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[Road to Triumph] From London to Yan’an: Michael Lindsay’s Adventures in Wartime China

JUN . 23 2021
Peking University, June 23, 2021: Michael Francis Morris Lindsay, 2nd Baron Lindsay of Birker (1909–1994), was largely unknown in the UK but remembered by the Chinese people for his contributions to China’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression. In the 2015 state visit to the UK, China’s president Xi Jinping touted Lord Lindsay as a long-time ally to China, and lauded his efforts in building relations between China and the UK.

Michael Lindsay worked as a wireless radio technical advisor of communication department in Jin-Cha-Ji Base.

Economics lecturer at Yenching who aided the CPC

As a graduate of Oxford and with further studies at Cambridge, Lindsay was appointed as an economics lecturer at Yenching University in Peiping (Beijing) in 1938, which was the year when the Japanese had invaded China. Sympathetic for the Chinese people and eager to support them against Japanese aggression, Lindsay started to contact the Red Army guerrillas led by the Communist Party of China (CPC) not long after his first arrival.

The summer of 1938 was the beginning of Lindsay's participation in the guerrilla attack on the Peiping-Hankou Railway at the Jin-Cha-Ji (short for Shanxi-Chahar-Hebei) Base. After witnessing the guerrilla’s fight against Japanese aggression despite the acute lack of supplies and technicians, Lindsay was convinced of CPC's genuineness for the wellbeing of Chinese people.

Determined to improve the Red Army's extremely difficult conditions, Lindsay leveraged on his expertise in radio engineering to assist the guerrilla forces by taking charge of the maintenance and improvement of their equipment. He also utilized his foreigner' status and risked his life to send urgently-needed supplies, medicine and radio equipment behind the enemy line.

Michael Lindsay in his study room in Yenching University

Fight with the Guerrillas against Japanese Aggression in Jin-Cha-Ji Base

The protection provided by Lindsay's foreigner's status was fragile and eventually deemed uneffective at the outbreak of the Pacific War on December 7, 1941. Upon hearing the news that "a state of war existed between Japan and America",  Lindsay fled the campus, driving a car with his newlywed wife Hsiao Li, the Bands (his friends' family), and one big suitcase of radio parts. Lindsay later heard that the Kempetai (Japanese Military Police Corps), who had long suspected them of collaborating with the Communists, rushed to their house only 10 minutes after their escape.  

Following a narrow escape from the Japanese, the four of them hid with the help of CPC secret members working undercover during the Japanese regime in the Miaofeng Mountain, which was at the west of Peiping. They finally managed to be united with Red Army guerrilla troops two days later. 

The first Red Army guerrilla troops the Lindsays had met in December 1941. Sitting against the wall at the back, from the left: Mrs Band, Hsiao Li and Michael Lindsay. 
Escorted by the guerrillas, the Lindsays crossed numerous Japanese blockade lines, and finally reached the Pingxi (literally the west of Peiping) Base on New Year's Day in 1942. They settled there for around two months and became friends with General Xiao Ke.

In April 1942, the Lindsays left Pingxi for Fuping, Heibei Province, where the headquarters of the Jin-Cha-Ji Base led by General Nie Rongzhen was situated. For the next two years, Lindsay was appointed as a wireless radio technical advisor of the communication department at the Jin-Cha-Ji Base. He provided lectures on radio engineering at the army advanced wireless radio training school which was established in the spring of 1942. Many of the students later became senior technicians at the communication department of the Red Army, and held top positions in the telecommunications field post-war, during which the People's Republic of China was established.

Textbook used by Lindsay at the advanced wireless radio training school in Jin-Cha-Ji Base. Credit: Courtesy of the Archives of Xidian University in Xi'an, China.

Lindsay also helped start a general rebuilding of radio communication equipment under harsh conditions. The old radio equipment was large, bulky and unreliable. With significant improvements, the new radio sets had much more stability within its frequency and could be fitted into smaller boxes. This improved radio equipment aligned with the Red Army’s needs better than the American sets. Lindsay at Yan’an attentively discovered that although American portable generators were better and lighter, they had narrower frequency ranges and had to be carried in jeeps, which was inconvenient for transportation.  

Lindsay was impressed by the supportive and harmonious working atmosphere at the Jin-Cha-Ji Base. Once, in order to rebuild the apparatus, Lindsay had to travel to various sub-districts within the headquarters. He soon discovered that various organizations had been hoarding different components for new radio sets. In response, he submitted a memorandum to General Nie arguing that they could make more sets if all components in the area were made available to the central communication department. Lindsay's memorandum alerted General Nie who immediately ordered that all components should be reported and made available to the communications department. Decades later, Lindsay recalled in his memoir with a quote reflecting this interesting story, that "one could always get support if good suggestions were made."

