28 June 2012

Recommended Reading: A Plain Sailorman in China

Bruce Swanson with Vance Morrison, Don H. McDowell, and Nancy Tomasko, A Plain Sailorman in China: The Life of and Times of Cdr. I.V. Gillis, USN, 1875-1948 (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2012).

Publisher’s Description:

This biography recounts the extraordinary life of I. V. Gillis, both as an officer in the U.S. Navy from 1894 to 1919 and as a collector of rare Chinese books. China specialist Bruce Swanson captures the colorful, multi-faceted life of the man known as an innovative thinker, tactical practitioner, spy, and successful diplomat. Gillis, a second-generation Naval Academy graduate and the son of an admiral, was hailed a hero while serving aboard his first warship in the Spanish-American War and in 1907 became the first U. S. Naval Attaché to China. He remained in China until his death, marrying a Chinese princess, and collecting books now housed at Princeton University.

Bruce Swanson was a well-known authority on Chinese maritime affairs at the time of his death in 2007. Fluent in Mandarin, he served as a naval officer in Asia and later as a civilian analyst. Vance H. Morrison, is the former U. S. Naval and Acting U. S. Defense Attaché to the People’s Republic of China. Don H. McDowell, is former Commander, Naval Security Group Command, and Nancy Norton Tomasko is the former editor of the East Asian Library Journal, Princeton University.

Advance Praise for A Plain Sailorman in China:

“An intriguing glimpse into the ‘Old Navy’ and the fascinating story of an officer who developed true expertise in a foreign country, language, and culture—in this case, China. In the course of his almost 40 years in the Orient, Commander I. V. Gillis proved to be a unique asset to naval intelligence and to the nation. One hopes that today’s Navy can still produce these sorts of officers and this kind of expertise!”

Rear Adm. Thomas A. Brooks, USN (Ret.), former Director of Naval Intelligence (1988-1991)

“The title of the late Bruce Swanson’s superbly written biography of Commander Irvin V. Gillis, USN, greatly understates the historical importance of the first U.S. naval attaché to China. This unique exposé on the life and times of a pioneering U.S. naval intelligence collector is a must read for all naval professionals. Commander Gillis served the United States in war and peace and was instrumental in establishing the information access key to success in Asia during World War I, and in the lead up to World War II. He watched, and reported upon, the growing military capabilities of Imperial Japan in China, and foretold the day when the U.S. and Japan would be at war in the Pacific. He was in every way a sailor, but by no means plain.”

—Rear Adm. Richard B. Porterfield, USN (Ret.), former Director of Naval Intelligence (2000-2005)

“At the top of the list of China scholars I should like to have met is Bruce Swanson. His classic Eighth Voyage of the Dragon has long fascinated me, my colleagues, and my students. Now, thanks to Swanson and his coauthors, I must add Commander Gillis to that list. Reading this book allows one to share the wisdom of these two extraordinary China hands.”

—Andrew S. Erickson, associate professor, Naval War College; associate in research, John Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University

“A penetrating account of an extraordinary Navy career, this biography adds great insights to the growing lore of Americans abroad in China in the early years of the twentieth century. The research was skillfully done and the writing flows naturally, combining an eventual personal experience with a larger background of international relations.”

—Maochun Yu, professor of history, United States Naval Academy; author of The Dragon’s War: Allied Operations and the Fate of China, 1937-1947