Chinese Translators After 1949 – Ji Chaozhu Biography


Kis Ji Mao

From the left, H.Kissinger, C.Ji and Z.Mao during a meeting in Beijing.

Introduction: The dialogue with the United States in the East has never been easy for several reasons. The problems in mainland China did not emerged after WWII, but since the beginning of its relationships with the US. For the duration of the Twentieth century, except for the last three decades, the two political figures, have remained firmly anchored to the legacy of the old diplomacy of the early 1900s, and minimising the world in 2 blocks was not enough to explain this evolution. Should be taken into consideration also the excolonial powers, for which the leadership was still tied up to the colonies and the other countries of the world, often refered as “non-aligned” powers, but which carried on their shoulders the legacy of colonialism . The main aim for this article is to enphasise the importance of communication, the value of the message itself is not sufficient if it’s not given an context to it. Without a special context and the willing of certain people, the dialogue is not possible.Today it is possible to analyze these components in a more objective manner and reduce them in a context of cause and effect. Finally,it has been also important the figure of the main political actors who for some extents had positive or negative effects to the dialogue between them. The life of Ji Chaozhu has been amazing because his generation has been all the main historical chapters of modern China, from the Japanese aggressions in Shaanxi during the Second World War, the Cultural Revoluiton and the Politics of Opening of PRC, and he lived all of them between those who had active roles in it. The Role of Chinese interpreters: Interpreters had indeed a role of first order during the reconciliation between the bamboo curtained China with the rest of the world. Not only because they were the only ones who can faithfully translate speeches and treatises, to enable communication in an era when there were not yet the means that we have today, but mainly because it served as a bridge between the two cultures in a very delicate time. The politicians of both parties are advocates of their own ideals, however, they were often asking the opinion of these experts. Experts also unique because the political and cultural climate had not prepared profiles so close to the Communist leaders as much as close to abroad cultures. The United States also, especially in the days of Nixon, they used mainly the interpreters of Beijing. In his speech to China, Nixon will use Ji Chaozhu. Mr. Ji will maintain this leading role during all the diplomatic processes up to the mid-80s, first with Zhou Enlai, then Mao Zedong and finally Deng Xiaoping. Because of their quality as a “bridgebetween two cultures were often criticized, especially during the Cultural Revolution until the rise of Deng Xiaoping, because they were accused of being sympathizers with the capitalist West. To explain the complessity of that period in China I want to share a conversation I had with a Chinese elder in Luxun Park in Shanghai, near Shanghai Foreing Languages University. The old Shanghaine man told me that at the time of the Cultural Revolution there were no communication with foreigners. He himself has been criticized by his foreign-languages classmates when he decided to say “hello’ to a foreigner. When criticized in his own defence he explained that as a student of foreing languages he wanted to know if his studies were progressing correctly since he couldn’t practice with none. The anecdotes are ultimately important, because the way that Chinese and Westerners have to interpret a message, voice or body that is, are not the same. The same idioms, which are present in both languages​​, not often found themselves matching.

The Biography of Ji Chaozhu What emerges from his book it is the romantic aspect of Chinese socialpolitical evolution during the twentieth century, which are described through the eyes of a Chinese who had already integrated in American society. Ji chaozhu

A story of great events and great mens, which mature through their responsibilities and hardships that come his way. Mr. Ji, since the time of the Korean War, he was an exceptional witness of these processes and actively participated in the work of restoration of ties with the United States and the rest of the West. It also expresses the contradictions of China at that time, in particular under the influence of some of hiscolleagues, the “two ladies” Nancy Tang and Wang Hairong, close to Mao and the Gang of Four.

Borned in 1929 in Taiyuan (Shanxi), after fleeing the Japanese invasion in the United States. With the support of Zhou Enlai, a family friend, began his studies at Harvard University, Cambrige, Massachusetts.  

