Preface to Papers between William B. Pettus and General Joseph W. Stilwell and Stilwell Family
Written by Colonel John Easterbrook
The papers contained in this document reflect and document a unique teacher-student relationship that not only continued, but also strengthened as the years went on. In this case the student went on to become a very prominent American, and yet the friendship that was fostered many years earlier continued to grow.
These papers are a portion of the William B. Pettus collection at Claremont Graduate University. The papers were bequeathed to the University by Pettus and remained unopened for many years. Recently Professor John Regan of the University and Zhang Weijiang, a visiting scholar from China, began investigating the collection and quickly came to realize the importance of the collection. Containing papers from many now prominent people such as Joseph W. Stilwell, Pearl S. Buck, Hu Shi, and John L. Stuart, the collection is a major source of information on a number of historical facets that heretofore have not received much investigation. In particular they shed increased light on the more recent history of China and a portion of the US role in that history.
William B. Pettus was a well-known dignitary and president of the College of Chinese Studies in Peking (now Beijing) from 1916 to 1949 (operating as a “Refuge College” at the University of California, Berkeley, during the years of World War II). The College was originally founded as a school for businessmen, diplomats, and English-speaking missionaries. It later expanded to include the training of Americans in knowledge of China, its civilization, language, and trade customs. For several decades, the College and Pettus were at the center of Peking’s political, educational, and intellectual life.
Joseph W. Stilwell was an Army officer who, during World War II, commanded the China-Burma-India Theater, a level of command on a par with MacArthur, Nimitz, and Eisenhower. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1904 and several years later returned as an instructor of English, French, Spanish, and history. After serving with distinction in World War I, he came home to the United States knowing that a peacetime Army would not be one of adventure and excitement. He therefore sought a different type of assignment. He asked to be a Japanese language student, but those positions were filled. Instead he was offered a position as the Army’s first Chinese language student. He accepted, and in 1920, following a year of language study at the University of California, Berkeley (where he learned Mandarin with a Cantonese accent!), he and his family moved to Peking and he enrolled in Pettus’ College of Chinese Studies.
Stilwell and Pettus were very close in age, and had similar personalities in many respects. Undoubtedly these factors were keystones to an early developing friendship. Stilwell’s natural curiosity and desire to experience new things must have been further fueled by his studies at the College, certainly with the language (Stilwell became fluent in Mandarin and spoke it better than many native Chinese), but also with other studies of the Chinese way of life and culture. After one year of study at the College, Stilwell was asked to be chief engineer to construct an 82-mile famine relief road in Shanxi Province for the Red Cross. In this capacity he worked and lived with the Chinese people and came to appreciate their character, capacity for hard work, stamina, and excellent sense of humor.
Stilwell returned the United States in 1923, but in 1926 received another assignment in China, this time in Tianjin with the US 15th Infantry. He had a third assignment in China prior to World War II as Military Attaché to China and Siam from 1935 to 1939. It is clear that the friendship and contacts with Pettus continued during those year as evidenced by the fact that Stilwell shipped a number of boxes of Pettus’ papers back to the United States in his household goods and from the correspondence in this collection that reflects Pettus’ offer to award an honorary Ph.D. to Stilwell from the College of Chinese Studies in 1940.
The relationship between Pettus and Stilwell started as a teacher/student relationship, but matured beyond that and developed into a life-long friendship and respect. Both Pettus and Stilwell were naturally curious and adventurous, and they both highly respected the Chinese people. In addition, they both were men of modesty, candor, and persistence, which is reflected both in the papers in this collection and in their lives.
It is also interesting to note in the papers that the relationship expanded to include Stilwell’s daughter, Alison, who was a highly accomplished painter in the Chinese style. During World War II when Stilwell was in China and Burma it appears that Alison became the Stilwell family contact with Pettus, arranging visits to the Stilwell home in Carmel, CA and meetings in the San Francisco Bay Area when the Stilwells traveled there. Pettus helped Alison obtain locations and sponsors for exhibitions of her paintings, and, reciprocating, she conducted exhibits to benefit the College.
These papers reflect a unique relationship between Pettus and Stilwell. It was a relationship that was one of many Pettus had with prominent individuals, but this one is unique because it was established and maintained between two individuals on very different career paths. However, the key ingredient to the relationship is the similar character of the two men…character that comes through in these papers. The papers provide additional perspective on portions of history touched by these two individuals and they also record for history how a teacher/student relationship can grow and eventually influence and impact history. With that in mind the papers are herewith made available to the public for the benefit of scholars.
To purchase Papers between William B. Pettus and General Joseph W. Stilwell and Stilwell Family, send a request note and a check of $15.00 U.S. Dollars (shipping included):
Professor John Regan
School of Educational Studies
Claremont Graduate University
Harper 205, 150E. 10th Street, Claremont, CA 91711
Make check out to: CGU/Communication Project
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