David Marshall’s Letters from China

In April 2021, ISEAS Library received a set of materials from Dr Sara Marshall, daughter of the late David Marshall, to add to the David Marshall Private Papers. Among the materials was a set of 54 letters addressed to his brother, Meyer, written by David Marshall while visiting China in 1956.

Shortly after his resignation as Chief Minister, Marshall visited China with a trade delegation from Singapore and Malaya at the invitation of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs.  He recorded his observations and impressions of post-revolutionary China in these letters, written in his trademark green ink and his distinctive cursive. (The account of how Marshall came to use green ink in his writing is available in Marshall of Singapore, by Kevin Tan.)

During his eight-week travels to principal cities, he was received by senior government figures. One of the significant events of the trip was Marshall’s meeting with Zhou Enlai, the Chinese premier, where he brought up the sensitive topic of the allegiance of the overseas Chinese in Singapore. Marshall managed to secure a public clarification of the Chinese Government on that issue, which “helped in removing a longstanding apprehension in Singapore and Malaya that China had a claim on their loyalty irrespective of their citizenship.”[1]  This position was announced in the People’s Daily newspaper on 13 October 1956 and included in the 1956-1957 Compendium of Foreign Relations Papers of the People’s Republic of China.

DM_523_007 – David Marshall (third from left) with Premier Chou En-Lai (fourth from left), People’s Republic of China, August 1956.
The David Marshall Private Papers.
DM_523_013_001 – David Marshall with Premier Chou En-Lai, People’s Republic of China, August 1956.
The David Marshall Private Papers.
DM_523_023 – David Marshall (taking photograph) in Urumchi, September 1956
The David Marshall Private Papers.

Another significant event was Marshall’s personal intercession for the Jewish community in China, who had been trying to secure exit visas for several years in order to go to Israel. According to a 1978 article in The China Quarterly by Josef and Lynn Silverstein,[2] Marshall said he raised this issue with the Chinese premier when they were discussing the Chinese in Singapore.  After his return from China, Marshall received several letters from the Jewish community informing him of their upcoming departure for Israel, thanking him for his help.

The letters were transcribed and published in 1996 in a book titled Letters from Mao’s China, which is available at ISEAS Library.

The David Marshall Private Papers are one of 31 private paper collections at ISEAS Library, which provide valuable historical perspectives on the political, social and economic environment in 20th Century Southeast Asia. For more information on the private papers available for consultation, click here.

Further Readings

Marshall, David, and Michael Leifer. 1996. Letters from Mao’s China. Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society. (ISEAS Library Call No: DS610.63 M36)

Chan, Heng Chee. 2001. A sensation of independence: David Marshall: a political biography. Singapore: Times Books International. (ISEAS Library Call No: DS610.63 M3C45)

Tan, Kevin. 2008. Marshall of Singapore: a biography. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. (ISEAS Library Call No: DS610.63 M3T161)

[1] Marshall, David, Letters from Mao’s China, ed. Michael Leifer (Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society, 1996), Page 3

[2] Silverstein, Lynn, and Josef Silverstein. “David Marshall and Jewish Emigration from China.” The China Quarterly, no. 75 (1978): 647–54. http://www.jstor.org/stable/652988.

Best effort has been made to ensure the external links provided are valid as of collation. We welcome your suggestions to help us improve this service. Please take a moment to give us your feedback via our feedback form.

In making materials available online, the ISEAS Library always does its best to meet the requirements of copyright and other laws. If you have concerns about any material that ISEAS Library has placed online and want to suggest that it be taken down, please contact us at libcir@iseas.edu.sg.