BERKELEY — In the Berkeley hills overlooking San Francisco Bay lives a man who four decades ago was rewarded with scorn by his nation for saying that the United States could remain friends with China.
John Stewart Service was one of "the old China hands," the few diplomats who spoke Chinese and who were forced out of the U.S. Department of State amid the anti-red passions of the early 1950s.
For predicting what eventually happened--that Mao Tse-tung and his Communist army would win a civil war--Service was made into a pariah. His reports from the scene had suggested that a policy of neutrality that would permit future cooperation with the Chinese Communists, something that finally happened in 1971, a quarter of a century and a Korean War later.
If the United States had acted on the analysis, and had not thrust Communist China into isolation, the world today might be a different place.
Still Thinking Ahead
Service is still thinking ahead.
"China is the first so-called communist country to rethink the whole thing, and it will be interesting to see the effect on Russian-type communism if the Chinese can make this work," he said in a recent interview.
After a 1962 retirement, Service, now 74, was an Asian scholar and editor at the Center for Chinese Studies at the University of California.
Now retired again, Service visits China every few years and each time sees the country coming "more alive" with new kinds of activity.
He discounts theories that hard-line Marxists will regain control and end China's new free market economy, because "too many people like what has happened, too many people have a stake in the change."
Some Getting Rich
While the old guard retires and dies, Service said, intellectuals, meaning people "who are high school graduates and know something," are welcomed into the Communist Party, farmers prosper and "some people are getting very rich."
"There can't be a free market without a political loosening, without moving further away from strict controls," he said. "The individual will have more rights than in the past."
Service does not foresee a major improvement in relations between the Soviets and the Chinese "because the Russians don't complement the Chinese economically the way we do."
Service, born in Szechwan to missionary parents and a graduate of Oberlin College, had 12 years of experience as a diplomat in China when he reported that a civil war would erupt and that Mao would defeat the Chinese Nationalists.
Part of Service's job was to keep in touch with the communists. In Yenan, where they were headquartered, life was rather informal and Service got to know Mao and his top aides, Chou En-lai and Hu Huang.
Mao Asks U.S. Help
In 1944, Service reported an eight-hour conversation with Mao in which Mao pleaded for American cooperation, saying that he did not expect Soviet help and arguing for the common economic and political interests of China and the United States.
Mao told Service, "We cannot cross the United States--we cannot risk any conflict with the United States."
But Washington decided to support Chiang Kai-shek--whose Nationalist forces were driven from the mainland in 1949 and who established a government on Taiwan.
In 1971, President Richard M. Nixon, who built his early political career on opposition to communism, began the process of reconciliation with China. That year the Chinese specifically invited four former U.S. diplomats, including Service. He chatted about old times with Chou, by then premier, for three hours.
What first got Service into official trouble was a common diplomatic practice of befriending and exchanging information with reporters.
In Washington in 1945 he admittedly gave some government documents--some of which he had classified--to a new acquaintance, Philip Jaffe, who ran Amerasia, a small magazine.
Later Amerasia was raided by the FBI and found to be in possession of numerous other documents. Jaffe, Service and others were arrested under the Espionage Act. Jaffe pleaded guilty, but the grand jury voted 20 to 0 against indicting Service.
He considered his part no more than an indiscretion, but the Amerasia case was resurrected by politicians for many years after.
Service was among those denounced by the late Sen. Joseph McCarthy as "a known associate and collaborator" of communists.
In several congressional hearings concerning Service, no specific wrongdoing was ever proved, but in 1951 the Loyalty Review Board ordered the State Department to dismiss Service because of "reasonable doubt of loyalty."
Has Trivial Jobs
Service supported himself, his wife, Caroline, and three children, by working for a small firm that was exporting a plumbing device--about the only job he could get. A landlord accepted his apartment deposit but refused to rent to him when his identity was realized.
Six years after his firing, the decision was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and he was reinstated in the State Department.
However, with some congressmen still critical, the department gave him only trivial tasks. His last assignment before retiring in 1962 was as U.S. consul in Liverpool, a job involving little more than issuing visas.