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To Return Home or

David Cheng Chang

100 years of Chinese Revolution Series

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 made divergent decisions in the process of "voluntary repatriation."

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. 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.

David Cheng Chang received his PhD in the History Department at the University of California, San Diego. His dissertation, “To Return Home or ‘Return to Taiwan’: Conflicts and Survival in the ‘Voluntary Repatriation’ of Chinese POWs in the Korean War,” examines how Chinese prisoners of war, individually and collectively, made decisions and took actions in the process of “voluntary repatriation” during the Korean War.  Dr. Chang's another research interest is elections and constitutionalism in twentieth-century China.

Thursday, November 03, 2011 | 7:00 pm — 8:30 pm
Nitery Building in Old Union - Room 209

Stanford ChinaRains