Cover of The Hijacked War by David Cheng Chang
The Hijacked War
The Story of Chinese POWs in the Korean War
David Cheng Chang


496 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503604605
Ebook ISBN: 9781503605879

Request Review/Desk/Examination Copy


Excerpts and More

The Korean War lasted for three years, one month, and two days, but armistice talks occupied more than two of those years, as more than 14,000 Chinese prisoners of war refused to return to Communist China and demanded to go to Nationalist Taiwan, effectively hijacking the negotiations and thwarting the designs of world leaders at a pivotal moment in Cold War history. In The Hijacked War, David Cheng Chang vividly portrays the experiences of Chinese prisoners in the dark, cold, and damp tents of Koje and Cheju Islands in Korea and how their decisions derailed the high politics being conducted in the corridors of power in Washington, Moscow, and Beijing.

Chang demonstrates how the Truman-Acheson administration's policies of voluntary repatriation and prisoner reindoctrination for psychological warfare purposes—the first overt and the second covert—had unintended consequences. The "success" of the reindoctrination program backfired when anti-Communist Chinese prisoners persuaded and coerced fellow POWs to renounce their homeland. Drawing on newly declassified archival materials from China, Taiwan, and the United States, and interviews with more than 80 surviving Chinese and North Korean prisoners of war, Chang depicts the struggle over prisoner repatriation that dominated the second half of the Korean War, from early 1952 to July 1953, in the prisoners' own words.

About the author

David Cheng Chang is Assistant Professor of History at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

"This book represents a giant step forward in our understanding of the prisoner-of-war issue in the Korean War. The research on the Chinese prisoners is extraordinary, the stories of individuals compelling, and the analysis of the context in which they made choices balanced and persuasive."

—William Stueck, author of The Korean War: An International History

"David Cheng Chang's superlative research reveals the use of Chinese POWs as pawns in the larger Cold War standoff between the US and China during the Korean War. His cogent analysis encourages us to think about the aftermath of the war and the lives of those who made the 'voluntary choice' to join or who faced 'forced conformity.'"

—Barak Kushner, author of Men to Devils, Devils to Men: Japanese War Crimes and Chinese Justice

"The Hijacked War provides a most provocative look at the political and ethical consequences of the Korean War. Through the untold story of Chinese POWs' deportation, David Cheng Chang describes how, against the backdrop of the battle between democracy and communism, the Korean War's stakes implicated power games, historical contingencies, and human rights. His meticulous study brings to light a poignant lesson of the war—that freedom may generate violence, and democracy may beget betrayal. The book offers the long-missing piece to the jigsaw of the Cold War narrative on the East Asian front. And importantly, it compels us to ponder the price we pay for the war and peace of our own time."

—David Der-wei Wang, author ofThe Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China

"Chang's exceptionally vivid prisoner's-eye account, based on camp archives and interviews with ex-POWS, leads him to condemn the key U.S. policymakers, including President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, for their 'arrogance, ignorance, and negligence.'"

—Andrew J. Nathan, Foreign Affairs

"David Cheng Chang fills a void in the literature on the Korean War with this important book describing the experiences of Chinese prisoners of war (POWs) during the conflict and assessing the impact of their incarceration and release... Chang delivers on his pledge to answer the questions of who these POWs were, why they chose to return home or not, and whether their choice was voluntary."

—James I. Matray, Journal of Cold War Studies

"The winner of the Korean War, ironically, turns out to be Chiang Kai-shek...The Hijacked War tells the violent and tragic story of Chiang's unacknowledged victory in Korea."

—John Delury, Global Asia

"The Hijacked War is a welcome and important intervention into Korean War historiography. Chang's focus on the lived experiences of those involved in POW discussions and camps suggests the ways that local stories can reorient our understanding of events, particularly a conflict that is often told in terms of high politics and military strategy."

—Gretchen Heefner, The Journal of Asian Studies

"Besides being thus far the most in-depth exploration of Chinese POWs, The Hijacked War will be valuable to scholars studying the Korean War frontline and infiltration campaigns....Based on solid scholarship, Chang's POW biographies offer unique perspectives."

—Liu Zhaokun, Journal of American-East Asian Relations

"An ambitious China-centric work that nonetheless wonderfully captures the ambiguity and confusion associated with the breakup of the Japanese Empire and the related uncertainty of the two Koreas, The Hijacked War holds interest for a range of fields, reaching out to scholars of Northeast Asia, along with more nation-oriented subdisciplines of East Asian studies."

—John P. DiMoia, Cross-Currents

"David Cheng Chang offers an intriguing alternative explanation for the skewed anti-repatriation decision on the part of Chinese POWs and its impact on the Korean War....Hijacked War is no doubt an excellent contribution to Korean War POW studies. Those interested in the Korean War and POWs will find it very inspiring and worth reading."

—Son Daekwon, Pacific Affairs

"This well-written book poses some tough questions regarding the Chinese prisoner repatriation issue in the Korean War, a topic deserving of further scholarly examination."

—Esther T. Hu, Journal of Chinese Military History

"By moving beyond diplomatic history, Chang closes a major gap in the historiography on Chinese intervention in Korea by painstakingly unpacking the complex psyches of the Chinese POWs.

"With Chang's historical account, we can finally understand the myriad factors that led to Chinese POWs defecting from China to Taiwan at a two-to-one ratio (a stunning ratio compared to 7,826 non-repatriates and 75,823 repatriates among the North Korean POWs). In this twinned flipping of the script, Chang recasts Chinese POWs as the central actors of the Korean War to argue that 'the brightest minds of the mightiest power on earth [United States] were taken captive by the [Chinese] captives' (12)."

—Sandra H. Park, Journal of Korean Studies

"In telling the stories of Chinese POWs, Chang's stress on social history points to other topics in Chinese military history, such as recruitment, indoctrination, political control, awards and punishments, and other aspects of prisoner policy. Personal stories bring fresh insights into Communist POWs' motivations and perceptions. In their own words, they provide compelling firsthand accounts of their war experiences in Korea as well as their family lives before and after the war. Their stories deepen our understanding of the war."

—Xiaobing Li, Michigan War Studies Review

"Having read and researched many of the materials on which this book is based, I can say that The Hijacked War is the definitive work on the POW issue and brings the POWs' own stories in Chinese to life in English translation. It is...a highly enjoyable read."

—Catherine Churchman, American Historical Review