Henry Luce's Anti-Communist Legacy: An Analysis of U.S. News Magazines' Coverage of China's Cultural Revolution

By Haygood, Daniel Marshall | Journalism History, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

Henry Luce's Anti-Communist Legacy: An Analysis of U.S. News Magazines' Coverage of China's Cultural Revolution


Haygood, Daniel Marshall, Journalism History


Critics have long accused Henry Luce, a fervent anti-Communist, of using his Time, Incorporated media vehicles, particularly Time magazine, to promote causes and governments which he supported, such as General Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist government in the Chinese civil war and pro-American regimes in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The theme throughout was always to fight Communist regimes, and he developed his staff and reporters along this ideological line until he stepped away from his official duties at Time, Inc. leaving the magazines in the hands of seasoned, professional journalists, such as Hedley Donovan. This article analyzes coverage by the leading U.S. news magazines during the early period of the Chinese "Cultural Revolution" to determine if Luce's anti-Communist legacy remained after he left the organization.

In the winter of 1961, media mogul Henry Luce, still seething over the successful Sputnik launches by the Soviet Union and the defeat of Richard Nixon by John Kennedy in the previous November, gathered the leaders of his corporation in the company auditorium and presented a manifesto. It outlined a renewed and re-energized mission for his media empire:

And I propose to you that we of Time, Inc. now register in our minds and wills that from here on out the dominant aim of Time, Inc. shall be the defeat of the Communist movement throughout the world. . . . Every individual and every organization in the land can strike a blow for Liberty and against Communism - now. ... I propose that the determination be made now, that it be made here, and that it be made by the editors and managets of Time, Inc.1

If there was anyone left in America at that time who had any remaining doubts about the intensity of Luce's anti-Communist sentiments2 or his willingness to use his media empire to battle those forces, they were dispelled with finality by the above grand pronouncement. His comments were a reconfirmation of his personal and professional conviction that every element of American society should focus on crushing the Communist threat. For many observers, this battle was simply a continuation of his life's mission to shape the world in America's image.

Luce was born in Tengchow, China, on April 3, 1889, and his experiences there helped create a lasting love for China; it was a bond that dramatically influenced his personal and professional life.3 From this distance, he also developed an enduring respect and admiration for America.4 Following his graduation from Yale University, where his interest in journalism was fueled, he and his friend, Britton Hadden, secured enough money to begin a publishing enterprise. In fact, the first issue of Time, with Speaker of the House Joe Cannon on the front cover, was distributed in early March 1923. Their enterprise's eventual success led to the introduction of the "March of Time" newsreel and radio program, Life magazine, Fortune magazine, and Sports Illustrated.'' As owner and editor of his publications, Luce was known for his close and active role in forging editorial policy and direction via a constant flood of memoranda, letters, and meetings. Furthermore, he had a practice of hiring like-minded editors to assure a consistency of message.6 And according to many of his critics, most consistent of all was his message about the evils of Communism and its potential expansion around the world, particularly its potential for spreading to the nation of his birth, his beloved China.

This article will look at whether Luce's influence remained in his publications even after he left official, full-time duty as editorin-chief at Time, Inc. in 1964. Did his passion and hatred toward Communism still permeate the pages of Time"*. Was this disdain reflected in the magazine's coverage of China during a crucial period of the country's history when the Mao Tse-tung-Ied program,7 the Cultural Revolution, was imposed on the Chinese population? The time is right for such an in-depth of his publications' content on China during this period because new work on Luce and China's major players of the era, particularly Mao, has recently been introduced. …

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