(This is G o o g l e's cache of http://www.cco.caltech.edu/~chinese/hong_suo/95/ps/tsien.txt.)



PRECISELY AT 3 P.M., Peking time, October 16, 1964, a fireball seared the autumn sky over Lop Nor and the Takla Makan Desert in Red China's Sinkiang region, bathing the barren flats in an eerie purple. Sensitive nose scoops on American U-2 planes prowling the skies high over China sucked in radioactive debris.

Halfway across the globe, worlds apart from Lop Nor, only a few predawn lights burned in Washington. Most Americans were asleep as telephones jarred the quiet of the Pentagon and the White House. Later that day, U.S. leaders assured the country that the first Chinese device was crude and primitive.

Said President Johnson: "Its military significance should not be overestimated. Many years and great efforts separate the testing of a first nuclear device from having a stockpile of reliable weapons with effective delivery systems."

In Moscow, a glum one-line report relayed the news to Russians, preoccupied with the backlash of a plot that ousted Nikita Khrushchev from power only a day before. But unlike Americans, who were accustomed to the notion that the Chinese were hopelessly backward, the Russians had few illusions about China's potential. It was a sardonic twist of history that the United States and Russia, each having once considered China a reliable ally, and each having given China significant help toward breaking into the Nuclear Club, were the two nations most appalled by the prospect of Chinese membership. This anxiety deepened when China, less than three years later, exploded its first H-bomb.

Russia had helped for political reasons. The Americans had helped through what many in responsible positions called sheer stupidity. A hysterical fear that "Reds" lurked under every bed persuaded the United States to hand over key men -- two in particular -- who would lift Red China quickly from apprenticeship to full Nuclear Club membership by placing an atom bomb on the snout of a missile.

In China, for Tsien Hsue-shen and Chao Chung-yao, two top architects of their nation's nuclear program, and for other returned scientists trained in the West, it was a time, perhaps, to savor the bittersweet taste of revenge. Missile genius Tsien and A-bomb creator Chao, alumni of the California Institute of Technology, could remember America, whose McCarthy era of witch-hunting had made them unwelcome guests.

Some in America remembered what a U.S. official had said of Dr. Tsien: "I'd rather shoot him than let him leave this country. He knows too much." But go Tsien did. So did Chao. So did 80-odd other talented Chinese scientists who, between 1930 and 1950, had made their marks on some of America's most prestigious campuses. They took with them huge stores of bitterness and rich funds of information gathered when U.S. leaders considered them allies. For Tsien, the gentle genius of rocketry, the agony was prolonged. The American world of H. S. Tsien, as he called himself in California, was shattered when the FBI knocked on his door early in the summer of 1950. But the story of this man from Shanghai and of America's costly gifts of talent to Red China had begun long before.

Quiet evenings in Pasadena, with dime for refreshements --- or was it Communist party dues?

OUTSIDE THE SCIENTIFIC community, Theodore von Karman, until he died at 81 in 1963, was an obscure, scholarly Hungarian Jew. To the scientific world, he was a genius who had probed the mysteries of wind and space and left a heritage of conquest that would permit men to hurl missiles across undreamed-of barriers. To Tsien Hsue-shen, Dr. von Karman was like a god. When Tsien arrived in the United States in 1935 -- on scholarship funds contributed by the U.S. from its share of Boxer Rebellion indemnities paid by China -- von Karman's Aeronautics Department at Caltech was already celebrated, and only those capable of the most rigid discipline could qualify to work and study there. Tsien had the qualities and the discipline. After taking his masters degree at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936, he quickly arranged to head for his mecca, eager to achieve his Ph.D. in aerodynamics, the young science that had captured his imagination during his year in New England. Caltech embraced him as it has few students in its illustrious 75-year history.[2]

Tsien, then only 26, the son of a Shanghai scholar, was so absorbed in his life work that to many, socially, he seemed rude. He disdained small talk. If his companions at a social gathering could not speak the language of science, his conversation dried up.

Perhaps if Tsien had not owned and driven an automobile, things might have turned out differently for him -- and for history. Dr. Sidney Weinbaum, a physicist at Caltech, could not drive. His Chinese friend, 11 years his junior, could. Moreover, they both felt the same way about classical music. So Dr. Weinbaum asked his shy young associate to drive him to the homes of Pasadena friends for what ostensibly might have been just quiet evenings of fine music and high-level conversation.

Actually, Tsien, perhaps unwittingly, was mingling with "Professional Unit 122, Pasadena Section, Communist Party of the United States."

