November 20

This Day in History

Cold War

Nov 20, 1948:

American consul in China held "hostage" by communists

In what begins as a fairly minor incident, the American consul and his staff in Mukden, China, are made virtual hostages by communist forces in China. The crisis did not end until a year later, by which time U.S. relations with the new communist government in China had been seriously damaged.
Mukden was one of the first major trade centers in China to be occupied by Mao's communist forces in October 1948 during the revolution against the Nationalist Chinese government. In November, American Consul Angus Ward refused to surrender the consulate's radio transmitter to the communists. In response, armed troops surrounded the consulate, trapping Ward and 21 staff members. The Chinese cut off all communication, as well as water and electricity. For months, almost nothing was heard from Ward and the other Americans.
The U.S. response to the situation was to first order the consulate closed and call for the withdrawal of Ward and his staff. However, Ward was prevented from doing so after the Chinese communists, in June 1949, charged the consulate with being a headquarters for spies. With the situation worsening, the United States tried to exert diplomatic pressure by calling upon its allies to withhold recognition of the new communist Chinese government. Chinese forces thereupon arrested Ward, charging him and some of his staff with inciting a riot outside the consulate in October 1949. President Harry Truman was incensed at this action and met with his military advisors to discuss the feasibility of military action. Secretary of State Dean Acheson bluntly and angrily informed the new People's Republic of China that no U.S. recognition would ever be forthcoming until the Americans at Mukden were released. On November 24, 1949, Ward and his staff were allowed to leave the consulate. Ward and four other Americans had actually been found guilty of the inciting-to-riot charge and were ordered deported. Together with the other Americans, they left China in December.
The Chinese actions, which are still difficult to explain or understand, no doubt damaged any possibilities that might have existed for U.S. recognition of the People's Republic of China. Truman, already under heavy attacks at home for not "saving" the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, could ill-afford to show weakness in dealing with the Chinese communists, particularly after the arrest of Ward and the other Americans so angered the American public.

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