Tuchman, Barbara W. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1971.

by Birgitte Regier

Tuchman's voluminous narrative history intertwines the biography of Joseph W. Stilwell (1883-1946) with the history of America's relationship with China from 1911 to 1945. The author provides a wealth of detailed information, spiced with anecdotes and pungent remarks from Stilwell's diaries. Her analysis reveals how America's romantic enchantment with China and the idealized, false image of Chiang Kai-shek's regime as a democracy evolved, causing far-reaching consequences for America after 1945. Slightly more than half of the study is taken up by the period 1939 to 1945 when Stilwell was commander of the China-Burma-India theater until President Roosevelt gave in to Chiang's persistent pressure and recalled Stilwell in late 1944. Mirroring the fact that America had no official relations with the Chinese Communists during Stilwell's time (and perhaps also that it was still problematic to write about them in 1970), Tuchman's book deals with the Chinese Communist movement only marginally.

A major source for Tuchman's Stilwell biography were his diaries, both those which had already been edited by Theodore White and published as The Stilwell Papers in 1948 as well as earlier, hitherto unpublished diaries and letters. Other important primary sources were numerous interviews with people who had known Stilwell and worked with him as well as documents from military archives and private papers of some of Stilwell's contemporaries. The extensive bibliography of secondary sources lists many English-language works written in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, among them a number of memoirs and biographies. Tuchman complemented her study with copious notes.

Stilwell and the American Experience in China, which won its author her second Pulitzer Prize, is a well-researched and well-written history. Since the book was first published twenty-four years ago, new documents have become available, but Tuchman's work remains a valuable reading for everybody interested in the period and/or America's Far-East policy in the twentieth century.

  • Edmund Clubb, one of the China's "hands"
  • Robert Carl Cohen's documentary film, "Inside Red Chia" (1957)


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    Last modified: Thursday, 31-May-2007 09:41:39 EDT