Unit 122 was an odd assortment of members, as brought out in later Government proceedings. Several were physicists. One named was an eccentric professor, Frank J. Malina, who dreamed of shooting rockets to the moon and was ridiculed until he proved his dreams could come true. Another was Dr. Frank Oppenheimer, scientist brother of the celebrated physicist, Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. One was a chemist, one a graduate student, another a movie costumer. Seldom were there more than 15 at any one gathering. Binding them together was the personality of Dr. Sidney Weinbaum.

In the weekly meetings, Dr. Weinbaum enjoyed the company of those who could share his gloomy forebodings and listen sympathetically to his dimly defined views of how the world might be saved from cataclysm. Dr. Weinbaum said what was happening in Europe in 1938 foretokened disaster. Adolf Hitler already had taken over Austria. In Italy, Benito Musolini had pledged all support to the Nazi FuYhrer. Spain's Civil War had become a laboratory for World War II. In China, Japan's Imperial Armies had ravaged Tientsin and Nanking, seized Shanghai and Peking. In America, the effects of the Great Depression still oppressed U.S. life.

Sometimes Weinbaum's friends gathered at his Pasadena home, sometimes at the homes of other members. Dr. Tsien was a regular, savoring the high-level, if gloomy, conversation and the musical sessions that topped off such evenings. Tsien was dilettante musician who played the block flute. Weinbaum liked to accompany him on the piano.

Some who attended the sessions had little notion of the politics behind Unit 122. To them, these were harmless living-room kaffeeklatsches, and the payment of ten cents per session was only a contribution for refreshments. To others, the dime meant dues to the Communist party.

To some, subscriptions to "The Daily Worker" and "Daily People's World" were to support the cause. Others never noticed the hammer-and-sickle mastheads. Some felt it their duty to carry party cards and use fictitious names. Others could not, later, recall ever signing anything, or recognize false names listed on documents alongside their own.

Dr. Weinbaum[3] often supplied "study material" -- excerpts from Karl Marx, scraps of searing biographies of William Randolph Hearst, readings from leftist thinkers. The group discussed communism, too, but as Dr. Tsien would say later, only "as a force in the political scene of the world." It was mostly debate, he recalled. Everybody argued.

Each fall, the Communist party staged a recruiting drive in Los Angeles County, and sympathizers were encouraged to fill out applications. Party members often took it upon themselves to fill out the forms for desirable prospects, and it was not necessary for the prospect even to know about it. The Pasadena branch used a registration card in lieu of application form, each card carrying a telltale "bug" that identified party documents. The card's ultimate destination was the office of the district membership director in San Francisco, who issued a membership book in the recruit's real or fictitious "party name."

As a party courier, William Ward Kimple[4] had access to the cards. He and Clara would meet secretly with Red Hynes, and the three would transcribe copies of party forms to mimeographed sheets. Kimple then sped the originals back to party headquarters. To this day, Kimple avows, he remembers clearly when the name H. S. Tsien popped up, linked with the party name "John M. Decker."

"Captain Hynes was making copies," Kimple says, recalling the incident. "He came to this particular one and wanted to know who this Chinese was. I told him I didn't know. He said, 'I wonder why he took the name Decker for a party name. I wonder if he knows Comrade Decker.' "

There was a female comrade at the time whose real name was Decker. Possibly, Hynes speculated, this Chinese knew her and took the name for that reason. It would not occur to Hynes to question whether the form itself was genuine. His mission was to find Reds. He didn't know Tsien from Confucius.

Ignorant of the damning nugget that Hynes tucked away in his files to gather dust for another dozen years, Tsien went about his business of probing the potential of rocketry. He and his colleagues developed techniques that one day would propel the United States -- and eventually Red China -- into outer space.

After our entry into World War II, Tsien was cleared for top-secret assignments. He became director of the rocket section of the U.S. National Defense Scientific Advisory Board under Gen. Henry H.(Hap) Arnold. Arnold awarded him a War Department commendation "For his excellent and complete survey of ramjet and rocket propulsion in this country and in Europe and his valuable original theoretical work on the theory of ramjet and rocket performance." Tsien was cited also for his study on the possibilities of applying nuclear energy to propulsion. James B. Conant and Vannevar Bush honored him as well for research "contributing to the successful prosecution of the Second World War." When the thunder of the guns had died away, Tsien was given the rank of colonel and flown with a secret mission to Germany's Black Forest to probe the rocket secrets of Hitler's scientists. Back in America, Tsien joined a team of experts to examine how a future war might be fought in the skies. Such ideas were the basis for U.S. postwar military development.

