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To return home or "Return to Taiwan" : conflicts and survival in the "Voluntary Repatriation" of Chinese POWs in the Korean War

  • Author(s): Chang, Cheng David
  • et al.
Abstract

At the end of the Korean War, only one third of the approximately 21,000 Chinese prisoners of war were repatriated to Communist China; the remaining two thirds, or more than 14,300 prisoners, went to Nationalist Taiwan in a propaganda coup. These Chinese POWs were at the center of contention in the second half of the war. Utilizing previously untapped archival sources and oral history interviews in China, Taiwan, and the U.S., this study examines how Chinese prisoners, individually and collectively, made divergent decisions in the process of "voluntary repatriation." This research demonstrates that the Chinese prisoners' decisions and actions in UN prisons were directly related to their divergent pre-Korean War experiences in China under both the Nationalist and Communist regimes. The mini-civil war between the pro- Communist and pro-Nationalist prisoners revealed much of the suppressed social tension within China in 1949 and 1950, which exploded into life-and-death struggles in prison camps in Korea. Second, conflicting U.S. policies and the lack of a coherent and consistent policy on Chinese prisoners created much uncertainty and confusion among the prisoners. Out of fear and anxiety, both pro- and anti-Communist prisoners took increasingly aggressive and violent actions against their opponents, and against the prison authorities in the case of the pro-Communist prisoners. Third, while a small number of Nationalist interpreters and teachers hired by General MacArthur and his successors provided the vital communication channel between anti-Communist prisoners and Taipei, most fundamentally, the large number of prisoners controlled by a core of anti-Communist prisoners was a result of U.S. policy mistakes. By the time prisoner repatriation became an issue in armistice talks, the U.S. found itself riding a tiger that was impossible to dismount. In the end, only Chiang Kai-shek could tame the tiger by taking it to Taiwan in triumph

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