A brief biography of his activities provided by the Chinese Embassy in Britain: 
-1952-1954, Interpreter of the Delegation of the Volunteer Soldiers of the Liberation Army of China; 
-1954-1973, Member and then Director General of the Department of Translation and Interpretation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA); 
-1973-1975, Director of the Office of the Representation of the Republic. China in the Unit; 
-1975-1982, Director General of the Department of International Conferences and Events, and then Director General of the Department of American and Oceanian Issues (MFA D'or Office for Relations across the Atlantic); 
-1982-1985, Advisor to the Minister in the Embassy of the Czech. Of China in the United States; 
-1985-1987, Ambassador in Fiji and at the same time of Kiribati and Vanuatu; 
-1987-1991, Ambassador to the Court of St. James (UK); 
-1991-1996, Secretary General of the United Nations; 
-1996-2005, Vice President of the All China Federation of Returned Overseas in China. 
Married with two children, now he lives in Beijing.

From the Korean War to the rise of Deng Xiaoping:

In article have been took into consideration not just the events reported by Ji Chaozhu but also to put them into the context based on Chinese and Western news and anecdotes of that time from the processes of pacification of the Korean War. In 1951, China, which has recently signed agreements of mutual aid with the Soviets to support North Koreafeels overwhelmed by the urgent presence of the US which entered into the Korean Civil War. Mr.Ji, recently returned from Beijing, he volunteered and assigned as an interpreter for the lengthy treatises to sign the armistice. In his biography he reports about the conditions in which they find themselves to dialogue and tensions between the two sides and Panmunjeom. In 1954, a year after the armistice, it took part in the Geneva Conference, which was used to settle definitively down the Korean question. Between the notes about this conference is about the Chinese delegation made ​​an impression to the Westerns delegation because all its members were dressed alike. Those were the early years of the Communist Edification of the country and Soviet Union had too the similar cases. At the palace in Geneva there were Molov, Russian Foreign Minister, Eden, Foreign Secretary of UK, and F. Dulles, Secretary of State. At the head of the Chinese delegation was Premier Zhou Enlai. Dulles made ​​a very rude gesture that will remain long in the memory of Chinese diplomats: When he entered im the room, Dulles shook hands with all the vertices but he snobbed Zhou Enlai who came to greet him. It has to remembered though that many Western countries were still supporting Chiang Kaishek, now settled in Taiwan. Few years before there was another case with the Texan Patrich Hurley. Hurley, who strongly opposed to the communist cause, was appointed by Roosevelt in 1944 to go to China and to reconcile nationalists and communists. His attempt was a failure.

J.K.Fairbank wrote about it: “The absolute lack of political realism of America was now well illustrated by the mission in China of a special representative of President Hurley. […] Sent against the opinion of the entire staff of the Embassy of Chung King, fired and flames because the United States would provide whatever the cost aid to Chiang. When aid arrived, Hurley NaturaMente giò was out of action, but Washington continued to follow its policy, which led ultimately to the complete expulsion of the Americans from China. “
yan an

Mao and Hurley in Yan’an.

The fact of the matter took place in 1944, when Hurley landed without notice at the airport in Yan’an, not a nice signal if we consider that then rampant civil war. Mao and Zhou then rushed to the airport outraged at the lack of respect. It is said that when Hurley got off the plane, jumped and shouted loudly cry of some American Indians, appearing even more unpleasent. Meanwhile, the New York Times published an article about Zhou Enlai and his bamboo curtain. Always in 1954 the Guomindang sank a merchant ship and the Chinese respond by bombarding the islands near the coast. After this incident the USA sign the security treaty with Taiwan. In the same year he was shot down a British airliner, mistaken for a spy lurks in Hong Kong. For the Russians the 1950s are the years when Cruscev criticizes Stalin activities, and in China this criticism is perceived with fear and distance because till that time the Government had pictured the Soviets as the Communist example to look at as a example for the rise of the revultionary society. In 1955 Ji Chaozhu follows Zhou Enlai at the Bandung conference, and tells of the attack and innuendo that the Premier had fortuitously avoided. In 1961 the famine is spreading along the PRC. It was an offshoot of the Great Leap Forward (1958-1960), where the country used his main resources, grain, to invest in heavy industrial production. Canada and the USA (of Douglas) sent aid missions to support the China.

