A Chinese Warlord’s Predictions for the Korean War

Yan Xishan, former warlord of Shanxi province and briefly premier of the Chinese republic wrote a book, Peace or World War, that was published in its English translation in December, 1950, but appears to have been written not long before the North Korean invasion around or before May, 1950.1 In the work we see an early version of Yan’s dream for world unity and a cosmopolitan future built on his own unusual anti-communist and anti-capitalist confucian utopianism, which I’ll hopefully be presenting on at a conference later this year.2 He would spend the last decade of his life in retirement developing these ideas and writing books and pamphlets on the subject.

Coming fresh from his own battles and defeat at the hands of Communists in Shanxi and later elsewhere in China, there is an interesting moment in the book where Yen makes his predictions for a coming war on the Korean peninsula during discussion of the prospects for a third world war. In this brief section focusing on Korea, he predicts both Chinese aid to North Korea, a potentially fast occupation of south Korea, and the quality of North Korean troops hardened by their participation in the Chinese civil war:

Now, let us compare North Korea and South Korea. The power of the latter, even with American training, is but half that of the former. Moreover, the South Korean troops have been trained to fight in orthodox manner while it is difficult to say what type of fighting technique the North Koreans will employ. Besides, about twenty thousand North Korean soldiers were known to be in Communist China and they probably returned to their own country before the outbreak of war. It is reported that when North Korea attacks South Korea, Communist China will, in order to return the service of the North Koreans on the mainland, supply them with a hundred thousand Chinese soldiers. This information, although unconfirmed, is rather logical. If it is true, the force of North Korea will amount to four hundred thousand and will be several times that of South Korea. As to the air force, the North Koreans hold a vast superiority over the South Koreans. Furthermore, the Communists, infiltrating the south will make every effort to stir up the South Koreans. This is a great crisis for South Korea. But, being a newly established country, it naturally should strengthen her army, reform her administration, and launch a movement to defend herself. In this movement, she should arm her people, clear out the Communists within the country, and reform the Communist sympathizers so that the administration, the military and the people would be united for national defense.

The population of South Korea is seventeen million people, of which one fourth are young men and one fourth are young women. After organizing them with special training, eight million men and women would be able to render their services in any war effort. Thus, she will not be afraid of any attack from North Korea which has a population of only eight million. Not only can South Korea find security, but the anti-aggression-countries, after the outbreak of the Third World War, will also be able to make use of her bases. Otherwise, because of the present situation, North Korea will be superior to South Korea in all respects. The latter will very possible [sic] be occupied by the former within one month after the outbreak of war, if there is no substantial American military aid.3

  1. The preface is dated May of that year.  

  2. This is part of research I have been doing on early postwar utopian and world federalist schemes in East Asia. As with other presentations, I’ll post my conference paper, “Utopians in Defeat” on Yan Xishan and Ishiwara Kanji’s early postwar theories of world unity at muninn.net when it is done.  

  3. Yen Hsi-Shan,Peace or World War trans. Yang Su-yen (Taipei: Publisher unknown, 1950), 34-36. Yan’s population estimates seem a bit off to me. Some of my notes mention 20 million for the south and just under 10 for the north in 1950 but I haven’t looked up the most recent estimates for the period. He also seems to overestimate North Korean military strength though the ration of 2:1 against the south isn’t too far off. 


  1. Wow, this is freaky. He was definitely right about the swift occupation of the South. The North Koreans swept through and, as Yan astutely predicted, were only stopped by American intervention.

  2. Interesting, but not “freaky” (whatever that means). The South was overrun rapidly as both the US Department of Defense and the Department of State predicted because the US would not arm the South Koreans to resist the hardware the Russians gave the North. South Korea was saved by its own exertions and with the aid of the United States and 20 other members of the United Nations.
    It was, among other things, a Great Power test.

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