Grassroots Sino-American Engagements and the Making of the Cold War Pacific World
3: Return to China, Go to Taiwan, or Stay in America?: China's WWII Interpreters in the United States and Their Divergent Choices, 1945–1956
Saturday, March 26, 2022
4:00pm – 5:30pm EST
Virtual Paper Presenter(s)
Hong Kong University of Science & Technology, Hong Kong
In World War II, the Chinese Nationalist government mobilized more than 3,000 college students to serve as interpreters for allied personnel in the China-Burma-India theater. In early 1945, one hundred interpreters, known as the Foreign Affairs Bureau/FAB-100, were selected for training in the United States. After VE Day, nearly all FAB-100 stayed stateside to pursue education. When the Communists took power in 1949, these former interpreters faced a difficult choice: to stay in America, return to Communist New China, or “return” to Nationalist Taiwan. When China intervened in the Korean War, the US government reversed its earlier policy of requiring Chinese students to leave the country; now, it sought to restrict their return to China. While humanities scholars were allowed to return without much difficulty, engineers and scientists were forbidden to leave.
Using oral history interviews, documents, and private papers, this paper examines the cases of two FAB-100 interpreters, who were the children of Mei Yiqi and Feng Youlan, two prominent scholars at the Southwestern Associated University. They made choices divergent from each other and from their own fathers. While the stories of Qian Xuesen and I. M. Pei have been well studied, the experiences of FAB-100 interpreters will provide a more nuanced, complex, and balanced history of US-China relations in the early Cold War.