For years, China's commercial airlines — built and operated with the help of American personnel— had flown passengers and cargo through every kind of weather, across a land whose ground communications, always bad, were increasingly disrupted by civil war. Recently, the airlines' main job has been retreat: month after month, they flew harried Nationalist ministers from city to city in flight from advancing Reds. Last week, in one of the slickest coups of the civil war, the Communists grabbed the better part of the Nationalist-owned airlines.

The coup had been carefully planned. Two months ago, the Communists had sent two...

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