February 2, 1948: Secretary of State George Marshall negotiates with the Chinese

When Mrs. Marshall and I returned from China just about a year ago we brought with us a nurse and maid for her, a Chinese woman named Anna [Wong]. She spoke very little English, she knew nothing of America, but out of her Chinese heritage she had a very definite belief in two things—one was the dominance of the male in the household—and the other was the fact that food is the greatest motivating force in our lives.Marshall

I was perfectly willing to agree with her if it had got me anywhere on the first concept and I think that we all agree as to the second, the tremendous motivating force of food in the life of every people in the world. About the second day that I was Secretary of State I managed to get away for a few hours and motor down to Leesburg and was jubilantly greeted by Mrs. Marshall with the fact that she had at last, after two or three years of effort, obtained a truck load of, putting it politely, fertilizer and I was immediately put to work to distribute this great condiment for the soil with a shovel and wheelbarrow. Anna, her second day there, her second day in any settled spot in America, spied me.

I might explain to you that in China probably the lowest form of human life is the man with the wheelbarrow. Considerably lower than the “ricksha” man. So when she saw me with the wheelbarrow she was profoundly shocked and rushed out of the house and we were involved in a genuine struggle over the possession of the wheelbarrow.

There then took place one of the most remarkable negotiations that I have participated in. She said what I was doing was utterly repugnant to her and it was her belief that it lowered and humiliated the position of the Secretary of State, if it did not affect the general Government. My reaction was that I would enjoy doing it. In fact, the wheelbarrow cannot argue at all nor can the shovel. I not only got the exercise, but I could do it without any cross questions. We were not able to reach any agreement. I settled that by virtue of the fact that I possessed greater physical strength, but she remained fixed in that feeling.

We all, I think, agree with her concept as to the relation-ship of food to the people of the world, but there was a slight difference in the manner of implementation.

I have said or pointed out on a number of occasions since I became Secretary of State a year ago the tremendous importance of food. Because when hunger and illness invade the home men will accept almost any cure that is proposed at the moment. Anything is better than the existing circumstance and you have the ripest possible field for demagogic, audacious or calculated propaganda and planning and scheming. Therefore, food has great importance.

You, through your various organizations, made a great contribution during the war in the Victory gardens, a very important contribution. But food today is just as vital, probably a little more so, a factor as it was during the war years. As a matter of fact, I don’t think at any time in our history has food, the production and the conservation of food been so important as it is at the present time.

Therefore, anything that can be done to stimulate on the part of the individual the growing of food in local gardens should be done and it will be tremendously helpful to meet the great problem that is now before us. It has a direct relationship, a very direct relationship, to the European recovery program. There is a great deal said about what will happen to us “here” if we do something “there”.

Well, of course, we have to consider our own economy, our own resources, our own lives, our own strength, our own prosperity. But at the same time it is equally important that we realize just what the influence of these American products of food are to the general world situation—and just what we can do ourselves, individually, or in family life to better or strengthen the situation.
The point I endeavor to make is—I don’t think at any time in our history has it been more important that we raise all possible food during this coming season, than at the present time. And that, I think, is the purpose of your gathering to see what can be done to bring about such a result. I don’t speak entirely theoretically from a desk in the State Department or from the difficulties of negotiations. I ordered my seeds and settings about ten days ago.

Now my problem is—do I negotiate or do I hoe, plant and weed? Now I propose doing all.

Thank you.

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