'Who is CPC?': Edgar Snow, the first Western journalist to introduce Red China to the world

China Daily
Wang Xinjuan
2021-06-25 17:42:52

Editor's Note: To celebrate the 100th founding anniversary of the Communist Party of China, we are launching the "100 CPC Stories in 100 Days" series, featuring foreigners who witnessed and participated in the CPC's history and helped the world better understand the CPC. The following is the first story of the series.

In October 1937, a newly published book became an instant hit in London, with more than 100,000 copies sold in just a few weeks and still much sought after following three additional printings. That book was Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow, an American journalist who first made the Communist Party of China (CPC) known to the world.

Red Star Over China

China in the 1930s was engulfed in the war against Japanese aggression. After the cooperation between the Kuomintang and the CPC broke down, the Kuomintang started a cleansing campaign against the CPC who had to take the Central Red Army on a long march that finally took them to Northern Shaanxi (known as Shaanbei) in October 1935. Yan'an, a small town in Shaanbei and then the base of the CPC, was like an islet surrounded by the ocean of the Kuomintang's military and information blockage. The world knew little about the CPC and the Red Army but the demonized images propagated by the Kuomintang.

Snow in Shaanbei

What were the Chinese Communists like? And why so many Chinese people were willing to risk their lives to join the CPC and the Red Army? Snow's journalist instinct told him that Yan'an behind the Kuomintang's Great Wall of blockage was the only newsworthy story in China and that he had to go no matter what it took. With the help of Madame Soong Ching Ling, Snow set out for Yan'an. On July 13, 1936, after a long and difficult journey, he made it to Bao'an, a village in Yan'an where the CPC Central Committee was based.

That very night, he met Mao Zedong. In the house cave (Yaodong) and by the flickering candlelight, the two of them spent many nights talking, often starting at about 9 o'clock in the evening until the crack of dawn. During these conversations, Mao Zedong recounted for the first time the birth and growth of the Red Army, and the development of CPC bases and its policies; first shared his prediction of the Sino-Japanese war and China's ultimate victory; elaborated on the CPC's stance for a national united front against Japan and its sincerity in cooperation with the Kuomintang;and for the first time shared his views on the CPC and international issues,expounded on the Chinese Soviet Government's diplomacy, and China's readiness to seek stronger cooperation with friendly countries based on mutual respect.

Snow was deeply impressed by the ideals of Chinese Communists and Mao Zedong's charisma and knowledge. He saw Mao Zedong's experience as a microcosm of a whole generation of Chinese people. What made Mao Zedong different was that when he spoke, he was speaking for the ordinary Chinese, especially peasants. Snow later described these talks as the most valuable ones in his lifetime.

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