I was invited to attend the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the World Anti-fascist War and the Chinese People’s Anti-Japanese war this September, as a guest of a government that wanted me to represent friendship with the U.S. and other countries.
I spent the most exciting moments of my life in China. I am 92 years old. I was born in New York and was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1943 while a senior at the City College of New York. I was active in left-wing politics during my college career. In January 1945, I was sent to China and served in the Statistical Unit of the Flying Tigers, at headquarters of the 14th Air Force in Kunming. l quickly became involved with six other GIs who had similar views. They had made contact with a group of students at Lianda—a university made up of students from Peking University and others schools, which had moved west to Kunming after the Japanese occupation of the cities in which their campuses were located. I joined the group and we had regular meetings at the home of a YMCA secretary. When the war wound down in August, our headquarters were moved to Chongqing. Three of us were sent back to the U.S. to be discharged from the army and the remaining three of us—Ed Bell, Howard Hyman, and myself—remained in China.
One of our Chinese friends asked us if we would like to meet some of the Chinese Communists who had an office in Chongqing. We, of course, said yes. He told us to follow him at some distance and he would nod his head when we passed their building. We did this and were greeted by Gong Peng, who was Zhou Enlai’s secretary. She introduced us to Zhou.
There was a teahouse opposite this office, manned by an agent of the Nationalist government who made note of everyone who entered. Mao Zedong was in Chongqing to negotiate with Chiang Kai-shek, in an attempt to end the civil war. He was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Patrick Hurley to safeguard him. Zhou asked us whether we would like to meet Mao. We were thrilled at the prospect and, of course, said yes. At the date of the meeting, we went to the office and were driven to Red Crag Village. Mao did most of the talking, asking questions about what America thought of Communists. We took pictures, which today hang in a Beijing museum devoted to the history of China.
Subsequently, I had several visits and talked with Zhou, Gong Peng, and her husband, Qiao Guanhua, who later became China’s Foreign Minister. At one of these meetings, Peng said that they were worried that Mao would be taken captive. Peng asked me to contact a New York Times reporter to let him know what progress was being made in the talks.
After returning to the U.S., I became active in the U.S. China People’s Friendship Association, at one point serving as a national board member and as head of both Marin County and San Francisco chapters. I denied stories of excesses committed during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward. But I couldn’t ignore the 1989 Beijing Massacre around Tiananmen Square. What is more, I felt that the jailing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiabo, and of so many others like him, is another indication of China’s dismal record on human rights abuses.
When I received the invitation to attend the victory parade in Beijing celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, after reflecting on my life’s work in the cause of human rights, I decided that, until China acts decisively and publicly to support human rights in ways that I believe its people fundamentally want, I can only support those principles and the people and not the government.
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