When Mao Tse-tung's forces took control of China in 1949, Claire and Anna Chennault "left in such a hurry, all we could take was a suitcas."
The leader of the Flying Tigers and his young Chinese bride left behind a mansion in an exclusive area of Shanghai. In addition to their home, there were paintings, Oriental antiques and other artifacts worth nearly $52,000.
Now 30 years later and 21 years after her husband's death, Anna Chennault, who now lives in Watergate East, stands to be repaid more than $65,000 for the house and her belongings.
Chennault is one of 384 Americans slated to share a total settlement of $80.5 million in payment of claims totaling $97 million for property confiscated by Maoist forces during and after the 1949 revolution. Twenty of those claimants, in the District, Maryland and Virginia, will get a total of $974,000 against claims of $3.7 million.
The claims of other area residents who are expected to benefit from the settlement range from Gar Pond Mark of Bethesda, whose three-story house and personal effects in Canton, were consficated, to the Sisters of Charity, of Emmitsburg, Md., who ran hospitals, nursing homes and churches in China until they were forced from the country by the Communists.
The scheduled reimbursement is the result of an agreement initialed by Treasury Secretary W. Michael Blumenthal and Chinese Finance Minister Zhang Jingfu (Chang Ching-fu) earlier this month in Peking. Actual payment hinges on formal signing of the agreement.
Treasury Department spokesman Russell. Munk said of the agreement, "We are expecting it to be signed any time now. We've approved it, and we're just waiting for final approval by Chinese officials."
Chennault is skeptical about actually receiving reimbursement. "We'll believe it when we see it," she said. "Anything involving international negotiations is always very complicated."
The $80.5 million agreed to by Peking represents about 41 percent of the total amount claimed by Americans through the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, and Chennault, like other claimants, is expected to recoup only part of her losses.
Based on claims filed in 1969, the settlement commission awarded Chennault and her husband's estate a total of $158,150; at the negotiated rate of settlement, Chennault will get $65,430. When asked if she thought the settlement fair, Chennault said she did not wish to comment.
Chennault's husband, Maj. Gen. Claire Lee Chennault, led the Flying Tigers volunteer air force on numerous missions in the Pacific theater during World War ii.He was working with the Nationalist Chinese government's Civil Air Transport at the time of the revolution.
Anna Chennault, 53, is now vice president of Flying Tiger Airlines, an international freight carrier. She has worked as a language researcher at Georgetown University and has been prominent in Washington social affairs.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Sisters of Charity will receive $547,693 of $1.33 million awarded the order by the settlement commission. A spokeswoman for the order, like Chennault, was reluctant to comment on the claim or the reimbursement.
"We don't know what will happen, or if anything will happen," she said.
Among others who will receive payments under the agreement is Gertrude Bryan, 84, of Arlington. The settlement commission in 1969 had awarded her and her late husband Robert $22,000 and $31,215, respectively, for a house, two lots and personal property they left in Shanghai. Mrs. Bryan would receive $9,020 and her husband's estate $12,798 under the new settlement.
"They sold us down the river again," said Mrs. Bryan of the settlement. "We (the United States) have been outwitted by the Chinese from the very beginning. The award to begin with did not represent the value of the property, so this (new settlement) is the second reduction. We were losers twice."
Robert Bryan, who died in 1974, was an attorney for the city of Shanghai from 1928 to 1941. He spent 2 1/2 years in a Japanese internment camp during World War II, worked briefly for the U.S. Embassy in China after the war and then entered into private practice in Shanghai.
In February 1951, he was arrested by the Communist Chinese and imprisoned again for 16 months. Mrs. Bryan said the Chinese gave "no reason whatsoever" for his arrest.
"During all the time, I had no idea where he was or what his condition was," Mrs. Bryan said. "The only indication I had that he was alive was during the summer (1951) when one of the gendarmes came to house to ask for his summer clothing."
Mrs. Bryan said she left China in November 1951 and joined by her husband in the United States in June 1952. Mr. Bryan then worked for the National Security Agency until his retirement in 1959.
"Shanghai was our home," Mrs. Bryan said. "It wasn't a case of foreigners being there. My husband was born in China of missionary parents. He had a responsible position in the community. We had intended to live there all our lives."
At the time the agreement was initialed, Treasury Secretary Blumenthal said the Chinese will pay the $80.5 million beginning with a down payment of $30 million Oct. 1. The balance will be paid in installments of $10 million a year until Oct. 1, 1984 he said.