Chapter 4: China Romance

The ambassador was keenly interested to learn more about the Communists. “In Hornbeck’s Washington I had been out of line,” Service later observed, “but back in Chungking, I was mainstream.” The embassy staff shared his concern that civil war would be disastrous, and that “American policy should be to try to avoid a civil war… [and] to get the Kuomintang to reform.” As Service noted later, “We didn’t know much about the Communists, and we hadn’t gotten to the point which we eventually reached–of expecting the Communists to win.”
Service’s instructions were clear: if there was “a chance to evade the Kuomintang blockade [and visit Communist headquarters] — to seize it.” The embassy, however, insisted on deniability for such a politically explosive and risky mission, so no official orders were issued.

Service got a ride to Lanzhou in a truck owned by the China Tea Corporation. After he hosted their first dinner on the road, the two truck drivers quickly accepted him as a friend. When their truck broke down, he bided time in a nearby tea shop, listening to carters and drivers complain about bandits, rising prices and taxes, corrupt landlords, and conscription. Finally he found another trucker headed to Lanzhou, who agreed to take him as a paying passenger–a “yellow fish,” like those he had seen in trucks on the Burma Road. After a two-week journey, Service arrived in Lanzhou and found lodging with American Seventh Day Adventist missionaries–much to the consternation of the local gendarmes, who had a hard time keeping track of this foreigner who refused to stay at the town’s official hostel.

Service’s ability to establish a wide-ranging network of contacts freed him from depending on Chinese government sources, and his Lanzhou field reports soon earned him a rare State Department commendation for excellence.

  • He filed dispatches about the lucrative drug trade across the frontier between Japanese-occupied areas and free China, and about large illegal shipments of gold.
  • He detailed the main trafficking routes and fingered specific [Chinese] army units on the take.
  • After learning that landlords, gentry, and secret societies had joined with the peasant uprisings against the Nationalists’ corrupt rule, he predicted “further disturbances,” noting that “troops and recruits are steadily being brought into the province.”
  • He even analyzed the propaganda slogans plastered on walls along the roads as indicators of serious problems — like grain collection, conscription, and opium use.

Chapter 19: The Hearings

It was nearly seven o’clock in the evening when the hearing adjourned, and Service’s voice had grown hoarse. “All during this long hard day,” a friend later reported to Service’s family, “Jack’s voice and manner was never anything but pleasant, dignified and helpful…. He never lost his composure.”
The next morning, fresh revelations from McCarthy again dominated the news headlines–and trumped the story about Service’s public testimony. McCarthy disclosed that the FBI had given the Tydings Committee information gleaned from its hidden microphone about Service’s hotel chat with Jaffe–including the quote: “Well, what I said about the military plans is, of course, very secret.” A few publications took a firm stand against the senator. “Senator McCarthy’s attacks on Mr. Service’s performance as a political intelligence officer first to Gen. Stilwell and then to Gen. Wedemeyer, are simply contemptible,” declared a Washington Post editorial. Service’s only crime had been to be “prematurely right” about the outcome of the civil war in China.

The Tydings Committee and the State Department’s Loyalty Security Board now demanded access to the FBI hotel transcripts. Despite his initial shock, Jack now explained to Caroline that this development might work in his favor: “We feel that they may expose the thing publicly in a way which we would be unable to do, because the material is not available to us.” Justice officials, however, refused to release the transcripts, after its lawyers asserted the illegal recordings were inadmissible as evidence. “I don’t agree,” Hoover scrawled on the bottom of one memo. “I want all on Service given. This is a loyalty proceeding and the rule of evidence doesn’t apply.”