As shown in our introduction to the letter from Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Russell was greatly alarmed by the border war that broke out between India and China in the fall of 1962, fearing that the conflict could escalate into a nuclear war. Russell’s other primary correspondent during this crisis was Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (1898-1976). While Russell had had a long personal acquaintance with Nehru, he had never met Zhou but was not hesitant in making contact. Almost forty years previously, Russell had spent eight months living and travelling in China and, moreover, as he recounted in Unarmed Victory, “felt that I had many sympathetic Chinese friends and I greatly admired the Chinese.” The Communist revolution forced Russell to re-think his views on China, but he nevertheless felt it was necessary “to get into some sort of touch with Prime Minister Chou En-lai.” Russell’s telegram to Zhou on November 8, 1962, beseeching the Premier to end the war, was the beginning of a correspondence that lasted until Russell’s death in 1970. The Russell Archives contains over 50 items of correspondence between the two men conveying a tremendous mutual respect. However, as we shall soon see, Zhou’s respect for Russell started to wane after a visit to China by Russell’s emissaries in 1963.
While Russell had believed that India would take the lead in bringing about a peaceful settlement of the war, it was actually the Chinese, with their superior military strength, who held the upper hand. Accordingly, Russell directed much of his attention towards Zhou, urging China to implement actions to end the war. That is exactly what the Chinese did on November 21 when they declared a unilateral ceasefire. However, when it came to negotiationing a permanent solution to their border dispute, both countries dragged their feet.
In an attempt to bring the two sides together, in the summer of 1963 Russell and his newly-established Peace Foundation sent to India and China two emissaries, Pat Pottle and Ralph Schoenman (who also served as Russell’s personal secretary). While they were bolstered with letters of introduction from Russell, Schoenman and Pottle were without doubt young and inexperienced, and the fact that they were received at all by Nehru and Zhou shows that the two leaders held Russell in very high regard. The visit to Nehru went well, but the the mission collapsed during the Chinese leg. Zhou received Schoenman and Pottle cordially on July 12, but then there was an eight-day delay before their being granted a second audience. During this time, Schoenman, according to an account from Pottle, behaved in a manner that can only be described as bizarre, erratic, and offensive. To give but two examples—in their hotel room, Schoenman had a habit of picking up the phone and singing ‘Chairman Mao is a sacred cow,’ and during a tour of the Forbidden City, he took off his clothes and jumped into an ornamental lake. By the time Zhou received them for the second time on July 20, he was furious, telling them they were ‘two little amateurs pretending to be diplomats’ and assuring them that the only reason they were being deported instead of imprisoned was because they were representing Russell.
It was on the day following this second meeting that Zhou wrote the letter displayed here. Tactfully, Zhou does not refer to Schoenman’s behavior, simply telling Russell: “I will not repeat here my detailed conversation with your representatives.” Instead he politely states: “I thank you for your interest in a peaceful settlement of the Sino-Indian boundary question.” While Zhou says he understands Russell’s concern over the disputed Sino-Indian border, he adds: “over-worry about it is uncalled for.” He then goes on to assure Russell that China has taken the necessary steps to end the war and that the “border situation will not grow tense again provided that India do [sic] not make fresh military provocations.” While Zhou was taking the time to write to Russell, he was not really making any serious concessions to bring the two countries to the negotiating table.
Meanwhile, Russell did not immediately hear of Schoenman’s disgraceful conduct in China, and the young man continued to serve as Russell’s secretary until 1966 when Russell, finally convinced by Schoenman’s many critics, quietly dismissed him (though Schoenman continued his work with the Peace Foundation). In 1969, Russell wrote a lengthy ‘Private Memorandum Concerning Ralph Schoenman,’ outlining his reasons for the dismissal. A small part of it addressed his former secretary’s infamous “folly” in China, which concludes: “To my distress and to the grave embarrassment of our work, I have never been able to recover the warmth and friendliness formerly accorded me by the Chinese Government.” Thus did Russell recall the unhappy conclusion to his bold effort for peace between China and India, and to his relationship with Zhou.
Sources: (1) Bertrand Russell. Unarmed Victory. Allen & Unwin, 1963. (2) Ronald W. Clark. The Life of Bertrand Russell. Jonathan Cape and Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1975; includes ‘Memorandum’ on Schoenman. (3) Nicholas Griffin, ed. The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell: The Public Years, 1914-1970. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. (4) Ray Monk, Bertrand Russell: the Ghost of Madness, 1921-1970. New York: The Free Press, 2001; contains Pat Pottle’s account of the visit to China.
July 21, 1963
Respected Lord Russell,
I have had the pleasure of meeting your representatives, Mr. Schoenman and Mr. Pottle, and have received your letter of June 14 which you asked them to transmit. I thank you for you interest in a peaceful settlement of the Sino-Indian boundary question and your words of appreciation of China’s initiative and sincerity.
You expressed the hope in your letter that China should accept the Indian interpretation of the Colombo proposals in order to probe India’s sincerity. Your representatives have brought what they termed an oral message from Prime Minister Nehru to the effect that if China would agree that the strip formed by China’s twenty-kilometre withdrawal in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border become a no-man’s land and be vacated of all civilian posts, Prime Minster Nehru would be prepared to negotiate the entire Sino-Indian boundary question with China on the basis of give-and-take. Regarding these suggestions, I have had discussions with your representatives and stated our views on behalf of the Chinese Government. In order that the Prime Minster Nehru and Madame Bandaranaike may also be acquainted with your representatives’ conversation with us and our viewpoints, the Chinese Government has prepared and delivered a memorandum to the Government of India and Ceylon. I am forwarding a copy of this memorandum to you for you reference. I will not repeat here my detailed conversation with your representatives.
