Anna Chennault

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Author, lecturer, business consultant, and citizen-diplomat, Anna Chen Chennault (née Chen Hsiengmei) was born in Beijing, China, on June 23, 1923, the second of six daughters of Chen Ying-yung (Sam) and Isabelle Liao. Her father was a law professor at Beijing National University and editor of the New China Morning Post . In 1935, with the danger of war with Japan increasing, her father was posted to the Chinese consular office in Mexico while the rest of the family moved to the relative safety of Hong Kong. Following the death of her mother from cancer in 1939, Anna became head of the family; as the war advanced, she moved with her sisters to unoccupied China, where she attended Linguan University, receiving a B.A. in journalism in 1945. She edited the school paper and published her first short story while in college and also began work at the China Central News Agency, becoming their first woman correspondent. She covered the U.S. 14th Air Force, where she developed a relationship with General Claire Lee Chennault (1893-1958), former commander of the famed Flying Tigers and an ardent supporter of the China Lobby, which sought to sway American public opinion to the side of the Guomindang and Chiang Kai-shek. They married December 21, 1947, and the marriage brought her to the attention of the National Government of the Republic of China (later the government of Taiwan) as well as American businessmen, government officials, military leaders, and lobbyists concerned with U.S.-Asian relations. In 1946, Claire Chennault co-founded Chinese Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Air Transport, later known as Civil Air Transport, or CAT, to fly relief supplies into interior China; Anna Chennault served as co-editor of CAT's Bulletin in the airline's early years. (The airline later flew passenger flights and worked with the CIA, before going out of business in 1968.)

The Chennaults had two daughters, Claire Anna, born in 1949, and Cynthia Louise, born in 1950. Although originally Democrats, both Claire and Anna Chennault left that party in 1952, due to changes in U.S. policy towards China, and instead supported Dwight David Eisenhower; Anna Chennault has remained a Republican since then. During the 1950s the couple divided their time between China and the United States, maintaining homes in Louisiana and in Taipei. They continued to speak out against the dangers of communism in China, with Anna frequently addressing American groups on the subject of Taiwan and Chinese-American relations. In 1958 Claire Chennault died of lung cancer, and Anna and her daughters moved to Washington, D.C. She found work at the Georgetown University Chinese Section of Machine Translatable Research, where she worked on Chinese-English dictionaries, eventually becoming head of the section. Her active involvement with the Republican Party began in 1960, when she campaigned for Richard Nixon and helped to organize minority groups. In 1962, Chennault, as president of Chinese Refugee Relief, testified before a Senate Subcommittee, urging the United States to help refugees fleeing the Cultural Revolution; she also warned against the dangers of communism and, bearing this message, lectured widely across the United States. Her visibility further increased when, in 1963, she began a series of Voice of America radio broadcasts, interpreting United States policies for listeners in the People's Republic of China. Her heightened visibility, her fundraising ability, and her connections to leaders in Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, and South Vietnam, made her increasingly important to the Republican Party, and a valuable contact for establishing contacts in the Far East. In 1968, she played a part, though accounts differ as to the extent of it, in the October Surprise (the collapse of peace talks between North and South Vietnam, which was a major factor in the election of Richard Nixon to the U.S. presidency). In October of that year, Chennault was placed under FBI surveillance, due to Lyndon Johnson's suspicions of her activities; she was recorded speaking with the South Vietnamese embassy and encouraging the delay of the peace talks, and stating that a Nixon presidency would benefit South Vietnam.

Following the election, Chennault continued to be active in the Republican Party, serving as Special Advisor to the Chair of the 1969 Inaugural Committee and holding frequent parties at her Watergate penthouse. (Chennault did research on prospective guests to ensure a successful mix for each party.) The Nixon administration appointed her to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1970. In 1968, she became Vice President for International Affairs of the Flying Tiger Line, a freight airline established by former members of the Flying Tigers; the first female vice president of an airline, she established Asian landing rights for the airline and traveled extensively through Southeast Asia on the airline's behalf. In 1981, after writing to members of the Reagan administration requesting an appointment, Chennault was named to the President's Export Council; she led the Council's first trade mission, to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, in 1983, and the following year led a mission which included visits to the People's Republic of China, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore. She has written for the Central News Agency in Taipei, run several organizations, and served as a consultant to several companies. She has written a number of books, including several works of fiction and poetry in Chinese, as well as Chennault and the Flying Tigers (1963), a biography of her husband, and two autobiographies: A Thousand Springs: The Portrait of a Marriage (1962) and The Education of Anna (1980).

From the guide to the Papers, (inclusive), (bulk), 1939-2004, 1955-1989, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

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SNAC ID: 66921890