Edgar Snow, Chinese People's Forever Friend
    2009-12-07 11:15:53     CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Liu Donghui
 

Edgar Snow [File Photo: 163.com]

Anchor: Edgar Snow is believed to be the first western journalist to interview former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. He introduced the Chinese Communist movement to the rest of the world in his renowned book "Red Star Over China." After his death, some of his ashes were scattered at Peking University where he had been a teacher in the 1930s.

He Fei talks to John Maxwell Hamilton, author of "Edgar Snow: A Biography."

Reporter:

Beijing witnessed an American journalist's funeral in the Great Hall of the People, China's top legislative building, in 1972, right before the normalization of Sino-American relations.

The person who received the unprecedented honor was Edgar Snow, author of the renowned book "Red Star over China."

American scholar John Maxwell Hamilton recorded this occasion in his 1988 book "Edgar Snow: A Biography." Hamilton had been interested in China for a long time and read Snow's book when he was a student.

After Snow died of cancer in 1972, Hamilton started systematically researching his life. He says Snow's "Red Star over China" was the first book to introduce many Chinese, as well as Americans, to the Chinese Communist Party and its leaders.

"In the '30s, it was big news. And, of course, it was also big news in China, because many Chinese didn't know that the communists were a viable political movement. And so the book was a way for them to understand that Mao and his colleagues weren't just red bandits, red star-recruited Chinese, (but were) at least interested in and not actually joined the Chinese communists in Yanan."

Hamilton says that many of the third generation Americans, who are slightly older than him, read Edgar Snow, and 'Red Star over China,' and decided they wanted to be like Edgar Snow.

"When the book came out in the 1930s, Snow was immediately catapulted to fame among journalists. And many young people who went on to be very important journalists read that book and said, 'I want to be like Edgar Snow.' And what inspired them was, first of all, that Snow had done something like an adventure after all. He had gone into the northwest of China and found Mao. He came back with an extraordinarily important story. It was exciting and politically very significant."

"Red Star Over China" is one of Snow's most important works. He arrived in China in 1928, managed to visit the revolutionary area in northwest China in 1936, interviewed a number of top Chinese communist leaders, including Mao Zedong, and finished his sensational work the second year.

Hamilton says Snow's original plan was to stay in China until the New Year and then return to New York, but he ended up staying for 13 years.

Hamilton talks about the reasons for Snow's long stay.

"I think there are two parts of that. One is that people, many people, myself included, find Chinese people warm and care about them. And I think a lot of people came to China like Edgar Snow and found themselves wanting to see China's progress and wanting it to be a strong independent nation and wanting the average people to be healthy and happy and make progress. There's another part to this, of course; that is, China was a hell of a good story in those days with important news being made there."

Observing Chinese people's struggle through wars and the revolutionaries themselves, Snow contributed his understanding and support, and built friendships with Communist Party leaders, which lasted for decades.

Hamilton says he believes Snow and the Communist leaders respected each other and that their communication was honest.

"So I think they saw in him not somebody who was coming in trying to find what was wrong with them, but somebody who was coming in, who was willing to listen, and was sympathetic with a feel of good object journalism. So he had admiration for the leaders. I think he respected what they were trying to do. And he saw in them extraordinary leadership. Did the Chinese communists come through with as positive a set of reforms as Snow would have liked to have seen in place? Snow instinctively had a strong love of people, hoping that the Chinese communists would be a great success."

People in northwest China gave their American friend a warm welcome with a gray army uniform as gift. Snow did his job in this uniform for four months, produced hundreds of photos, among which one of Mao Zedong in his octagonal, red-star cap became a household image throughout the country.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the newborn country and the U.S. had no diplomatic relations for more than 20 years. During that time, Snow was the only American citizen who managed to get a visa to China. He was even invited to review the military parade with the country's top leaders in the tower at Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

Because of his close relationship with the Chinese Communists, Snow suffered difficulties back home where anti-Communist McCarthyism was predominant in academic and media circles. In 1959, he moved to Switzerland and later died there.
Hamilton says Snow was an earnest and dedicated journalist.

"Edgar Snow was nothing if not earnest. He was one of the most earnest journalists of all time. Other journalists would have started reporting about other things when the McCarthy period started and he didn't. He stuck with the things he cared about. And I think many people, including his family, admired that."

But now Americans are rethinking Snow's value, and they are getting new answers.

Here's John Hamilton again.

"Snow's work is still important to scholars and people who want to understand China. There's no question about that, because they are primary historical documents of the time."

Today, Snow's tomb is in the garden of Peking University where he taught during his early years in China. His tombstone reads "Chinese people's American friend, Edgar Snow." There are still many people who know Snow and care about him.

For China Now, this is He Fei.

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