the New Fourth Army command might have been “dilatory in carrying out their orders [to move North]—and possibly not intending to do so….” In The Search for Modern China (N.Y.: Norton, second edition 1999):440. In his China at War, 1901-1949 (N.Y.: Longman, 1995), Dreyer does imply an “ambush” (256) but he also notes, “…it needs to be repeated that much of the agitation for a United Front against Japan after 1931 was orchestrated by Chiang’s enemies for their own political purposes, and that Chiang had succeeded in his campaigns against the rival warlords and was on the verge of destroying the Chinese communists when Chang Husueh-laing betrayed him at Sian in 1936 (365).” Compare to Theodore H. White’s unattributed source “a university professor, not a Communist,” revealing the New Fourth Army incident as a horrendous atrocity committed by the KMT in Thunder Out of China, p.76.

[4] For terror and repression in the CCP faction see Jean-Louis Margolin, “China: A Long March into Night,” in The Black Book of Communism, transl. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999): esp. 470-476.

[5] Compare to Spence in his review of The Unknown Mao, noting “the Comintern-ordered United Front,” and “the dawning of the Sino-Soviet rift after 1956,” in “Portrait of a Monster,” New York Review of Books, Vol.52, #17, Nov.3, 2005. Citing Spence, Search for Modern China, (first ed.), Moreira does mention on p.8 the U.S. and the Soviet “insistence” that the factions “cooperate in driving out the Japanese” and “sporadic fighting” between them but does not chronicle shifts in the (here unnamed) united front, nor refer the reader to the abundant recent scholarship.Rather than describing “tensions,” Michael M. Sheng describes “Maoist dualism,” elaborating this “double-sided identity” in his introduction, pp11-12, and throughout his book.

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (1)

Filed under: Uncategorized — clarelspark @ 7:45 pm
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Cover design for Peter Moreira’s book

Here is my Fourth of July present to my readers, a detailed analysis of a popular partisan book in four parts. The cast of characters: Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, Harry Dexter White, Lauchlin Currie, Chiang Kai-shek, Chou En-lai, Mao Tse-tung, FDR, Henry Morgenthau, Theodore H. White, Gustav Regler, and numerous scholars on the relations between the Kuomintang, the Communist Party in  China, and the U.S. in early 1941. Each installment has endnotes, with full scholarly apparatus. It starts with my contention that books written for a popular audience deserve scholarly scrutiny, for this particular account of two famous newlyweds is deeply flawed, though it has been favorably reviewed by the left-liberal press and the Hemingway Society. Since this review was posted here, it has been revealed that Hemingway was recruited by the KGB in October 1940, with his control Jacob Golos. Scholars say he never gave them anything, however. But the left-liberal, soft-on-communism line advanced by Theodore White and Edgar Snow was repeated in the biopic screened by HBO, May 28, 2012, and it follows the liberal anticommunist line on the wars of the 20th century to a “T.” Which is to say that it is soft on communism, while being mildly critical.

Peter Moreira. Hemingway On The China Front: His WWII Spy Mission With Martha Gellhorn.Dulles,Virginia: Potomac Books, 2006. 244 pp.  $26.95.

Academic scholars in Cold War studies and Sinology will not be interested in this book, nor are they Moreira’s target audience. He takes aim, rather, at Hemingway readers, who may be as naïvely confident in their political opinions as Hemingway himself, and to date, the work has been well received in left-wing newspapers and by some Hemingway scholars. In other words, lay readers are fed a strong dose of Maoist  propaganda with no guidance as to its duplicities or to the gullibility of the newspaper men who helped sanitize the image of Chinese Communism during the critical period of the early to mid-1940s. It is my view that academics should engage and correct popular books that ignore archival discoveries, particularly when, as is the case of the book under review, they are pseudo-scholarly polemics that gloss over the crimes of Communist regimes.  It is customary that academic specialists write primarily to each other, reconfiguring accepted narratives when new sources become available. Insofar as diplomatic historians ignore the errors saturating popular culture, however, misguided foreign policy will win the support of the electorate as a consequence. Diplomatic historians would do well to correct such errors, addressing non-academics, for  the public opinion that ultimately influences foreign policy stands in desperate need of acquaintance with recent research that is revising our understanding of the wars of the twentieth century.  In the detailed review that follows, I attempt to drive that point home.

Moreira begins by faulting previous Ernest Hemingway biographers for ignoring the moment that propelled this newcomer to “espionage” and four subsequent years as “a government operative” (xiv, xvi). He further promises that the “spy mission,” undertaken while Martha Gellhorn, his newlywed third wife, was writing a series on wartime China for Collier’s, will deliver a spicy and colorfully populated travel narrative for general readers, taking them to Hawaii, Hong Kong, southern China, Chungking, Chengtu, Burma, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies.  The assignment was initiated by direct conversation between Ernest Hemingway and “spymaster” Harry Dexter White, “right-hand man to U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau” (pp.16, 19, 65). Buttressing this claim, the caption to White’s photograph states that he “launched Hemingway’s career as a government operative when he asked the writer to spy for the U.S. treasury in China.” The secret agent was to assess the relations between Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists, and also to study “transportation in China and along the Burma Road” (p.19). But Hemingway’s six-page letter to Morgenthau, July 30, 1941, simply states, “When I left for China Mr. White asked me to look into the Kuomingtang-Communist [sic] difficulties and try to find out any information which could possibly be of interest to you.”  What follows, Hemingway continues, is “a short summary of what I find at this date to be true, after studying the problem for some three months in China.” Readers may wonder if his conclusions could not have been duplicated by Chinese-speaking U.S. foreign service officers, journalists, diplomats, businessmen or other observers already in the region—and to what extent, if any, they differed from Communist-generated propaganda. Moreira does not show us hitherto suppressed contents of secret documents or the confidences of elusive leaders or other inaccessible informants; rather his prize archival specimen was previously published in the Morgenthau Diary (China) in 1965; moreover the letter’s contents were subsequently summarized by John Morton Blum (1967) and David Rees (1973).[1] Rees reports interactions between Hemingway and White and notes that “Back in the United States, Hemingway had then reported to the Office of Naval Intelligence,” but does not label the “journey to war” in late January 1941 as spying or espionage. Still, Moreira claims a consensus by major scholars that Hemingway was spying for the government, though he does not quote them. Only one of the literary scholars he mentions, Michael Reynolds, wrote briefly that “through Martha’s connections at the White House, they were asked to observe closely the politics of the China war.”  Reynolds refers to “gather[ing] intelligence” and a “somewhat clandestine interview with Chou En-lai.”[2]