Tsien enjoys an hour of triumph, then finds the FBI at his door

IN SUMMER OF 1947, after learning that his mother had died in Shanghai, Tsien sailed home to console his father, then in his late 60's. In Shanghai,

Tsien met Yin Tsiang, beautiful and cultivated daughter of one of Chiang Kai-shek's generals. She had studied singing in Europe and played the piano with skill and feeling. They married, and Tsien briefly contemplated remaining in China for good. He was offered the presidency of his alma mater, Chiaotung University. But Chiang's education minister judged Tsien too young, at 37, for so exalted a post and rejected the appointment. Tsien was depressed by what he saw in Nationalist China. He wrote friends in America, describing the misery and poverty he encountered. After three months, he brought his bride to America.

At Honolulu, Tsien scrawled "no" on an immigration questionnaire that asked if he ever had been a member of an organization advocating overthrow of the U.S. Government by force. That "no" would haunt him. Yellowing in Capt. Bill Hynes's files in the Los Angeles Police Department was a nine- year-old scrap of paper that would persuade U.S. authorities Tsien was a liar.

Tsien had seen enough of China to be convinced Mao's Communists would take it over. His future, he decided, was in America. He filed a Declaration of Intention to become a U.S. citizen.

At 39, in 1949, Tsien was at the pinnacle of his fame. He had accepted an aerodynamics professorship at MIT, but three institutions vied for his services as head of rocket- and jet-propulsion study. He chose Caltech, where he had spent so much of his life.

Tsien enjoyed his last blaze of glory in the United States, the country he intended to adopt as his foster-fatherland. A few months later, the FBI's knock on his door brought whatever dreams he nourished to an abrupt end. Stunned, Tsien quickly reported to his superiors what the FBI had told him: He was suspected of being a Communist; his security clearance for sensitive work would be revoked.

Dr. E. C. Watson, then dean of faculty at Caltech, remembers well how Tsien strode into his office with the news. "I'm returning home," Tsien announced, his full underlip set in a hard line. Dr. Watson was shaken.

"For heaven's sake, why? You're happy here."

"I was brought up to believe that when you are a guest, you do nothing to offend your host," Tsien replied. "I am a guest in your country. I am now an unwelcome guest. I am going home."

There was no way of arguing him out of it. He was being hounded by the FBI, which claimed he was a member of Unit 122, Communist party, and had perjured himself with that "no" to Immigration's question in Honolulu.

A letter from China that said his father was ill and in need of an operation strengthened Tsien's decision. The letter may have been a fraud. Communist China had been sending out many letters attempting to lure key Chinese to the homeland.

Tsien bought tickets to leave late in August on Canadian Pacific Airlines. Meanwhile, Caltech urged him to appeal the order lifting his security clearance. He did so, but with reluctance. He flew to Washington late in August to see Dan A. Kimball, then Under Secretary of the Navy. Kimball was on leave from his position as vice-president of Aerojet, a brainchild of the original Suicide Club members.

Tsien had known Kimball fairly well. He had maintained links with Aerojet, which was to blossom into a sprawling corporation with a role in virtually every U.S. rocket program, from satellites to Atlas and Polaris missiles. Tsien served the company as a consultant.

Kimball was waiting when Tsien reached the Navy Department.

"They claim I'm a Communist," Tsien said.

"Hell," snorted Kimball, "I don't think you're a Communist."

Tsien said he intended to go back to China. "I'm Chinese," he told Kimball. "I don't want to build weapons to kill my countrymen. It's that simple."

"I won't let you out of the country," Kimball told his friend.

The salty Navy Under Secretary said to others later, "I'd rather shoot him than let him leave the country; he knows too much that's valuable to us; he's worth five divisions anywhere."

Kimball extracted from Tsien a promise to stay, pending an appeal to regain his security clearance. When the scientist had left to catch a plane back to Los Angeles, Kimball called the State Department. Under no circumstances, he warned, should Tsien be permitted to leave the United States.

Tsien's plane taxied to a halt at Los Angeles International Airport. Tsien bade his seat companion, by chance another scientist, good night, and arose from his seat. He came face to face with a tall man who quietly handed him a paper. Agent Allan G. Juhl, general investigator of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, waited while Tsien read the paper: an order not to leave the United States.

Next morning, he canceled his reservation. But he did have one shipment of his belongings crated. He had the moving company pack books and documents, some still bearing "confidential" and "secret" stamps. The eight cases, weighing 1,800 pounds, were marked for shipment to Shanghai.