Improve communications in Yan'an to connect with the world

In 1944, feeling that he "had used up almost all available components for building new equipment and had taught majority of the army technicians with enough knowledge of mathematics to benefit following war" at the Jin-Cha-Ji base , Lindsay asked to be transferred to the CPC headquarter in Yan'an. This involved a 500-mile journey, mostly on foot, of which he also had to avoid being captured by the patrolling Japanese forces .
In May 1944, Chairman Mao Zedong, together with other officials of the Red Army, hosted a welcome dinner party for the Lindsays' arrival to Yan’an. Chairman Mao commended Lindsay's contributions to the Chinese efforts in fighting against the Japanese enemies.  Lindsay suggested to Mao that the immediate task was to set up a transceiver to break the news embargo and make the voices of Yan’an heard by the public. He was soon appointed as the Wireless Advisor to the Headquarters.

Lindsay worked day and night to set up the radio station. After extensive research, he built a highly sensitive V-shaped directional antenna and installed it successfully. With Lindsay's assistance, on September 1, 1945, the first English-language broadcast was sent out to the world with the headline "Xinhua News Agency Yan'an". “Xinhua's radio broadcasts were of interest to Washington," Professor Lyu Meijuan of Shanghai Jiao Tong University explained, "[The Americans] wanted to know more about the Japanese deployment and operation."

Michael Lindsay and his wife Hsiao Li in Yan'an

Lindsay greatly upgraded Yan'an's communications and journalism standards. Furthermore, he wrote articles reporting the general situation around China's bordering regions, and asked foreigners passing by and leaving Yan'an to send his articles to suitable news outlets, government agencies, or anyone interested in knowing the Chinese base areas fighting against Japanese aggression. His articles were published in some widely-read newspapers such as The Times and The Manchester Guardian etc., some of which caused a sensation at that time.

Long-time, loyal International friend of Chinese People

Following the end of the Second World War and a farewell dinner hosted by Chairman Mao, the Lindsays returned England in 1945.  In 1952, Lindsay succeeded to his father's barony, making Hsiao Li, the new Lady Lindsay, the first Chinese peeress in history.

Michael Lindsay with his wife Hsiao Li and two children. 

Back in England, Lindsay published papers on his adventures and the political situation in China. Before his death in 1994, he wrote five books about China, including his memoir The Unknown War North China 1937-1945.  His articles about China were published on the Times of London, Manchester Guardian and China Quarterly.  He also made several visits to China.

The British Labour Party's visit to the People's Republic of China. A group photo taken on the steps of the Peace Hotel, Peking. Zhou Enlai, Chinese Premier and Foreign Minister is the fourth person on the front row (L to R), and Lord Lindsay of Birker, interpreter, is the first person on the second row (L to R). Premier Zhou Enlai expressed hopes of friendlier Sino-British relations. The Chinese character on both sides of the photo reads: "Presented to Mr. and MRs. Michael Lindsay", which was signed and dated by Zhou Enlai. 

Today, the Chinese people continue to hail Lord Lindsay as a remarkable international ally who was sincere in helping the Chinese people by participating in the Chinese wartime resistance against the Japanese aggression.

1. Michael Lindsay, The Unknown war North China 1937-1945, Foreign Languages Press Beijing, 2003.
2. Hoare, J. E. “Bold Plum: with the Guerrillas in China’s War against Japan”, Reviews in Asian Affairs, No.2, Vol. 39, 2008.
3. Hu Danian, “From Liverpool to Beijing and Chongqing: William Band’s Adventure in Wartime China”, Physics in Perspect, Vol. 21, 2019.
4. 柳美娟:《一位曾帮助中国抗战的英国学者——林迈可勋爵》,载《中华魂》2016年第3期。
5. Cui Shoufeng, “British Economist Who Aided China’s Gurilla Resistance”, The Telegraph, Accessed February 4, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/sponsored/china-watch/society/11816810/englishman-michael-lindsay-china-second-world-war.html.
5.“Key Figures on Campus: Lord Michael Lindsay – The economics lecturer who helped Mao rise to power,” University of Hull Alumni Association, July 30, 2018. Accessed February 3, 2021. Retrieved from  https://hullalumni.me/2018/07/30/key-figures-on-campus-lord-michael-lindsay-the-economics-lecturer-who-helped-mao-rise-to-power.

Written by: Chen Yilin, Kang Zhiqing, Ye Yimeng
Edited by: Rose Li, Zhang Jiang