This Day in Jewish History |

1994: British Economist and Alleged Traitor Dies in Beijing

After being outed as a Communist, Adler moved to China, which embraced him, but didn't give him actual responsibilities.

David Green
David B. Green
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Israel was mentioned more times than China, though Israel's whole population is within China's margin of error.
Israel was mentioned more times than China, though Israel's whole population is within China's margin of error.Credit: Reuters
David Green
David B. Green

On August 4, 1994, Solomon Adler, a British-born economist who served as an American diplomat in China before coming under suspicion for his communist sympathies and alleged espionage for the Soviets, died, in his adoptive home of Beijing, China.

Solomon Adler was born on August 6, 1909, in Leeds, England. He was the fifth of the 10 children of Sinai Adler and the former Batya Rebecca Yoselovitch, who had emigrated from their native Karelitz – today Karelichy, Belarus – in 1900. (One of his older siblings, Saul Adler, 1895-1966, became a medical doctor who emigrated to pre-state Palestine in the 1920s, and developed the field of parasitology here.) Sinai was an ordained rabbi who made his living running a small shop.

Sol, as he was known throughout his life, studied economics at the University of Oxford and at University College, London, before coming to the United States in 1935, apparently to continue his research at the Library of Congress. (It should be noted that there are few detailed accounts of his life available, and that those that exist offer contradictory facts about him.)

In 1936, Adler was hired by the federal government’s Works Progress Administration as a researcher, before moving on to the monetary research and statistics section of the Treasury Department.

Adler goes to China

In 1941, the Treasury Department sent Adler to the Republic of China, to serve as its representative in the U.S. embassy in Chungqing.

At the time, China was suffering from hyper-inflation, which between 1943 and 1945, for example, exceeded 1,000 percent annually. It was later alleged that Adler, who was by then sympathetic to the Chinese communists, strongly advised the U.S. government not to make a gold loan to the Nationalist government that it had requested to fight inflation. It is also arguedthat the American decision to follow Adler's advice played an important role in later leading to the rise of the Communist government.

Adler returned to the United States in 1947. By that time he had already been accused by Elizabeth Bentley, a former Soviet spy who turned American informant, of being affiliated with the "Silvermaster spy ring", so called for its leader, Nathan Gregory Silvermaster. He had been an economist with the War Production Board who allegedly oversaw a large group of highly placed government officials who passed along classified information to the Soviets during World War II. (Silvermaster was never formally charged with any crime.)

Soviet files that became available after the fall of the USSR in 1991 also identified Adler as being an agent.

In any event, when he became the subject of a loyalty investigation, he left government service and worked briefly at Harvard University. Finally, in 1950, Adler returned to England.

For the sake of ‘peace and friendship’

He held a research job at Cambridge University, during which time he published the book “The Chinese Economy” (1957), which became something of a classic in the field. When, in 1962, Adler received an invitation to move to China, now under Communist rule, he accepted it.

Adler told the China Daily that he had three reasons for returning to China: "First, I have all along had great trust and confidence in the Chinese people and their leaders; second, I have all along had unshakable faith in the cause of socialism; and third, I hope to stay in China for as long as possible and work for world peace and the friendship between the Chinese people and the peoples of the world.”

He remained in China for the rest of his life, marrying a Welsh-born Communist, Patricia Davies, in 1963. Though the 1960s was the period of the upheavals of the Cultural Revolution, the Adlers, who were close to Mao Zedong, made it safely through the period, and lived comfortably in the capital.

Nonetheless, Adler, though treated as an honored friend of the Chinese people, never again held the type of position of responsibility an economist of his level may have hoped to hold. He held appointments at a number of economics think tanks, wrote annual reports on international economics for the government, and was one of the editors of the English version of Mao’s “Selected Works” of Mao, but none of these was pivotal.

Solomon Adler died in Beijing two days short of his 85th birthday. His wife, Pat, died in December of 2015.



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