Red Star Over China

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Röd stjärna över Kina, Swedish edition of the book from 1974.
Mao Zedong in 1931.

Red Star Over China, a 1937 book by Edgar Snow, is an account of the Communist Party of China written when they were a guerrilla army still obscure to Westerners. Along with Pearl Buck's The Good Earth (1931) it was the most influential book on Western understanding and sympathy for China in the 1930s.[1]

Overview[edit]

In Red Star Over China, Edgar Snow recounts the months that he spent with the Chinese Red Army in 1936. Snow uses his extensive interviews with Mao and the other top leaders to present vivid descriptions of the Long March, as well as biographical accounts of leaders on both sides of the conflicts, including Zhou Enlai, Peng Dehuai, Lin Biao, He Long, and Mao Zedong's own account of his life.

When Snow wrote, there were no reliable reports reaching the West of what was going on in the Communist-controlled areas. Other writers, such as Agnes Smedley, had written in some detail of the Chinese Communists before the Long March, but none had visited them or had first hand interviews. Snow's status as an international journalist not previously identified with the communist movement gave his reports the stamp of authenticity. The glowing pictures of life in the communist areas contrasted with the gloom and corruption of the Kuomintang government. Many Chinese learned about Mao and the communist movement from the almost immediate translations of Mao's autobiography, and readers in North America and Europe, especially those with liberal views, were heartened to learn of a movement which they interpreted as being anti-fascist and progressive. Snow reported the new Second United Front which Mao said would leave violent class struggle behind.

Although Snow made clear that Mao's ultimate aim was control of China, many readers got the impression that the Chinese communists were "agrarian reformers." [2]

Snow's Preface to the revised edition of 1968 describes the book's original context:

The Western powers, in self-interest, were hoping for a miracle in China. They dreamed of a new birth of nationalism that would keep Japan so bogged down that she would never be able to turn upon the Western colonies—her true objective. Red Star Over China tended to show that the Chinese Communists could indeed provide that nationalist leadership needed for effective anti-Japanese resistance. How dramatically the United States' policy-making attitudes have altered since then […] It provided not only for non-Chinese readers, but also for the entire Chinese people—including all but the Communist leaders themselves—the first authentic account of the Chinese Communist Party and the first connected story of their long struggle to carry through the most thoroughgoing social revolution in China's three millenniums of history. Many editions were published in China … [3]

Publishing history[edit]

Snow was not available to read proofs of the initial London and New York editions, but he revised the text of the 1939 and 1944 editions. The Publisher's Note of the 1939 edition explains that Snow added a "substantial new section" of six chapters bringing the narrative up to July 1938 as well as "many textual changes." Snow made the textual changes partly to polish but he also responded to friends and reviewers. Some of them felt Snow's account of party history had been too critical of Soviet policy, and others felt that he had given too much credit to Mao for independent Chinese strategies. Snow toned down but did not remove the implicit criticisms of Stalin.[4] The 1944 edition was allowed to go out of print in the 1950s, but Snow made substantial revisions and annotations for the Grove Press reprint of 1968.[5]

Edgar Snow, Red Star over China London: Left Book Club, Victor Gollancz, 1937; this edition reprinted as Red Star Over China - The Rise Of The Red Army. (2006; ISBN 1-4067-9821-5).

--, (New York: Random House, 1938). Some changes from the London edition.

--, (Garden City, 1939) "Revised," with six extra chapters.

--, (New York: Modern Library, 1944).

--, (New York: Grove, 1968) Extensive revisions, with notes and annotations added.

Assessments and criticisms[edit]

The book has been called the "scoop of the century" [6] and it clearly played a role in swaying Western and Chinese opinion in favor of Mao. Indeed, Mao commented that the book "had merit no less than Great Yu controlling the floods." As claimed by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday in their book Mao: The Unknown Story, Snow probably believed what he was told to be true, and much of it is still of basic significance, especially the "Autobiography of Mao." But Mao omitted key elements from his accounts of party history and Snow missed others.[7] Recent scholarship also demonstrates that Snow submitted the transcripts of his interviews to be edited and approved by Party officials and critics charge that changes in the American edition were made in response to the Communist Party of the United States. [8] The account of the Long March has come under particular criticism, only to have others reassert its basic validity.[9]

In his 1966 biography of Mao, the American Sinologist Stuart R. Schram (1924–2012) asserted that Red Star Over China was "irreplaceable" in learning about Mao's early years.[10] He went on to note that despite "many errors of detail", it remains "by far the most important single source regarding his life" and offered important insights into "Mao's own vision of his past."[11]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Harold Isaacs, Scratches on Our Minds, (New York: John Day, 1958; rpr. White Plains, 1989): 155 n. 71, 162-163.
  2. ^ Kenneth E. Shewmaker, "The "Agrarian Reformer" Myth," The China Quarterly 34 (1968): 66-81. [1]
  3. ^ Red Star Over China, Preface to the Revised Edition 1968 ISBN 0-8021-5093-4.)
  4. ^ Snow's revisions are listed in Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes K. M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998) pp. 347-341.
  5. ^ S.B. Thomas devotes a chapter to the reception of the book in various quarters and these revisions. Ch 10 "The Strange Life of a Classic," Season of High Adventure,pp. 169- 189.
  6. ^ A journalistic scoop in 1937, this book has since become a historical classic. Review in Foreign Affairs.; Snow, White & Seven China Revolution Classics
  7. ^ Jung, Chang; Halliday, Jon, 2006. Mao: The Unknown Story. Random House, London. ISBN 0-224-07126-2, p. 192
  8. ^ Brady (2003), p. 42-44.
  9. ^ Shuyun Sun, The Long March: The True Story of China's Founding Myth (New York: Doubleday, 2007). Andrew McEwen Ed Jocelyn, The Long March: The True Story Behind the Legendary Journey That Made Mao's China ([London]: Constable & Robinson, 2006).
  10. ^ Schram 1966. p. 10.
  11. ^ Schram 1966. p. 19.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Brady, Anne-Marie (2003). Making the Foreign Serve China: Managing Foreigners in the People's Republic. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 0742518612. 
  • Schram, Stuart (1966). Mao Tse-Tung. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0140208405. 
  • S. Bernard Thomas, Season of High Adventure: Edgar Snow in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).