This are very active decades for the Chinese history, and also some foreign translators become quite popular, but the political relevance of Ji Chaozhu was extraordinary.

Meanwhile America attempts to reopen the dialogue with China. In 1963,  the Swedish Beer, Secretary General of the Red Cross, carried secret messages to the American premier to Xi. Do not obtained the expected results because Kennedy was assassinated before the talkes started. The Cultural revolution is triggered, the Red Guards come to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and burn documents, many of which are covered by secrecy. Ji Chaozhu, which along with others to defend to the Ministry, was sacked and sent to the countryside. The internal uprisings did not remain confined to China but also extended within the Chinese consulates abroad. For example Yao Dengshan, a young diplomat repatriated after sowing chaos in the embassy of China in Jakarta, when he came back home he instigated his followers to attack foreign embassies in Beijing. On 22 August 1967, the situation was resolved when Yao bosted too much the disorders. He managed to break through the British Embassy, banged the console Hopson, criticizing him even if not a Chinese civillian, and finally set fire to the building. This fact was over the note and it brought many to losing the support of Mao and others who until then let him do it. The event caused a sensation also abroad. In the 1960’s the  relations between China and Russia are worsening, degenerating in some border clashes and America took advantage of it this time. Kissinger about this period tells of diplomatic problems between the USA and USSR and that  policy emerges when concept encounters opportunity. Over the Chinese-Russian crisis there several more reasons that led the United States to seek dialogue with China, one of them for the former were about to leave Vietnam and feared a Chinese invasion of abandoned areas. However, it continues, although with difficulty, the contact with the United States in Lahore (Pakistan) and in Bucharest (Romania). On 3rd of December 1969, Mr.Stoessel, USA Ambassador in Warsaw, sent a message to the Chinese chargé d’affaires, who, according to the stories, he fled for fear of being seen in contact with a stranger, hidden in the bathroom of the building, and the message was delivered by his interpreter: Stoessel had met Nixon and the latter wanted to communicate urgently with the Chinese. The invasion of the United States of Cambodia that would take place a little later did not help much on gain their trust.

Kis Ji Mao

Edward Snow, Ji Chaozhu and Mao Zedong in Tian’anmen at the time of his visit in China.

Owever in August 1970 E. Snow, the only American who could come close to Mao, arrived in China and discussed with Zhou. Welcomed with great fervor on the door of Tian’anmen, was immortalized in a photograph that went around the world, Mao and Snow (with behind Ji). Kissinger revealed during his visit in ’71 that the Americans had not got the message, which was that the door [of China to the United States] was open.” Mr. Khan, Who represented China in the United States, revealed in a private meeting with Zhou Enlai and Ji Chaozhu that he had spoken to Nixon. It’s no coincidence then that at the time when the Chinese table tennis team was in Japan in 1971, all the American players expressed his desire to play in China. Between 1998 and 2001, were released for the status of TOP SECRET some of the documents in the process of Sino-American rapprochement from the George Washington University‘s Cold War Group (GWCW) . The documents reveal the contents of the phone records and the paper reports between Nixon, Kissinger and several other parties with the Chinese and the same answers in original Chinese and their translated versions.

Ji Ye Huang Kissinger Zhang Tang

Chinese officials greet Henry Kissinger at Nanyuan military airport on July 9, 1971. From left to right: Ji Chaozhu, Ye Jianying, Huang Hua, Henry Kissinger, Zhang Wenjin and Tang Wensheng.

