In February 1952, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA) issued a joint statement with the North Korean government, alleging that United States troops were carrying out large-scale bacterial or germ warfare during the Korean War. The United States denied the accusations. The world demanded the truth – after all, were the brave and heroic American troops boldly trampling on civilization, or was the great and never-wrong Chinese Communist Party making groundless accusations?
Did the United States troops indeed carry out bacterial warfare in the Korean War? The matter was introduced to the agenda of the United Nations Security Council in June 1952. The United States requested that the International Red Cross investigate, and the request was supported by many member states of the UN, including that of the “Republic of China.” However, it was vetoed by the Soviet Union, one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Not only did the Soviet Union veto the American motion, but the USSR also immediately countered with a request for the “World Peace Council” (WPC) to investigate. The WPC, funded and supported by the Soviet Union, set up the “International Scientific Commission for the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in China and Korea (ISC).” The ISC went to North Korea between July 28 to August 1 and was briefed by North Korean health officials on cases of cholera deaths and plague deaths. In Sept. 15, 1952, the ISC signed and published a 500-page report titled, “Report of the International Scientific Commission for the Investigation of the Facts Concerning Bacterial Warfare in Korea and China." The report was bounded with a black cover, hence nicknamed the “Black Paper.” And it was this very “Black Paper” that corroborated the Chinese allegations that the United States had used bacterial warfare in the Korean War.
Sixty-eight years have passed. The Soviet Union has collapsed. The World Peace Council has faded away from the international arena. Nevertheless, copies of the 500-page “Black Paper” are still being kept in the libraries and archives of many countries as well as in people’s memories. This is the purpose that the “Black Paper” serves. It was not convincing enough for the world to believe in its findings, but it was stirring up enough muddy water to raise reasonable doubts. What had really happened? The report did not provide answers to the question that the commission was charged to solve, but rather, it has made the situation more complicated.
Fortunately, Wu Zhili, the former surgeon general of Chinese People's Voluntary Army Headquarters, had left behind an account of the event in his memoir, “The Germ War of 1952 Was a False Alarm," in which he revealed the truth that had been buried for decades and offered some clarifications.
Several key points were noted in Wu’s memoir, published in “Yanhuang Chunqiu” no. 11 (2013): 36–39:
I. The allegation of American bacterial warfare was baseless, and “it was hard for the commission to link the war to germ warfare.”
II. So, on what evidence did the team come up with the “Black Paper”? It turned out that the report was pre-signed ahead of time before the investigation team even entered North Korea. This was orchestrated by Nikolai Nikolaevich Zhukov-Verezhnikov, the vice president of the commission, also a member of the then Academy of Science of the Soviet Union. He argued that it was extremely dangerous in the battlegrounds in North Korea, and should God forbid anything happen to the commission, the entire investigation would be in vain, so he suggested that members of the commission “pre-sign” the report, just in case. The rest of the commission team thought the arguments made sense and agreed. This is another fact proving that the scientific legitimacy of this commission was little to none.
III. Wu himself did not believe that US troops used germ warfare in the Korean War. Because of this view, he was criticized twice by his superiors. The first one was “a call from the central government” criticizing him for “failing to be on the lookout (for opportunities)”. The central government advised that “even if the enemy did not carry out germ warfare, we could still play it to our advantage for propaganda.” In another incident, the People’s Volunteer Army Commander Peng Dehuai labeled him “an agent of American imperialism speaking in our enemy’s defense.” As the commission failed to produce any concrete evidence to sustain the allegation of U.S. bacterial warfare, yet still had to come up with some evidence, it was even suggested that the deputy director for disease control “inject the plague bacteria into my body so as to enable the commission to collect a piece of hard evidence: Even the surgeon general of PVA has contracted the Plague spread by American troops.“ This is another fact from the memoir that proves the Chinese central government and the PVA Commander had no intention to seek the truth when handling such an important matter.
IV. Zhou Enlai personally questioned People’s Volunteer Army deputy commander Hong Xuezhi as to whether “you’ve made it happen”? Hong answered, “Yes sir, we did, or we wouldn’t have been able to meet the demand ordered by the central government.” Again, Wu’s account proved that the allegations were inaccurate and the so-called investigation was falsified. It also proved that the Chinese leaders were fully aware that these charges were fabricated. However, the Chinese leaders never apologized to the United States nor to the world about the mistakes it had made. The Chinese leaders did not, as a result, educate its party members to learn from the lesson and refrain from deploying such tactics again. This is another piece of iron-clad fact that proves my point.
Indeed, ever since then the Chinese communists have toned down their allegations against the U.S. about the “bacterial warfare.” Nevertheless, “toning down” is anything but “owning up to its mistake.” The “toning down” after the report and the “vocal charges” prior were all strategies based on political calculations. The Korean War took a heavy toll on the PVA troops and civilians. The Chinese government should have sought negotiations rather than instigate more controversies.
“Not being able to own up to its mistake” is a typical behavior trait of the CCP, even when the damage is catastrophic. The fabricated charge that the U.S. was involved in germ warfare was one example. The Korean War itself was another. China declared the war under the slogans “Against the US. Assist North Korea. Safeguard our home and country.” However, China was in fact taking orders from the USSR to help Kim Il-sung invade South Korea. Did the CCP government admit that it was a mistake to take part in the Korea War? No. When facing the international community, the CCP did not own up to its mistake, and domestically it had demonstrated a similar attitude to its people. Under the ideological slogan of the “Three Red Banners,” which consisted of the “General Line for socialist construction”, the “Great Leap Forward,” and the “people's communes,” tens of millions of farmers died from the Chinese Great Famine. Did the CCP ever properly and sincerely apologize to the Chinese people in a formal setting? More recently, the CCP ordered tens of thousands of fully equipped troops to slaughter those unarmed students and citizens protesting in the Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989!
It is unlikely for a political party that has constantly failed its people to own up to its mistakes to other countries in the world. Though not completely impossible, it is still extremely unlikely.
Translated by Min Eu.
Bao Tong, former political aide to the late ousted premier Zhao Ziyang, is under continual surveillance and frequent house arrest at his home in Beijing.