Your concern over the Sino-Indian border situation is understandable. But over-worry about it is uncalled for. As a result of the initiative measures taken by China, the Chinese and Indian armed forces have disengaged and the border situation has eased. The border situation will not grow tense again provided that India do [sic] not make fresh military provocations. Through China’s initiative measures the greatest part of the Colombo proposals has been put into effect. To a certain extent, India is actually also restrained, although it has failed to take any corresponding measures. In case India should stubbornly persist in its course and deliberately choose to create tension on the border, China will first notify the Colombo Conference nations and ask them to dissuade India before China exercises its right of self-defence. I am of the opinion that the mediatory efforts of the Colombo Conference nations not only have played their role but will continue to play their role in future.
With my best regards and high respect,
1963 July 21
Annex: Copy of the Chinese Government’s memorandum to the Government of India and Ceylon.
1. Mr. R. B. Schoenman and Mr. P.B. Pottle, representatives of Lord Russell, arrived in Peking on July 9 after visiting India and Ceylon. They stated that they had brought with them an oral message from Prime Minster Nehru. On July 12 they were received by Premier Chou En-lai. Mr. Schoenman said to Premier Chou En-lai: “Prime Minister Nehru made a proposal which he asked us to convey to Premier Chou En-lai orally. Prime Minister Nehru said that if China would agree that the strip formed by China’s twenty-kilometre withdrawal in the western sector of the Sino-India border become a no-man’s land and be vacated of all civilian posts, he would not request any civilian posts to be placed there and India would hold negotiations with China. During the negotiations, India would not mention this question again.” Mr. Schoenman said, “Prime Minister Nehru further said that, for his part, he did not want such talks to fail but wanted to discuss the whole question of the boundary, and that in the talks there would be give and take.” Mr. Schoenman further said that Prime Minister Nehru had asked them to return to India after visiting China and to tell him about China’s reaction to his oral message.
2. On July 13 Mr. Huan Hsiang, former Chinese Charge d’Affaires in Britain, was entrusted to have a talk with the two representatives. During that talk, Mr. Schoenman said that the above-mentioned proposal (the proposal to turn the strip formed by China’s twenty-kilometre withdrawal in the western sector of the Sino-Indian border into a no-man’s land) was not put forward by Prime Minister Nehru but was suggested to Prime Minister Nehru by himself. Mr. Schoenman said: “I asked Prime Minister Nehru, if the strip formed by China’s
twenty-kilometre withdrawal in the western sector is turned into a no-man’s land, what action would you be prepared to take to break the ice on the question of holding negotiations? Prime Minister Nehru said that if that strip could become a no-man’s land, he would be willing to hold negotiations. He said he would not raise the question of setting up civilian posts in the negotiations, but would be prepared to negotiate the entire boundary question—on the basis of give and take he would negotiate the entire boundary, including the western, middle and eastern sectors.”
3. It can be seen, by comparison, that there is a discrepancy between the two accounts given by Mr. Schoenman of what he termed Prime Minister Nehru’s oral message, and therefore it is hard to judge its accuracy.
4. On July 20 Premier Chou En-lai again received Mr. Schoenman and Mr. Pottle and made the following points on behalf of the Chinese government:
The Sino-Indian border situation has already eased as a result of China’s initiative measures of ceasefire, withdrawal, return of captured Indian military equipment, and release and repatriation of the captured Indian military personnel. Particularly, the Chinese frontier guards, after withdrawing twenty kilometres from the line of actual control between China and India, have vacated the areas where there is a dispute about the ceasefire arrangements, thereby disengaging the armed forces of China and India; this is a fact which is even more conducive to the continued relaxation of the Sino-India border situation. The continued relaxation of the Sino-India border situation would be assured so long as India does not again cross the line of actual control into the Chinese side for armed provocation, intrusion or invasion.
In order to settle the Sino-Indian boundary question peacefully, China has already taken a number of initiative steps, as stated above, whereas India has not
taken a single initiative step. If any further initiative steps are required to bring about direct Sino-Indian negotiations, it is now India’s turn to take such a step and there is no reason to ask China to take another such step. Of course, China, for its part, is not asking India to take any initiative step [sic] as a pre-condition to the opening of negotiations. China has always stood for the immediate opening of direct negotiations without any pre-conditions and on the basis of the acceptance of the Colombo proposals in principle by China and India. To impose on China the entire Colombo proposals, and even the Indian interpretation, as an arbitral award, to compel China to carry them out, and to allow no room for discussion—this is absolutely unacceptable to the Chinese Government. If Prime Minister Nehru does agree with Mr. Schoenman’s ideas, as the latter has said, India may well advance such ideas as its own proposal, or advance other proposals of its own, in the Sino-Indian negotiations. Naturally China also has the right to advance such proposals as it may deem appropriate for discussion between the two sides. The Chinese Government would of course welcome direct Sino-Indian talks if they could be held and if they were really aimed at a final settlement of the entire Sino-Indian boundary question including the eastern, middle and western sectors and not intended for a breakdown which would cause the already eased situation to grow tense again.
July 21, 1963
 This is a transcription of the official English translation that accompanied the original Chinese letter.
 Russell’s emissaries, Ralph Schoenman and Pat Pottle.
 In December 1962 Sri Lanka hosted a meeting in Colombo of six Asian and African countries to propose terms by which negotiations between India and China might occur. The resulting ‘Colombo proposals’ were issued in January 1963.
 Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964).
 Sirimavo Bandaranaike (1916-2000), Prime Minister of Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
 The memorandum is transcribed below.
 Transcription continues on following pages.