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Fu Manchu in Bern

by Enochadmin

Poster for The Face of Fu Manchu, 1965. Ronald Grant Archive/High Foto.

Within the Sixties newspapers around the globe claimed that the Chinese language embassy in Bern had turn into ‘Crimson China’s Spy Centre’: 

Within the gloom behind these shutters, the Crimson Chinese language direct an underground whose brokers vary from the again alleys of Europe to the steamy jungles of Africa … No. 10 Kalcheggweg not solely homes Crimson China’s embassy in Switzerland; it additionally operates colleges for diplomats, propagandists, spies, saboteurs and subversives. 

Till not too long ago, China’s networks in Switzerland had been unknown. Nonetheless, hundreds of Swiss archival information have now been quickly declassified, revealing that, whereas the quote may sound like an excerpt from a Fu Manchu novel, it was not far off the mark. 

The Folks’s Republic of China (PRC) was established in 1949. One yr later Switzerland was among the many first Western European nations to ascertain official relations with China; till the mid-Sixties, solely the Netherlands and the Scandinavian nations had diplomatic relations with China, whereas Britain and China didn’t set up relations till 1972. Its central location made Switzerland a great hub for China’s presence in Europe from the Nineteen Fifties to the Nineteen Seventies, for each diplomacy and commerce.

As a consequence of Swiss neutrality and the UN’s European headquarters being in Geneva, diplomats from virtually each nation might be present in Switzerland, making it the right location to ascertain and function spy networks. China’s diplomatic missions in Switzerland had been teeming with spies. A number of ambassadors and consuls had been intelligence heavyweights, together with the primary minister and later ambassador Feng Xuan. Wu Jinshi, in flip, joined the embassy in 1956 and have become consul in Geneva in 1959. He skilled members of the Chinese language diaspora from throughout Europe as spies and was answerable for a worldwide community of brokers and informants. By 1966 the Bundespolizei (Swiss counterintelligence) estimated that greater than half of the Chinese language officers in Switzerland had been both intelligence brokers or had intelligence gathering duties, however there was little they might do past putting them underneath surveillance with out probably endangering Swiss diplomats and residents in China. Because of this, hardly any Chinese language diplomats had been expelled and just one was refused accreditation as ambassador.

All through the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties Chinese language officers in Bern actively groomed PRC, Republic of China (ROC), Hong Kong and Chinese language-Indonesian scientists and science college students, establishing intelligence networks that included dozens of Chinese language professionals or college students of physics, engineering or chemistry from throughout Europe. Many voters of the ROC had been persuaded to spy for the PRC with gives of passports as a result of that they had mother and father dwelling in mainland China and wished to maneuver again. Some had been informed the place to work in an effort to acquire particular expertise; they had been supposed to stay politically inconspicuous and to ‘keep white on the skin however purple on the within’. 

China additionally used the embassy in Bern as a hub for a transnational embargoed items community, an endeavor that was helped by Switzerland’s refusal to hitch the NATO powers’ embargo in opposition to China in the course of the Korean Warfare. Enterprise folks from throughout Europe – however primarily from West Germany, Switzerland and Liechtenstein – labored collectively within the Nineteen Fifties and Sixties to acquire and ship unlawful merchandise comparable to heavy water, plutonium, or high-speed cameras to China, a lot to the dismay of European police forces and Interpol, who scrambled to cease these transports as soon as they had been found. A British Defence Intelligence report from 1965 famous {that a} ‘extremely organised community of embargo evaders’ had tried in 1964 to buy a high-speed digicam that had initially been developed in Britain for nuclear weapons trials. It was finally tracked down and confiscated in Germany. Many embargoed items sellers seem to be felony masterminds with lengthy rap sheets for every kind of nefarious actions. A seller from West Germany had three excellent arrest warrants and was suspected of fraud, forgery, theft and impersonating officers. He additionally had a faux British passport. A Swiss counterintelligence official concluded that he was ‘a moderately nasty topic … No matter he undertakes is more likely to be carried out fraudulently’. Whereas the true extent of China’s profitable import of banned materials from Europe is unknown, Bern’s embargoed items community appears to have performed an important half in China’s manufacturing of nuclear weapons. 

The Chinese language consulate in Geneva and the embassy in Bern additionally operated a worldwide community of ROC diplomats, who had been working both for the UN or an affiliated worldwide organisation. They used their official conferences in Geneva to report back to their Chinese language handlers. In 1968 the US consultant to the UN in Geneva, Roger W. Tubby, claimed that the Chinese language consulate’s employees took benefit of UN delegations visiting Geneva, ‘particularly Asians and Africans, to make contact with them by inviting them to dinners or lunches’. Nonetheless, most of China’s UN informants and brokers had been from the ROC. Considered one of them was Shi Zhengxin, a health care provider working for the WHO, who was completely stationed in Geneva. Shi had been spying for the Chinese language for no less than eight years earlier than he was expelled in 1966 for forwarding letters and packages from UN diplomats to the Chinese language consulate in Geneva. Others had been much less profitable at evading the authorities. At one level, Swiss police noticed a gathering between a UN translator from the ROC and a Chinese language consulate official which resulted within the diplomat calling for a taxi as a result of the translator wished handy over so many paperwork.

Chinese language eating places in western Europe had been additionally suspected of being complicit in a transnational community orchestrated from Bern. Though a cash path spanning a number of nations was uncovered, proof remained murky. Ever since Fu Manchu, Chinese language eating places have been related to a felony underworld, though there have been just a few circumstances wherein spies or different collaborators had been found. This didn’t mood the European public’s urge for food for tales of a Fu Manchu spreading his internet throughout Europe, whose helpers sautéd greens after they weren’t concerned in felony actions. 


Ariane Knüsel is the writer of China’s European Headquarters: Switzerland and China Throughout the Chilly Warfare (Cambridge College Press, 2022).

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