News and information from the
College of Letters & Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison

vol. 6 no. 1, Fall 2000

In 1950, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy created one of the most enduring images of the Cold War when he waved a piece of paper in the air, claiming that it held the names of 205 spies and members of the Communist Party who had infiltrated the U.S. Department of State. The charges capitalized on national frustration over the Korean War, Soviet advances in Eastern Europe, and the communist revolution in China. The question of “who lost China?” became the rallying cry of the early anticommunist movement, which focused its attention on a group of career foreign service officers who became known as the “China Hands.” John Paton Davies, a member of the Experimental College’s first class, was among that group.

Davies came to the Experimental College in 1926 hoping to “acquire a balanced and rational view of the civilization in which I am living (and) to differentiate between the things of primary worth and dross.” Growing up as the son of American missionaries to China set Davies apart from his classmates, says Emanuel Lerner (’32). Former classmate Lisle Crawford (’31) recalls, “he was not the stereotyped son of religious missionaries...There was something about our parents and us that prompted the desire to try the unusual — to experiment with our education.”

After leaving Wisconsin, Davies joined the Foreign Service and was posted in China during World War II. There he produced a series of highly respected reports, including several in which he predicted that there would likely be a civil war in China and that Mao Tse-tung’s communist forces would likely win over American ally, Chiang Kai-shek. He also predicted that American support for Chiang would make Mao more likely to ally with the Soviet Union. The reports won Davies a place among the Foreign Service officers accused of disloyalty for their advice and actions while serving in Asia. In 1954 Secretary of State John Foster Dulles fired Davies after he refused to resign. By then, Davies had been investigated and cleared of disloyalty some eight times in less than ten years. The China Hands were not “officially rehabilitated” for more than a decade after McCarthy’s attacks although they had been cleared of wrongdoing. In his memoirs, Cold War architect George Kennan recalled Davies as “a man of broad, sophisticated, and skeptical political understanding, without an ounce of pro-Communist sympathies, and second to none in his devotion to the interests of our government.”

When Davies died on December 23, 1999, at the age of 91, the New York Times recalled his 1971 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. When Davies appeared at the Committee’s invitation with other surviving China Hands, Senator William Fulbright noted the irony that people who “reported honestly about conditions were so persecuted because you were honest. This is a strange thing to occur in what is called a civilized country.”

Contents || The American Dream On Campus|| Dean's Column - Building Excellence || Chemistry Department Historical Timeline || Team Maya || What Man Is, Only History Tells || Mosse Bequest Builds History, Gay & Lesbian, and Jewish Studies Programs || From Generation to Generation || SALT: L&S Joins Celestial Venture || Biotech? Let's Think About It || The Meiklejohn Alumni and Their Legacy || John Paton Davies - Man of Honor || A Moveable Feast - Alums at Large || In Memoriam || L&S Potpourri || L&S Research News

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