All of these materials shed light on the choices made and how they were addressed. And not only that. Through the channels of France and Pakistan, the United States has laid bare, to gain the trust of Beijing, some of their political strategies in Asia and revealed some Top-secret information on Russia. Mr. Si was preparing the ground for Kissinger‘s secret visit to took place in ’72. Thanks to this meeting they had the opportunity to present their positions based on the upcoming visit of Nixon, their roles in Asia, the Japanese defense policy, the crisis in Bangladesh, the Vietnam War, and the question of Taiwan. All of this steps anticipated the drafting of the Shanghai Communiqué. From the documents in January 1972 to Zhou Haig presents a Russia increasingly determined to encircle China and to isolate it. It also shows the concern that Russia was going to extend its influence even between India and Pakistan. In all these documents Ji Chaozhu is always cited. And so the Americans forcing” the Chinese to reciprocate the courtesy (or that someone had knocked on their door), they managed to cleverly give the impression to the world that they were “invited” by the Chinese, because they did not know the visit of Kissinger. As message of good faith to the recoinciliation, China was allowed to join the UN in 1971 and Nixon’s visit opened new fields of communication through the Chinese Embassy in Washington. Among the events that occurred during his life one of the most discussed is related to the Nixon visit to China. In the photograph of Renmin Ribao that portrays the famous handshake between Nixon and Zhou, Ji disappears (while the movies and foreign newspapers demonstrate its presence). Some say it was the fault of the “two ladies”, because among other people present there the interpreter Nancy Tang. F.C. Teiwes think that instead there was the will of Zhou. In fact, in the West was perceived with an aura of mystery and concern. jI 2JI 1 In the 2 picture is possilbe to see that Mr. Ji has been remover possibly for estetic reasons. In 1973, Han Xu is placed at the head of the Chinese embassy in Washington at the time of the Watergate Scandal. A lecture from Professor Samarani in 2009 it is explained how this fact had surprised the Chinese, who saw Nixon a partner they can trust and they were especially puzzled by the fact that the President of the United States was forced to resign. In this regard, Ji Chaozhu relates a funny and meaningful story of a colleague who puzzled and asked if Nixon would have been purged”, reflecting the mentality of the Chinese diplomats in those years. This are also the year pressures of lobby in the Congress of the Kuomintang on the USA are felt. Huang Zheng, a member of the Chinese Communist old guard, went to America to respond to pressure from Taiwanese and weaving a network of its ties with the USA politicians. In 1974, the cultural revolution is picking, at this juncture many illustrious characters are out of the way. Peng Dehui, for example, general and Marshal of the Peoples Armies in Korea War, felt in disgrace and is beaten to death by Red Guards. Later there will be another example Liu Shaoqi. At this point, Jiang Qing, wife of Mao and the Gang of Four are trying to consolidate their power in anticipation of the imminent death of Zhou and Mao, both sick. In recent years, Ji Chaozhu was often sent back and forth from the countryside, and called back only briefly to fullfill is work of the interpreter. In January 1976 Zhou Enlai dies, and Ji Chaozhu tells that were not given voluntarily appropriate treatment to cure to get rid of him. He was not even allowed to dignitaries closest to him to bring him a salute before his death. For his funeral Tian’anmen is full of people and flowers to farewell him. The Gang of Four, however, accuses Deng Xiaoping of having organized these movements. Qiao Guanhua has a secret interview with Ji Chaozhu to inform him he had the opportunity to talk with Mao as an interpreter. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Two Young LadiesNancy Tang and Wang Hairong were abusing of their powers to be close to Mao thaking their own decisions. Hua Guofeng, Chinese Prime Minister between 1976 and 1980, however, launched a campaign against Qiao, Ji is expelled by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Return of Deng Xiaoping and the Building of Modern China Foreign Diplomacy

