Bull in a China Shop: John Foster Dulles? Not Churchill’s Line

Bull in a China Shop: John Foster Dulles? Not Churchill’s Line

Dulles: Not Churchill’s Bull…

A recent arti­cle declares: “Win­ston Churchill once described Amer­i­can diplo­ma­cy as  ‘a bull who car­ries his own chi­na shop around with him.’” Is this an accu­rate quote, and if so, in rela­tion too what? —L.K., Texas

It’s not Churchill but fre­quent­ly cited—not regard­ing Amer­i­can diplo­ma­cy but an Amer­i­can diplo­mat. The alleged vic­tim was Pres­i­dent Eisenhower’s Sec­re­tary of State John Fos­ter Dulles. But Churchill nev­er said that about him, nor any­one else. Nor did Churchill call Dulles “the only bull I know who car­ries his chi­na shop with him.” (Though the thought might have occurred to him.)

These or sim­i­lar words do not track among Churchill’s 20 mil­lion pub­lished words (books, arti­cles, speech­es, papers, let­ters), or 60 mil­lion about him by biog­ra­phers and mem­oirists dig­i­tal­ly scanned by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. (The “chi­na shop” phrase comes up 22 times, most of them remarks about Churchill!)

“Dull, Duller, Dulles…”

This is not to say Churchill issued no barbs at the Amer­i­can Sec­re­tary of State. Well before they met, at the Decem­ber 1953 Bermu­da Con­fer­ence, WSC told John Colville “I will have no more to do with Dulles, whose great slab of a face I dis­like and dis­trust.” Colville added:

W. was real­ly worked up and, as he went to bed, said some very harsh things about the Repub­li­can Par­ty in gen­er­al and Dulles in par­tic­u­lar, which Christo­pher [Soames] and I thought both unjust and dan­ger­ous. [1]

At Bermu­da, where he was anx­ious to plan a sum­mit con­fer­ence with Stalin’s suc­ces­sor in Moscow, Churchill told his doc­tor Lord Moran that Dulles was block­ing his efforts:

fel­low preach­es like a Methodist Min­is­ter, and his bloody text is always the same: that noth­ing but evil can come out of meet­ing with Malenkov. Dulles is a ter­ri­ble hand­i­cap. Ten years ago I could have dealt with him. Even as it is I have not been defeat­ed by this bas­tard. I have been humil­i­at­ed by my own decay.

We also  have this bou­quet, record­ed with­out a date by WSC’s last pri­vate sec­re­tary: “Dull, Duller Dulles.” [3] Despite it all, with his usu­al mag­na­nim­i­ty, Churchill paid a hos­pi­tal vis­it to the dying Dulles on his vis­it to Wash­ing­ton in 1959. Win­ston Churchill was not a hater.


  1. Colville Diary, 7 Jan­u­ary 1953, in John Colville, The Fringes of Pow­er: Down­ing Street Diaries 1940–1955, 2 vols. (Sevenoaks, Kent: Scep­tre Pub­lish­ing, 1986–87), II, 320.
  2. Moran Diary, 7 Decem­ber 1953, in Charles Moran, Win­ston Churchill: The Strug­gle for Sur­vival, 1940-1965 (Lon­don, Con­sta­ble, 1965), 540-41.
  3. Antho­ny Mon­tague Browne, Long Sun­set: Mem­oirs of Win­ston Churchill’s Last Pri­vate Sec­re­tary (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1995), 126.

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