W. H. Donald
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Soong Mei-ling (Mme Chiang Kai-shek)
[SEE 1930 - 1940 BELOW]

1920 - 1930
  • 1920-28: With government funding, Don initiates and co-manages the new Bureau of Economic Information in Peking  to aid national planning.
  • Early 1920s: Soviet Russia aids Dr. Sun in setting up the Whampoa Military Academy in Canton [Guangzhou]. It is a prelude to the Northern Expedition - also the fount of Chiang Kai-shek's future power.
  • Meanwhile (1923): Don's best friend, Roy Anderson negotiates with bandits in the province for the release of a record number of Western hostages kidnapped by bandits. For the world's press, the drama of this, the "Lincheng Incident" beginning in May 1923.  The "outrage" makes international headlines for many months.
  • 1925: Dr. Sun Yat-sen and Roy Anderson both die on March 12.
  • 1927: General Chiang Kai-shek now dominates the Kuomintang (KMT) or "Nationalist" party, political outgrowth of the old tungmenghui. Chiang, China's "strong man", instigates the KMT's White Terror or anti-Communist purge beginning in Shanghai. The 'Capone of Shanghai', Du Yuesheng, and his Green Gang, co-operate in ousting leftists from the KMT and unions. Bloody "nights of the long knives" roll throughout China. Zhou Enlai narrowly avoids death in Shanghai.
  • 1927: Sensational publication of the infamous Tanaka Memorial - fact or fiction? - apparently a Japanese military blueprint for domination of the Far East and the Pacific [subject of a noted Jimmy Cagney movie, Blood on the Sun].
  • 1928/9: Don joins 'Young Marshal' Chang Hsueh-liang who now rules of Manchuria after his father, Chang Tso-lin (a 20s' contender for Chinese dictatorship) is assassinated in June 1928. The Young Marshal displeases Japan by allowing the "Three Eastern States" (Manchuria) to fly the Nationalist flag as a gesture towards Chinese unity. Chiang and Chang maintain mentor/protege relations right up to the "Xian Incident" of 1936.

1930 - 1940

  • 1931: While Don and Chang are in Peking, a military "incident" in Mukden leads to the rapid seizure of resource-rich Manchuria by Japanese forces.
  • 1932 (late January): Another "incident: Japanese forces attack Shanghai with unexpected resistance from the Chinese. The "incidents" are forerunners to the Sino-Japanese war of 1937-45.
  • 1934: Don is shared as adviser for a few months among Soong Mei-ling, Chiang Kai-shek and the 'Young Marshal'. He then goes full time with the Chiangs.
  • Meanwhile (1934-36): Chiang heats up the war against  the Communists. His "bandit suppression" campaigns are supposedly a prelude to reorganising China's forces against Japanese aggression. The Communists, only just out-manoeuvre a pincer attack in Kiangsi province and escape via an arduous and often tragic Long March to the North (1934/5).
  • 1936: The international spotlight hits Donald during the infamous 'Xian Incident' of December 12-25 1936 when Generalissimo Chiang is arrested by his 2nd in command, 'Young Marshal' Chang Hsueh-liang. Don, an intimate friend and adviser to both, flies into the unknown in an attempt to reconcile his two men. The city of Xian is now under martial law and perhaps in Communist hands. Don begins negotiations that will eventually ensure Chiang's release, via negotiations with Zhou Enlai, acting for the Communists. Zhou, formerly Chiang's colleague at the Whampoa Military College, cordially acknowledges Chiang's higher rank. The outcome is a tense KMT/Communist accord to resist Japan. Columnist Edgar Snow announces the fact on December 29, 1936, though the government will not admit the fact for several months.
  • 1936/37: In the aftermath of 'Xian', Chang Hsueh-liang will become one of the longest-serving political prisoners (c. 50 years) in recorded history. Zhou Enlai goes to work in Nanking.
  • from 1937: War! Japanese troops take Shanghai then in December brutally sack Nanking - the government-vacated capital - infamously known as "the rape of Nanking". Don bitterly rebukes the Australian government in several letters (including one to writer Frank Clune) for selling war materials like pig iron to Japan. China, he says, is fighting Australia's war.
  • 1938: The seat of the Nationalist government moves to Hankow then further inland to Chungking.
  • 1940: Chinese assassins (Japanese agents) plot to kill Donald. Chiang sends him to accompany Sir Stafford Cripps - then on a diplomatic mission from Britain - from Burma to Chungking. The assassins lay a trap en route but, aware of the plot, Chiang warns Donald in time.
  • 1940: On another secret mission (late March), Donald goes to Hong Kong to accompany the three Soong sisters (Mmes. Chiang Kai-shek, Sun Yat-sen and H. H. Kung) back to Chungking. They take a secret midnight flight. In Chungking, the sisters will broadcast pleas to the West to materially aid China. Accompanying them on the plane is young Ansie Lee from Hong Kong. She is Don's secretarial assistant.
  • 1940: Around April or May (circumstances and timing are uncertain), Don resigns his unofficial position with the Chiangs and leaves China. He has too many government enemies**. He decides to write long-delayed memoirs aboard his beloved yacht, the Mei Hwa, with assistance from Ansie Lee. To that end, they leave HK in September aboard a steamer bound for the Pacific.

1940 - 1946

    • December 1941 - a surprise attack by Japanese planes on Pearl Harbour finally brings America ino the World War. Japan occupies all of Hong Kong on Christmas day, 1941.
    • Early 1942: Don and Ansie, caught in Manila just before the Japanese occupation, "disappear" in the Pacific.
    • 1943: T.V. Soong, the powerful Chinese politician and financier (brother to the Soong sisters), asks Australian authorities for Donald's whereabouts, revealing to the world that Don is interned somewhere in the Philippines. An immediate reaction in Tokyo: find, interrogate & execute Donald, the Evil Spirit of China.....
    • 1945: A surprise rescue in Manila in 1945.
    • 1946: Donald, suffering from cancer, dies peacefully in a Shanghai hospital on November 9.


W.H. Donald started as a reporter and/or editor in Australia for the Lithgow Mercury, the Bathurst National Advocate, the Sydney Daily Telegraph and the Melbourne Argus . In HK/China he edited the China Mail (HK) and Far Eastern Review (Shanghai) while acting as a correspondent for the New York Herald, The Times (UK), the Manchester Guardian and various Australian 'papers. In the 1920s he established and co-directed China's Bureau of Economic Information in Peking (Beijing).

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Don Who?!Death in ShanghaiWorld views DonA Chinese life ...Don - the BookDon - the PlayScholarlyHomeChinese researchOn the AuthorTOPPersonals 

Copyright, Frank Bren 2001. Photographs of Mr. Donald and friends are reproduced by kind permission of the Donald family (Australia) and Ansie Lee Sperry (USA). For all enquiries, please contact the Manager via frankmondial@lycos.com . Oh, and many thanks for visiting this site.