Judge Ben Harrison ordered the crates seized. Men from a dozen Federal agencies swarmed to the harbor warehouse and pored over the documents. The Government contended its inspectors found, among other things, photographs, sketches, negatives, blueprints and code and signal books. (It turned out later that one "code book" was a logarithm table.)

Tsien admitted some documents bore security stamps, but insisted all were outdated, none classified. He claimed he had locked the current classified documents he possessed in a cabinet and handed the key to Dr. Clark Millikan of Caltech. The material he wanted to ship consisted of his own research, much of its notes from his lectures. But not for another year did Tsien recover most of his material, none of it found to be top secret.

"This piece of paper blew the lid," Agent Juhl told the authors later, holding up a copy of Exhibit 6, the key bit of evidence in the U.S. case against Tsien. It was the same fateful paper that Red Squad Chief Bill Hynes had copied from a Communist party registration form in 1938. It bore the name "H. S. Tsien" and the party name "John M. Decker."

An agent recalls: "It was almost as if he were saying to himself, 'Well, it's finally over.' "

ON SEPTEMBER 6, 1950, a sedan pulled up at Tsien's house in Altadena, and two figures emerged. Tsien quickly recognized one of them, the man who now rapped sharply on the door.

Tsien's wife, her delicate round face taut, black eyes wide with apprehension, went to the door carrying six-month-old daughter Jung-jen (the Tsiens called her Mamie) in her arms. Her son, two-year-old Yucon -- like Mamie, a native-born citizen of the United States -- was cowering in a corner as if he had sensed the crisis.

Allan G. Juhl of the Immigration and Naturalization Service politely introduced himself and his companion, Bill Kaiser. Mrs. Tsien stepped aside to admit them, noting that Juhl wore handcuffs dangling from his belt. A bulge under his suit jacket betrayed the presence of a snub-nosed revolver.

Slowly and deliberately, Agent Juhl read the arrest warrant. The Justice Department judged Tsien an alien who was "a member of an organization ... that advises, advocates or teaches the overthrow by force of the Government of United States."

Tsien listened. He slipped from the room and reappeared moments later with a shaving kit, three books and a portfolio of papers. he kissed his wife and children and stepped out into the sunlight, his five-foot-seven figure dwarfed between the two tall agents. "There was no emotion," Juhl remembered later. "It was almost as if he were saying to himself, "Well, it's finally over.' "

Compassionately, Juhl waited until they reached the car to search Tsien, to avoid embarrassing his wife. Satisfied the scientist was unarmed, they put him in the back seat for the long drive to San Pedro, his destination, a cell in the Detention Center.

For two weeks, Tsien lived in virtual isolation. He scarcely touched the meals from the Detention Center mess. he preferred to go hungry, waiting for the days his wife could bring Chinese delicacies prepared at home. Most of the time, he lay on his bunk thinking, paying little attention to his prison mates, many of them "wetbacks" chattering in unintelligible Mexican Spanish.

Tsien emerged from behind bars under $15,000 bail. He returned home to ponder the paradox: The United States had declared him exportable, but wouldn't let him go.

A few weeks later, the power and majesty of the United States confronted Dr. Tsien in a grubby little 10-by-20 foot room, its windows sealed against the clamor of downtown Los Angeles traffic.

Tsien, in a well-cut dark suit, smiled enigmatically as Albert Del Guercio, the examining officer, bore down on him. Del Guercio had long practice in antisubversive investigation for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

The government had no intention then of expelling Tsien, but it went through days of long, torturous hearings to prove him deportable.

From the outset, Tsien denied ever joining the party. Did he, Del Guercio demanded, ever attend party meetings?

"I did not attend meetings of the Communist party to my knowledge," Tsien insisted. He would concede only that "looking back, I see ... it is possible that these gatherings I attended could be meetings of the Communist party ... but I myself have no knowledge that these were Communist party meetings when I went."

Again and again, he repeated his denial as Del Guercio led him step by step through those innocuous-appearing socials back in 1938.

The prosecution's attitude, through hours-long sessions, indicated it was unlikely that Tsien could convince the Government he was not a Communist party member. The Government keyed its case to Exhibit 6, the registration form. It never proved Tsien had submitted an application to join the party, much less that he signed one. The Government's own witnesses testified anyone could have filled out a registration for a prospective member, even without the prospect's knowledge. And Bill Ward Kimple, a star Government witness, had never laid eyes on Tsien until 12 years after he found that registration. The original never turned up. The Government's case was based on the registration in the handwriting of Capt. Hynes of the Red Squad.

