HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek

The Second World War began on July 7, 1937, when a clash between Chinese and Japanese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking sparked Japan’s full-scale invasion of China. The Japanese swiftly conquered China’s eastern seaboard and drove Chiang Kai-shek’s beleaguered Nationalist government far inland, to the city of Chungking.

For decades prior to this, Nationalists (led by Chiang Kai-shek), Communists (led by Mao Zedong), and warlords had wrestled for control of China. In 1926, the Nationalists and Communists united in the Northern Expedition to defeat the warlords, but this alliance ended when Chiang betrayed and purged the Communists in 1927.

Thereafter, Chiang became obsessed with eradicating the Communists—and he almost succeeded. In 1935, Mao’s remaining forces in Jiangxi Province managed to break through Chiang’s encircling armies to embark on the Long March. Less than 1 in 10 Communists survived this year-long, 6,000 mile odyssey—which ranks among the greatest feats of endurance in human history. Relentlessly hounded by the Nationalists, Mao’s Communists finally found sanctuary in Yenan, a remote city in Shaanxi province.

Then, the Japanese invasion drew Chiang’s focus away from the Communists. And in December 1941, America entered the war. To the Americans, the importance of keeping China from being knocked out of the war was immediately obvious—hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers were busy occupying China, men who would otherwise be fighting in the Pacific.

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Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong

The U.S. sent a handful of Foreign Service Officers to Chungking. Many of them had been sons of missionaries—born and raised in China, and fluent in Mandarin. These men found Chiang Kai-shek’s government reluctant to engage the enemy. They were disgusted by the Nationalists’ blatant corruption, hoarding of U.S. supplies, and brutal conscription practices.

By 1944, their frustration led them to consider reaching out to another group rumored to be battling the Japanese from their northern base of Yenan: Chiang’s enduring adversaries, the Chinese Communists.

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Colonel David Barrett (the Dixie Mission’s commanding officer) and Mao Zedong in Yenan

American Foreign Service Officers thus conceived and participated in the Dixie Mission (July 1944-March 1947), an observer group that traveled to Yenan to evaluate the Communists and consider arming them with U.S. weapons and supplies. This remains a unique connection between the U.S. government and the Chinese Communists who would later form the People’s Republic of China.

In 1945, members of the Dixie Mission joined the Communist guerillas on a mission behind Japanese lines in brutal winter weather. During this dangerous expedition, one American was captured and killed by the Japanese. It was this real-life mission that inspired the author to base this novel on the friendship between an American soldier and a Communist guerilla on patrol from Yenan.

The author hopes this book will shine a light on unsung heroes from the war in China: American servicemen and Foreign Service Officers who served with honor under difficult circumstances in a distant land.