John Paton Davies, Jr.: American diplomat (1908 - 1999) | Biography
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John Paton Davies, Jr.
American diplomat

John Paton Davies, Jr.

John Paton Davies, Jr.
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American diplomat
Was Diplomat
From United States of America
Field Politics
Gender male
Birth 6 April 1908, Sichuan, People's Republic of China
Death 23 December 1999, Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina, U.S.A. (aged 91 years)
The details (from wikipedia)


John Paton Davies Jr. (April 6, 1908 – December 23, 1999) was an American diplomat and Medal of Freedom recipient. He was one of the China Hands, whose careers in the Foreign Service were destroyed by McCarthyism and the reaction to the fall of China.

Early life and career

Davies was born in Sichuan, China, the son of Baptist missionaries John Paton and Helen Elizabeth (MacNeil) Davies Sr. His grandfather was Welsh immigrant and Cleveland drygoods merchant Caleb Davies. He spent two years at the Experimental College at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one year at Yenching University, then graduated from Columbia University in 1931. He joined the Foreign Service upon graduation, and was posted to China in 1933.

During World War II, Davies was assigned as political attaché to General Joseph Stilwell. He began the assignment in February 1942, arriving in the China Burma India Theater (CBI) in March. Upon a short return to Washington, D.C., he married Patricia Louise Grady on August 24, 1942, before returning to India . He served under Stilwell until the general's recall from China in the fall of 1944. Davies was instrumental in the creation of the U.S. Army Observation Group to Yan'an, China, in 1944.

The Dixie Mission

The group, commonly known as the Dixie Mission, established the first official diplomatic and military contact between the United States and the Chinese Communists. Many of its members later became victims of McCarthyism. Davies saw the mission as means to prevent, or at least decrease, Soviet influence over the Chinese Communists. As time progressed, Davies also saw the Communists as a realistic alternative to the Kuomingtang.

Report by Davies from January 4, 1945, warning of Russian influence over Chinese Communists. Page Two and Page Three

After General Stilwell's recall, Davies served briefly under General Albert Coady Wedemeyer, and also General Patrick J. Hurley. The last three months of 1944 were to prove his last in China, as Davies found himself increasingly at odds with Hurley, who was appointed acting ambassador to China in mid-November. The main point of contention between the two men were their views on the future of China. Hurley advocated for a unified government of Communists and Nationalists with the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek at its head. Davies, meanwhile, believed that not only was a coalition impossible to form, but that Chiang's regime was ultimately a dead end for American policy in China. Further, Davies believed that the Communists were the future of China.

Davies visited Yan'an, China, twice. The second trip, in mid-December, resulted in an intense argument with Hurley over Davies' motives. Hurley accused Davies of actively working to undermine Hurley's unification talks between the CCP and the KMT. At this time, Hurley undertook work to finalize Davies' transfer out of China to Moscow. A second argument in the first week of January, resulted in Hurley threatening to destroy Davies' career and accusing the Foreign Service Officer of being a Communist. Davies departed China for good on January 9, 1945.

Medal of Freedom and Post-China Career

Davies and several others, including Eric Sevareid and a Chinese general, were flying from India to Chongqing in 1943 when the plane developed engine trouble and the occupants were forced to bail out over the Burmese jungle, in an area inhabited by the Naga headhunters. Davies led all the passengers to safety and, in 1948, was awarded the Medal of Freedom.

After the war, he served as first secretary in charge of the political section at the United States embassy in Moscow; on the State Department's policy staff; with the High Commission for Germany; as director of political affairs at the German Embassy; and finally, as counselor and chargé d'affaires at the Peruvian Embassy, until his dismissal in 1954.

Accusations and dismissal

Davies was an acknowledged expert on China, one of the China Hands who knew China and the Far East best in the State Department. He predicted that Mao Zedong's Communists would win the Chinese Civil War, and, after they did so in 1949, he advocated US relations with Communist China to forestall a Soviet takeover.

Unfortunately for Davies, these views ran directly counter to prevailing policy, which viewed all Communist countries as one monolithic enemy, and which had supported the Kuomintang. The "China lobby", supporters of Chiang Kai-shek, were looking for those who had helped "lose" China, and Senator Joseph McCarthy was looking for any Communists he could find. Davies was attacked as both.

Nine investigations of Davies' loyalty between 1948 and 1954 failed to produce any evidence of disloyalty or Communist sympathies. His opposition to Communism was a matter of record; indeed, in 1950 he had advocated a preventive nuclear showdown with the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, in 1954, under political pressure from McCarthy and Senator Patrick McCarran, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asked Davies to resign. He refused, and on November 5, 1954, Dulles fired him, claiming he had "demonstrated a lack of judgment, discretion and reliability."

Post-diplomatic career

After the end of his diplomatic career, Davies returned to Peru and, with his wife, operated a furniture business. Their company, Estilo, won the International Design Award twice. The Davies family returned to the United States in 1964. After a protracted battle, Davies was finally exonerated and regained his government clearance in 1969. The family moved to Málaga, Spain in 1972, to France and England, and finally back to the US.


Davies died December 23, 1999, in Asheville, North Carolina, at the age of 91.


  • "The China Hands: American Foreign Service Officers and What Befell Them," E.J. Kahn, Jr. NY Viking Press, 1975. ISBN 9780140043013
  • "China Hand: An Autobiography," John Paton Davies, Jr. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8122-4401-4
  • Foreign and Other Affairs (1964) W.W. Norton & Co.
  • Dragon by the Tail: American, British, Japanese, and Russian Encounters With China and One Another (1972). W.W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-05455-1.
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