After the dead of Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping is readmitted in the same year and the “two ladies” are transferred. In 1977, Was published another article on Ji Chaozhu, this time Ross H. Munro to write about Toronto Globe Mail article “Impressions of China.” Deng Makes a speech where he says that poverty is not the purpose of socialism and that the pursuit of prosperity is patriotic message that the West was shift in Being rich / Getting rich is glorious.” During President Carter relations with China regains, and Ji is hosted at Blair House together with the Chinese legation. In 1978, Deng Xiaoping is elected Man of the Year by Time magazine and with him for the first time in the history of Time in the same year he was made ​​the face of the same man on the cover. A demonstration of the changes taking place should be recalled that Deng goes to visit Japan in November of the same year. An article in Renmin Ribao has also evoked  it when China celebrated the 30th anniversay of Kaige Kaifang. In 1979 Is signed the “Joint Communiqué between the USA and China between Deng and Carter. Ji was appointed Deputy Director of the Office of Relations D’overseas. And in the same year he backs in America with another leader Bo Yibo to study the economy along with other experts. The wind of changes is supported also by the abolition of a previous law that did not allowed the Chinese diplomats abroad to have dealings of any kind with foreigners, this allowed them to extend their influence. The 1980 was a year rich of changes. A demonstration of the renewed spirit that enveloped the CCP leadership were the funeral of Liu Shaoqi, who died in prison in 1969. US President Reagan in 1981, supports the demands of the Chinese nationalist lobby, thus creating new tensions between the two countries after the sale of spare parts for Taiwanese arsenals. Consequently Reagan calls the ambassador Chai and Ji (who was now become a real diplomat and who is said that he enjoyed high reputation in USA). They explain that  the question of Taiwan for PRC has many elements in common with the feeling that the United States feels about Cuba. Then declare that any aid to Taiwan would jeopardize relations with mainland China. The Secretary of State Haig says, however, did not want to damage relations with the Chinese. In 1981, the Dutch sell two submarines to Taiwan, and China replies by closing the Chinese Embassy in AIA. Ji is then called to discuss the incident. The leaders of the White House in fact they were worried that the Chinese did the same facts in the previous year. This made ​​it clear to Ji that the negotiations were closer to move forward in their benefit, and it realizes with the Third Bilateral Agreement between the USA and the PRC. In 1982, Zhang becomes the new ambassador in the USA and Ji became its vice. In this period Ji consolidates his friendships with David Laux, the National Security Council for Asian Affairs, and then with Ford, Kissinger and Scowcroft B.. In 1984 is the turn of the premier Zhao Ziyang to visit the United States. Since 1985 Ji Chaozhu abandons its relations with the United States because it is transferred elsewhere. The reasons for the transfer are to be traced back to the fact that Hanxu re-proclaimed ambassador would have return and he did not agreed with the diplomatic apporach of Ji. Lobbied, he is sent to another country, the Fiji. The decision was repeatedly criticized by the American counterpart which had become very experienced with him and that it was easier to communicate. Paradoxicaly this experience will be useful for Ji when he will be transferred to London in 1988 to carry out his duties as ambassador. In Uk he not valued as much for the experience in the USA but for those in the former British colony. The building that housed the Chinese embassy was the same one where he was held Sun Yatsen many years before, the room that the “hosted” him has never been rennovated to remember his days as refugees.

The last years

In 1988, Was published an article about him, The brilliant Ji“. He had won the confidence and esteem even within the British royal family and were starting some projects. Between 1991 and 1996, he became Secretary General of the PRC in the United Nations. From this moment participates in many humanitarian activities by Chinese and international. Between 1996 and 2005 he was president of an association of overseas Chinese returnees.


The language should not be underestimated. It is a strong means of control. The Western mind-set is framed in European languages​​, and used to the idea that the languages ​​of these Asian cultures are barriers indecipherable, so going to add to those already present. It is true that from the time of the Korean War and Nixon have made ​​much progress in Asian studies academics, but as academics, remain imprisoned in a few people. In China today, the majority of young people studying English and has a lot more information on the West, giving them so much advantage over us. It is not just the good fortune to see films that are dubbed, as in other European countries, but in the possibility of studying a culture in various sizes and then devote himself to other fields (economics, engineering, etc.). Already possessing a cultural background Western experts who can own only after some years of study.

For those interested in reading Ji Chaozhu book, The Man on Mao’s Right, please have a look this link from :


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