The Forgotten War or the Hijacked War? How Chinese POWs and Taiwan Hijacked the Korean War

The Forgotten War or the Hijacked War? How Chinese POWs and Taiwan Hijacked the Korean War

David Cheng Chang - Associate Professor of History, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

Friday, February 19, 2021 - 10:00am to 11:30am
via Zoom See map

The Korean War was in reality two wars: the first half was a war over territory from June 1950 to November 1951; the second half was a war over POWs from late 1951 to July 1953. While the first war restored the territorial status quo ante, the second war’s only visible outcome was the “defection” of 14,220 Chinese prisoners to Taiwan and 7,574 North Korean prisoners to South Korea, the cost of which was a near doubling of the length of the war and numerous casualties on all sides. Contrary to the popular belief that an American conspiracy was to blame, Chang argues that two ill-conceived US policies—prisoner reindoctrination (“brainwashing”) and voluntary repatriation—enabled the rise of anti-Communist prisoners, who persuaded and coerced fellow POWs to renounce their homeland, thus effectively hijacking the war agenda. This surprising outcome was a major embarrassment to Washington, a total humiliation for Beijing, but a boon to Taipei. To cover up the true nature of the war over POWs, the three governments became co-conspirators of silence in making the war forgotten. Using multi-national archival documents and interviews with more than 90 POWs, Chang reveals the interplay between US policies, Chinese POWs, and Taiwan’s agents. In the talk, the author will also sketch the divergent trajectories of three prisoner leaders: a missionary school-educated pro-Communist interpreter; a Whampoa-educated Nationalist paratrooper-commando who became a Communist truck driver and later an agent of US special forces; and a former Nationalist policeman who eventually went to Argentina via India.

David Cheng Chang (常成) is Associate Professor of History at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He received his Ph.D. in modern Chinese history from the University of California, San Diego. He studies the Cold War, US-China relations, and the social history of war and revolution as experienced by the common people, such as China’s WWII interpreters and Korean War soldiers and prisoners. The Hijacked War: The Story of Chinese POWs in the Korean War (Stanford University Press, 2020) is his first book.


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China, Korea, Transregional, Taiwan