A Cold Conflict amid a Hot War: US-Chinese Indoctrination Contest over the Prisoners of War during the Korean War

Qu, Wu, History - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Liu, Xiaoyuan, AS-History (HIST), University of Virginia

During the Korean War, the People’s Republic of China and the United States launched systematic efforts for indoctrinating and converting enemy prisoners of war (POWs). Above the 38th parallel, the Chinese commissars overseeing American POWs quickly discovered that these American soldiers were not “proletariat brothers” who had been deceived by Wall Street financial capitalists. Rather, many of them rallied around Ku Klux Klan to resist the Chinese “brainwashing.” On the other side, when the US military attempted to indoctrinate captured Chinese “communists” into “democratic citizens,” the staunchest opposition came from a much older set of convictions and code of behaviors rooted in a traditional Chinese secret society—Paoge. In highlighting these ordinary soldiers’ “third ideology” other than the official “communism vs. capitalism” and “dictatorship vs. democracy” narratives, this dissertation argues that, after the Chinese and the American POW camp authorities realized the futility of their established ideological indoctrination programs in 1951, both sides switched to non-ideological techniques to administer the POW camps. While sharing the common goal of controlling the POWs, the two sides employed radically different approaches. The Chinese focused on controlling the prisoners’ mind through alienation, self-punishment, and self-policing, whereas the US prioritized the control of the prisoners’ body via crude violence.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Korean War, Prisoners of War, Lenient Policy, Civil Information and Education, Ku Klux Klan, Paoge
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