How Nationalist China Attempted to Modernize its Military Food System During and After World War II
USMA Research Unit Affiliation
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
In 1949, the United States Government published the China White Paper as justification for withholding military aid to the Chinese Nationalist Government (KMT) during the Chinese Civil War, which many blamed as the cause of the KMT’s loss to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In the China White Paper, the claim was made that “in no small measure, the predicament in which the National Government finds itself today is due to its failure to provide China with enough to eat.” Six years prior to the American government making this conclusion in 1943, the KMT sent one of its leading public health official’s, Tsai Chiao, to visit America and describe some of China’s nutritional challenges to American scholarly audiences at the request of the Norman Wait Harris Memorial Foundation of the University of Chicago. Chiao was Western educated at the University of California, Indiana University and the University of Chicago and was a physiologist at the National Central University in Nanjing. He told his American audience that as a result of several Chinese nutritional studies, “for the most part, Chinese diets are adequate in calories, but deficient in animal protein, vitamins, and certain salts.” He stated that several years prior, the Nutritional Committee of the Chinese Medical Association had recommended an increase in animal protein for Chinese diets, “but it has not been possible to follow this recommendation.” Chiao then told the Americans that Chinese soldiers “received animal food usually once, or at most twice, a month.” The idea that meat was an imperative ingredient to a daily diet played directly to American audience’s own understanding of food. Perhaps coincidently, over the next two years, the American military spent considerable resources attempting to rectify this lack of meat in Chinese soldiers’ daily diet. In researching this attempt, it appears that while certain aspects of China’s military food system changed, these were far from universal, were reliant on a local populace, and were unsustainable beyond America’s direct intervention.
By the end of World War II, the Americans had felt that their nutritional experiment with the Chinese soldiers had had some limited success. American Colonel Charles F. Kearney, who was a liaison officer to the Chinese Army logistics unit, believed that “the Chinese were shown that armies on the march could be given an adequate, balanced diet,” which was based on “what the Americans thought to be effective procedures.”Kearney, however, concluded in his report that he did not believe permanent or lasting changes had occurred in the Chinese military before the end of World War II. Indeed, the research into American and Chinese archives suggests that there was a gap between what American military leaders tried to change and what actually occurred on the ground.
 Chang, David Cheng. The Hijacked War: The Story of the Chinese POWs in the Korean War. Stanford University Press: Stanford. 2020. Page 79.
 “Text of Secretary Acheson's Letter Transmitting White Paper on China to President Truman.” The New York Times. August 6, 1949. Page 4.
 The foundation was a trust fund given to the University of Chicago in 1923, for the promotion of knowledge of an interest in international affairs. As such, it held annual Harris Institutes, composed of a private round table and a series of public lectures on international affairs. The annual institutes lasted until 1956. https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/e/scrc/findingaids/view.php?eadid=ICU.SPCL.HARRISNW.
 Harley Farnsworth MacNair. “Synthesis Out of Analysis.” Voices from Unoccupied China. Ed. By Harley Farnsworth MacNair. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1944. Page x.
 Tsai Chiao. “Problems of Nutrition in Present Day China.” Voices from Unoccupied China. Ed. By Harley Farnsworth MacNair. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. 1944. Page 16.
 Ibid. Page 17. I was not able to find the report Chiao cited other than what was presented at the conference.
 Quoted in Romanus, Charles F. and Riley Sunderland. China, Burma, India Theater: Time Runs Out in CBI. Center of Military History. United States Army: Washington, D.C. 1999. Page 243.
 Ibid. Page 246.
USMA Research Goals Supported
Enhance the Education of Cadets
University of Wisconsin - Madison
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Walker, John, "How Nationalist China Attempted to Modernize its Military Food System During and After World War II" (2022). West Point ETD. 21.