Vainly, Tsien's counsel, Grant B. Cooper, insisted that the whole case rested on hearsay and testimony of professed ex-Communists. Doggedly protesting, Cooper entered 202 objections to the Government's questions. Almost invariably, he was overruled by hearing officer Roy Waddell.

Tsien, sometimes struggling with the language, seemed mystified by the assault tactics of an American prosecutor. Del Guercio was relentless.

"Do you owe your allegiance to Communist China?"

"I do not," Tsien replied.

"To whom do you owe allegiance?"

"I owe allegiance to the people of China."

Del Guercio sparred with Tsien for a moment and then demanded: "In the event of a conflict between this country and Red China, would you fight against Red China for the United States?"

Tsien parried. The situation had not presented itself. There was no such war. Again, Tsien's lawyer protested. His client would need time to think about such a question.

"We will wait here six months," Del Guercio snapped.

But Tsien volunteered that it would take only moments. The room fell silent. Five minutes ticked by. Finally, Tsien said, "I can't answer the question now."

"You can't or won't answer the question now?"

"I can -- c-a-n -- answer the question now," replied Tsien, stung, "and the answer is as follows: I have already said that my essential allegiance is to the people of China, and if the war between the United States and Communist China is for the good of the people of China, which I think is very likely to be, so then I will fight on the side of the United States. No question about that."

"But you will make the decision first? You will determine whether it is for the good of the Chinese people?" Del Guercio asked.

"That decision, yes, I would make."

"You will not permit the Government of the United States to make that decision for you?"

"No, certainly not."

That apparently was the Government's case.

The hearings dragged into the spring of 1951, and on April 26, the hearing officer declared his decision: Tsien was an alien, a native and citizen of China, who was "subject to deportation on the grounds that he has been found to have been, prior to entry ... an alien who was a member of the Communist Party of the United States."

Tsien could not leave Los Angeles County without permission. He was declared subject to expulsion, but far too valuable to expel.

Virtually a prisoner, Tsien remarkably snapped out of his mood of depression and plunged into new work during his final years in the United States. He found the stamina to turn out a technical paper every month for four months in a row, as if this outpouring of labor were the only way he could suppress his resentment.

Some newspapers speculate that Tsien was traded for 11 U.S. airmen captured by Red China

FINALLY, AFTER FIVE YEARS, Tsien was able to close his California home, free to leave the country. The Justice Department evidently had decided that five years had been enough to decontaminate him and nullify his menace.

If the onetime Navy Under Secretary, Dan Kimball, had had his way, Tsien never would have left. But Kimball was by then out of government. The new Republican administration was responsible. And, in Kimball's opinion, it bungled.

Late in 1955, Tsien and his family booked passage on the S.S. President Cleveland, sailing for Hong Kong. Tsien never bothered to call his attorney, Grant Cooper. And the Government did not bother to alert Cooper either. Cooper protested angrily. He had intended to challenge the deportation order in the courts when Tsien's restraint was lifted, but the Government did not give him the chance. In any event, Tsien wanted no more of legal proceedings and writs of habeas corpus. For him, it was good- bye to America ... for good.

"Swap for U.S. Airmen Rumored as Scientist Gets Ready to Sail," cried a headline in the "Los Angeles Times". Many newspapers speculated on reports that Tsien had been traded for 11 U.S. airmen held captive by Red China since the Korean War and released about that time.

The State Department said piously: "It would be totally contrary to our principles," and insisted, "The United States has not been engaged and is not now engaged in swapping human beings."

If Tsien was exchanged, some eminent Americans said, it was a poor trade. The United States gave China one of America's -- and the world's -- most extraordinary rocket experts.

When, years ahead of experts forecasts, a Chinese missile with a nuclear warhead landed on target in the desert wastes of Sinkiang, Americans could look back to the McCarthy days and wonder: What was the security percentage in driving into enemy arms a man who could fashion such instruments of destruction? Few friends in America ever heard from Tsien after he reached China. But Dean Watson at Caltech did receive one Christmas card, postmarked Peking. It bore a drawing of a typical Chinese spray of flowers. In his precise hand, Tsien had written:

"This is a flower that blooms in adversity."

Notes added by Hong*Suo:

[1] This article is originally published in "Look", 7/25/1967, and is later included in the book "The China Cloud" published by Little, Brown & Co. The Hong*Suo editorial board has edited this artical and changed its title.

[2] This article is written in 1967, when Caltech has only 75 years of history.

[3] Sidney Weinbaum is sentenced to four years in prison on the charge of being a communist.

[4] William Ward Kimple is a spy Bill "Red" Haynes, the head of LAPD anti- communist department, planted in the communist party. Clara is Kimple's Girlfriend.