United States Wartime Propaganda in China

While looking through 1945-50 US State Department documents—the same collection where I came accross Zhu De’s request for a $20 million US loan to buy off puppet soldiers-I came across over 150 pages of China Regional Directives from the Office of War Information (OWI) from early December, 1944 through mid-September 1945.

As far as I can make out these were roughly weekly sets of guidelines sent out to the various relevant agencies (these were in the possession of the US State Department) on what propaganda approach was to be taken. I don’t know much about the OWI but I think these guidelines might have been primarily for US radio broadcasts.

I was personally interested in some of these because of the many references to and warnings against Chinese collaboration. However, it struck me that this little collection would make a wonderful little primary source packet for undergraduates or even high school students studying history. There is lots of fun and interesting material in here and a lot of interesting questions that one might ask as you analyze the contents and the documents themselves.

I scanned-to-PDF the whole collection I found and uploaded it to the Frog in a Well Library where you can download the whole 37MB PDF file.

Many of the documents seem to be coming from or addressed to “Lilienthal, SX” which I think is probably Philip E. Lilienthal (1914-1984) who was the Chief of the Chinese Division for the US OWI. According to his obituary, Lilienthal also served as editor of Pacific Affairs and the Far Eastern Survey and was also important in building the Asia book selection of the University of California Press.1

The other name commonly seen in these documents is “Fairbank, WA” who I misidentified as John K. Fairbank. C. W. Hayford identifies this as Wilma Fairbank (see comments below).

Some of the guidelines suggested are quite revealing, many of them just great strategic sense while others were a mix of good sense and the bizarre. A few selections below the fold:

Jan 4, 1945 “When quoting statements of Communist leaders follow carefully the Special Guidance on the use of materials from Yenan radio, quoting only such statements as appear in the American press and then giving only the American Press as source…”

Feb 15, 1945 “Continue to use materials which recall official statements regarding the possibility of American landings on the China coast.”

March 29, 1945 “Caution: In treating such projects for the improvement of China’s war situation as the WPB, the WTB, and the FEA activities, emphasize their importance to the immediate war effort. Play down their post-war significance.”

“Continue to report Japanese advances in China factually…”

“Reports of successes over the Japanese elsewhere should be played in such a way as to encourage Chinese action on the mainland.”

April 27, 1945 “Call attention to May 4 Anniversary, pointing out that this day commemorates the beginning of the great student movement in 1919 pioneering towards more democratice government.
NOTE: Although this is considered by Chinese to be one of the most important anniversaries in modern China, it is not looked upon with too much favor by the present Chungking government. We should, however, emphasize the significance of the event for the development of a democratic and modern China.”

May 30, 1945 “As an indication of American interest in the problem, report the Generalissimo [Chiang Kai-shek]’s proposed cooperation with Harley and Wedemeyer on easing up of censorship. Make use of any comment which favords such a development and which favors evidence of such a change.” [Text was crossed out in original]

Aug 9, 1945 “…[we] should taper off on our line of a long war. We should, however, continue to use materials which indicate that Japan is still a strong enemy…We should also continue to stress the importance and toughness of land fighting.”

“Continue air raid warnings to China, listing specific installations to avoid; continue to avoid comparison between these warnings and the warnings given to Japanese cities by Lemay.”

Aug 31, 1945: “Avoid directing attention to the relatively low cost (in terms of casualties and home front suffering) of this war to the United States.”

Sept 7, 1945: “Caustion: Use special care in avoiding the use of any materials which might be considered derogatory to the Far Eastern peoples in general, such as, ancestor worship or reference to color, size, or “Oriental” appearance.

Sept 14, 1945: “Avoid overemphasis of the Tojo story. Treat Tojo as but one of the accused war criminals, but make clear his arrest is illustrative of MacArthur’s policy of not coddling or excusing the Japanese mlitary leaders. Avoid overplaying Japanese atrocities on American prisoners of war in such a way as to give it undue prominence to a country which has suffered so greatly from Japan.”

“With special reference to the Chinese wherever possible, this week’s science show will discuss new ways of discovering minerals in the earth.”

Lots of other interesting material. Pay the library a visit and see for yourself.

UPDATE: I corrected my misidentification of one of the people mentioned. Thanks to C. W. Hayford for pointing my mistake out in the comments.


  1. Irwin Scheiner “Obituary: Philip E. Lilienthal (1914-1984) The Journal of Asian Studies 43:3 (May, 1984) 616-617.  

7 Comments

  1. “W.A.. Fairbank” is Wilma Fairbank, who worked for OWI during the war. She wrote a history of the general operation, America’s Cultural Experiment in China, 1942-1949 (Washington: Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Department of State, 1976. Cultural Relations Programs of the U.S. Department of State: Historical Studies 1).

  2. Thanks for fixing that error! WA was part of the name…doh…I guess I should have realized that, I guess I assumed it was a position or other code. This means my identification of others in the posting could be wrong too.

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