Helen Foster Snow

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Helen Foster Snow (1907–1997) was an American journalist who reported from China in the 1930s under the name "Nym Wales" on the developing revolution in China and the Korean independence movement. While, like her husband, Edgar Snow, she was never a member of the Chinese or American Communist Party, she was sympathetic to the revolutionaries in China, whom she compared favorably to the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek. In the late 1940s, critics grouped her with the China Hands as one of those responsible for the "loss of China" who went beyond sympathy to active support of Mao's revolution.


Helen Foster was born in Cedar City, Utah, and raised as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from which she later became disaffected. After she attended the University of Utah for a short time, her father, an influential Utah attorney, arranged a job for her in the American Consulate in Shanghai. Almost immediately after arriving in 1931, she met Edgar Snow, who had arrived in China in 1929. They married in 1932. At a time when many Chinese were impatient with the Nationalist government for not opposing Japanese more actively, the couple moved to Beiping, as Beijing was then called, and took up residence in a small house near Yenching University, where they both taught. They were just in time to report on the 1935 anti-Japanese December 9th Movement. The Snows got to know idealistic and patriotic students, a number of whom were in their journalism classes, and some of whom were members of the Communist underground. Helen struck those who met her at this time as excitable and "talking like a machine gun." She urged one of the demonstration leaders to give laggard students "the devil for their inactivity and sleepiness," and asked "why be a vegetable?"[1]

Edgar Snow was the first to go to the "Red Areas" and came back with the material for his Red Star Over China. "Peg," as she was known to her friends, was not to be outdone, and soon followed, returning with the material for her book Inside Red China (Doubleday, 1939) and the later Red Dust (Stanford University Press, 1952). She also drew upon her interviews with a Korean independence leader she met in Yan'an, which she used to write the book The Song of Arirang. The couple joined anti-Japanese friends, such as Ida Pruitt, Israel Epstein, and Rewi Alley in organizing Chinese Industrial Cooperatives Gung Ho industrial worker's cooperatives) after 1937.

The couple's marriage was strained and the Japanese occupation of much of China made life difficult. Helen returned to the States in 1940. The couple formally divorced in 1949. She spent the rest of her life in Connecticut, developing an interest in family genealogy, drafting a novel, and writing short pieces on her experiences in China. She published her autobiography in 1984.

Prior to her death, she donated personal papers, book manuscripts, and photographs taken of Chinese notables in the 1930s to the Hoover Institution, which holds 63 manuscript boxes of her papers.[2] After her death in 1997, Helen's family donated remaining manuscripts, documents and photographs to the Brigham Young University library.[3] On October 26–27, 2000, BYU held a Helen Foster Snow Symposium to celebrate this donation and gather scholars.

In 2009, the US-China Cultural Exchange Committee placed a 7 foot tall bronze statue of Helen Foster Snow, cast in China, in Main Street Park in her hometown of Cedar City.[4]

In 2011, students and faculty from Southern Utah University began a collaborative project with Chinese musicians, dancers and artists to create a dance drama based on Helen Foster Snow's life.[5]


  • Helen Foster Snow, Inside Red China (New York,: Doubleday, Doran, 1939). Reprinted: New York: DaCapo 1977, 1979.
  • Nym Wales, China Builds for Democracy; a Story of Cooperative Industry (New York,: Modern Age Books, 1941). Reprinted: St. Clair Shores, MI: *Scholarly Press, 1972.
  • Nym Wales, The Chinese Labor Movement (New York: John Day, 1945). Reprinted: Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries, 1970.
  • Nym Wales, Red Dust; Autobiographies of Chinese Communists (Stanford, Calif.,: Stanford University Press, 1952).
  • Nym Wales, Fables and Parables for the Mid-Century (New York,: Philosophical Library, 1952).
  • Nym Wales, Notes on the Left-Wing Painters and Modern Art in China ([Madison, Conn., 1961).
  • Nym Wales, Women in Modern China (The Hague, Paris,: Mouton, 1967).
  • Helen Foster Snow, My China Years: A Memoir (New York: Morrow, 1984).

Further reading[edit]

  • Kelly Ann Long, Helen Foster Snow: An American Woman in Revolutionary China (Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2006). ISBN 0-87081-847-3.
  • S. Bernard Thomas, Season of High Adventure: Edgar Snow in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).
  • "Helen Foster Snow: Witness to Revolution" (2000) 56:46 minute documentary produced by Combat Films and Research.


  1. ^ Thomas, Season of High Adventure pp. 119- 125.
  2. ^ Register of the Nym Wales Papers, 1931-1998
  3. ^ Helen Foster Snow Collection
  4. ^ http://www.deseretnews.com/article/705343408/Statue-to-honor-Cedar-City-native.html?pg=all
  5. ^ Webber, Sarah. "Dance production honors Cedar City native's legacy". SUU News (Cedar City, Utah). 

External links[edit]