In This Review

The Hijacked War: The Story of Chinese POWS in the Korean War
The Hijacked War: The Story of Chinese POWS in the Korean War
By David Cheng Chang
Stanford University Press, 2020, 496 pp
Purchase

After U.S.-led UN forces battled Chinese and North Korean forces to a stalemate on the Korean Peninsula in July 1951, the two sides began to negotiate an armistice. The negotiations dragged on for two years because the United States insisted on the “voluntary repatriation” of Chinese prisoners of war. This ostensibly humanitarian concept was unacceptable to the Chinese side (although Beijing eventually yielded), violated the newly signed Geneva Convention on the treatment of POWS, and, as the war continued, cost tragically large losses of life among soldiers and POWS on both sides and among North Korean civilians. Chang shows that the true reason for the U.S. policy was the desire for a propaganda victory over China. Most of the 14,000 Chinese POWS who ultimately decided to go to Taiwan did so as a result of an American “reindoctrination/exploitation” program in the camps that was violently reinforced by a core group of anticommunist prisoners and Chinese Nationalist agents. Chang’s exceptionally vivid prisoner’s-eye account, based on camp archives and interviews with ex-POWS, leads him to condemn the key U.S. policymakers, including President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, for their “arrogance, ignorance, and negligence.”