Chinese Whispers

Spy planes and infiltrators: a history of the CIA in China

47 min listen

In This Episode

The Chinese Communist Party likes to blame its domestic political problems on foreign interference, and it has done so since the days of Chairman Mao.

But sometimes, does this paranoia, this narrative, have a point? Or at least during the depths of the Cold War, when the United States, via the CIA, was countering communism across the world through so-called ‘covert operations’.

My guest today is Professor John Delury, a historian at the Yonsei University in Seoul, and author of a new book looking at the history of the CIA in China. It’s called Agents of Subversion, and I’d highly recommend it because some of the incredible exploits detailed in there are nothing short of what you’d find in a spy thriller. On the episode, we talk about that history and what it teaches about US-China relations today.

Pictured here is CIA agent John T. Downey, who was imprisoned by China for over two decades after an exfiltration mission over Manchuria failed. He was eventually released following Nixon’s visit to China.

Further listening:
Bill Hayton on Liang Qichao and the other Chinese reformers whose followers became the so-called ‘Third Force’ discussed in this episode:
Professor Rana Mitter and Jessica Drun on the history of Taiwan and what happened after Chiang Kai-shek fled there:


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