History Timeline 1950's

Photo above: A race to the moon. Right: Allegheny Ludlum Steel Company, Pennsylania, 1940-1946, U.S. Office of War Information. Courtesy Library of Congress.

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U.S. Timeline - The 1950s

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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1950

    January 14, 1950 - The United States recalls all consular officials from China after the seizure of the American consul general in Peking.

    Provincial Troops and U.S. Consulate

    By the end of the year, tensions between the two nations would erupt in open conflict during the Korean War, but as the year 1950 began, conflict remained on the diplomatic front. The year of 1949 had seen very little contact between officials of the communists, the People's Republic of China, and the diplomats in the U.S. consulates. Huang Hua, a representative of the PRC had contacted them twice, speaking to U.S. Ambassador John L. Stuart in Nanking about a possible diplomatic relationship. Mao had started to feel out foreign powers about diplomatic ties. The possibility of establishing ties with the United States, however, became more problematic when on October 24, 1949, the U.S. Consul General Angus I. Ward and four of his staff were jailed in Mukden. They and their families had been under house arrest in the compound for almost one year prior. Ward and staff were found guilty of trumped up charges of assaulting a Chinese worker and owing the local staff money. The sentence was commuted upon deportation. Despite that, the rest of the American staff of their consulates in other cities remained.

    Three months after Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) had pronounced his People's Republic of China as the victor in the Chinese Civil War that still waged and that the Americans had not taken official sides in, the communist government invaded the U.S. Consulate General in Peking (Beijing) and seized the property, a violation of treaty obligations between the two nations that had been established in 1901 and reestablished in 1943. One day later, on January 14, 1950, the U.S. State Department announced its closure, as well as all other consulates in China (Tianjin, Shanghai, Nanking and Qingdao). One hundred and thirty-five U.S. state department officials were to vacate the country as soon as possible.

    During January and February, contact between the Shanghai consul under Walter McConaughy and the communist counterpart in the city, Marshal Shen Yi, suggested that tensions could possibly ease once Taiwan, the Republic of China, had been subdued. By February 6, 1950, the Republic of China air force, attacked Shanghai from their base in Taiwan. One day later, the U.S. State Department announced support for the non-Communist French backed governments of neighboring nations Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. As the end of February approached, however, it was apparent that the new government was choosing the Soviet Union over western allies in the power struggle for Asia as new treaties, including a thirty year mutual defense treaty, were signed.

    On February 26, 1950, the last mainland stronghold of the Nationalist Chinese in Kunming had been invaded by the Communists; the end of the conflict was near, and the People's Republic was about to take control of the entire mainland of China.

    Conflict between the two sides continued through March and April, with the island of Hainan captured by the People's Republic of China, cutting the territory of the Republic of China in half, and leaving them predominantly in possession of only the island of Taiwan.

    The United States consul office in Nanking was closed on March 5, 1950 with the Naking consul general to cease operations around April 10. On April 25, 1950, Consul General Walter McConaughy lowered the final American flag and closed his Consulate in Shanghai. Thirty years would pass before an American flag would fly over consulate offices in China again.

    History of the U.S. Consul in China

    There had been a one hundred year history of consul relations between the United States and China by the time of the 1948-1950 tension. In 1844, the Treaty of Wanghia, or the Treaty of Peace, Amity, and Commerce, had been signed between the United States and the Qing Dynasty, prompting an American businessman, Henry Wolcott, to raise the American flag above his office in Shanghai, becoming the first de facto Acting U.S. Consul. Ten years later the first official U.S. Consul General was appointed, Robert Murphy. President Lincoln would name George Seward Consul General in the next decade, a post he would hold for fifteen years during the expansion of the American settlement in Shanghai. By the decade after the turn of the century, Shanghai was home to more than one thousand five hundred Americans.

    Expansion of trade and commerce between the two nations continued to grow until the Japanese attack on Shanghai in 1932. By the time the Japanese entered Shanghai in December 1941, it was apparent that the Shanghai consulate would have to close for the remainder of World War II. This was at the request of the Japanese government three days before their attack on Pearl Harbor. They, the Japanese military, would subsequently occupy the U.S. consul building during the war.

    "I have received a formal communication today (Dec 8) from the Japanese Consul General reading as follows: 'I have the honour to inform you that I have been instructed by His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Government to request you that the function of the American Consulate General at Shanghai will be here forth suspended and that the office of the American Consulate General be closed as from today. All the officers of the American Consulate General will be treated in accordance with international law and the principle of reciprocity," Edward Stanton, U.S. Consul, December 8, 1941.

    On September 5, 1945, the American Consulate General returned to Shanghai. However, China itself, was beginning to change. Communist troops captured Peking on January 22-23, 1949. By May 29, 1949, the People's Liberation Army had entered Shanghai. Five months later, by October 1, Mao Zedong had established his People's Republic of China communist government. The new communist regime did not recognize the diplomatic rights of the officials in the U.S. Consulate in that city or any other. This tension caused the 1950 incident with the seizure of the American consul general in Peking (Beijing), and the subsequent closing of the consulate offices throughout the Asian nation until the thawing of China and United States relations, with the U.S. Consulate opening again in 1980.

    Image above: Montage of (left) Chinese provincial troops in a city street, 1946, Arthur Rothstein. Courtesy Library of Congress; and (right) U.S. Consulate Building in Shanghai from 1945-1950, 1939, North China Daily News. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Image below: Terraced fields and military vehicle on a mountain road in China, 1946, Arthur Rothstein. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source Info: U.S. Embassy and Consulates in China History; "Chronology of U.S.-China Relations, 1784-2000," Office of the Historian, U.S. State Department; "Changes And Continuities In Chinese Communism: Volume I: Ideology, Politics, and Foreign Policy," 2019, Yu-Ming Shaw; University of Central Arkansas; "The Conduct of Communist China," 1963, U.S. State Department; Foreign Service List, U.S. Department of State; "The Lessons of History: The Chinese People's Liberation Army at 75," 2003, Barry Leonard, Editor; U.S. State Department; Wikipedia Commons.

    U.S. Consulate and Chinese troops 1946

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