This article examines why Western programmes of social security became a topic of interest for Chinese Nationalist (Guomindang) policy-makers during the early 1940s. It traces a generation of sociologists and civil servants, often trained abroad, who used wartime exigencies to make the case for New Deal-style reforms. While offering a route to professional advancement, social insurance was primarily intended to serve the needs of the government. Embedded in, and dependent on, the Anglo-American alliance, Nationalist party planners embraced the internationalist social agenda of the Atlantic Charter – advanced by institutions such as the International Labour Organization and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration – to solidify their nation's status as an aspiring great power, and to legitimize to foreign sponsors their hold on the state. In this regard, fascination with the likes of the Beveridge Report and the Social Security Act was a performance, intended to show how China was in keeping with the spirit of the age.