Moreira mentions two encounters with Lauchlin Currie (pp.40, 52), identified first as “White House Economist,” (p. 40), later as a possible Soviet agent (p.193) noting that Currie had met with both Chiang and Chou,[3] and, relying solely on the Hemingway letter to Morgenthau of July 30, 1941, that Currie advised Hemingway not to “inflame tensions between the Communists and the Kuomintang” in his future reportage (p. 40).  Moreira does not relate the contents of Currie’s report  to Roosevelt of March 15, 1941, the distillation of his Chinese-funded trip to study inflation, a trip that partly overlapped with Hemingway’s but was more intensive, focused, and less marked by banquets and drinking contests. For instance, Currie wrote that “I was assured by many that I was given access to material never before made available to a foreigner.” His report was more optimistic than Hemingway’s letter with respect to avoidance of civil war, and only partly resembles Moreira’s polemic as Currie enumerated the deficiencies of the Chinese government (e.g., repression of dissent, a chaotic budget) that required reforms in order to move from a “military dictatorship” to “a truly democratic state.” Compare these details with Moreira’s archival find from the Roosevelt Library: “[Currie] carried with him a letter from Morgenthau to Finance Minister H. H. Kung reaffirming Morgenthau’s support for China and applauding the “splendid unity” that China had achieved under dire circumstances” (p. 40). By ignoring the contents of the Currie report, Moreira implies that the Roosevelt administration, particularly Morgenthau and his associates at the Department of the Treasury, were clueless about KMT deficiencies. Indeed, the caption to a photograph of Morgenthau states that he “was eager to receive Hemingway’s intelligence on China and on the ongoing hostilities between the Kuomintang and Communists.”

The Currie report to FDR, then, diverges from Moreira’s assessments of the Nationalists: though critical, Currie ends with recommendations for enhanced military aid (without which no future offensive against the Japanese would be possible), a commitment to postwar reconstruction, and a plea for sympathetic “publicity,” taking advantage of Chiang’s respect for FDR: “One of the most effective ways of encouraging China and deterring Japan would be to go out of our way in giving evidences of friendship, close collaboration and admiration for China. This can be done both overtly and through “inspired” stories coming out of Washington.” [4]   If there is a spy mission or “espionage” (xvii) here, it may be the muckraking project of the author, for the early chapters cater to the vogue for salacious peeps into the private lives of celebrities or for suspenseful reality television treating survival in primitive locales—a game that Hemingway initially wins until he wilts in Burma from the weather, alcohol and depression.

[1]See John Morton Blum, From The Morgenthau Diaries: Years of Urgency 1938-1941 (Boston:Houghton Mifflin, 1967): 381. Blum does not mention the suggestion of partition. Blum’s remarks preceding summary of the letter would have undermined Moreira’s insistence that the Roosevelt administration needed correction by Hemingway in their support of the “weak, corrupt, and cynical [Chinese government], threatened by the apathy of most of its subjects, the arms of the Japanese puppet regime in Nanking, and the hostility of the communist camp….But…the sorry government of Chiang Kai-shek was the only government in China with which the United States could work, the only government that represented Chinese sovereignty and independence.” Also see David Rees, Harry Dexter White: A Study in Paradox (N.Y.: Coward, McCann, and Geoghegan, 1973): 118-119. Rees describes EH as “an agent extraordinary to report to the Treasury.”

[2] See Michael Reynolds, Hemingway: The Final Years (N.Y.: Norton, 1999): 38, 39. I have not found references to spying in either Carlos Baker or Jeffrey Meyers, authors cited by Moreira as agreeing that there was a spy mission.

[3] See Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism, for an account of the Currie-Chou En-Lai meeting, Feb.14, 1941, p.69. “…[Chou’s] intention to use the Americans to check the GMD could not be more obvious.” Chou blamed the KMT for inciting civil war, hence “the war of resistance would fail, and the Japanese would head toward the south to fight the Anglo-American force there.”

[4] See Currie to Roosevelt, March 15, 1941, Foreign Relations of the U.S., The Far East, Vol. IV (1941): 81-95.   On the ongoing desire for good relations with China, despite Chiang’s shortcomings see Currie to Eleanor Roosevelt, September 23, 1942, “With reference to your enquiry concerning our attitude toward the new Chinese Ambassador, I can only say that my own attitude is, at a time like this, to cooperate as closely as possible with all Chinese officials, whoever they may be. Almost all important Chinese officials are what we would call reactionary and many of them are or have been at one time or another corrupt. They are, however, our allies, and I have enormous faith in the potentialities of the Chinese people themselves in the post-war period. In the present circumstances, therefore, I feel that better publicity for Ambassador Wei means better publicity for China and the United Nations.” Thanks to Roger Sandilands for this unpublished letter.

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