"How many persons are in the Bureau?" "There are 114 persons, of whom 23 are Japanese." "Are they employed on the basis of technical ability?" "Yes." "Is there a person named Fan Chin-tang in the office?" "No. He has resigned." "Is there a person named Hsieh Chin-chiu in the office?" "No...yes." "What qualification has this person?" "This person is a graduate of Chekiang University." "What official rank does this person hold?" "Technical expert." "Is she your concubine?" "Yes." "Fan Chin-tang, with thirty years' technical experience, was dismissed. Why is his salary allotment still requested from the senior office?" "Salaries for March have not yet been paid." "Yes. You requested the Finance Department to allot salaries for 186 persons, while in reality your staff consists of only 46 persons. The average salary is 1,200 old Taiwan dollars per person. Your total income from November through March has been 1,000,000 old Taiwan dollars." (( Tse-han Lai, Ramon H. Myers, and Wei Wou A Tragic Beginning: The Taiwan Uprising of February 28, 1947 (Stanford University Press, Stanford, 1991), 74. Original source is cited as Formosa: Internal Affairs, 1945-1949, Reel 1, Enclosure no. 25 (Nov. 1, 1946, report), p. 35. Bibliography gives full citation as: United States State Department Central Files. Formosa: Internal Affairs, 1945-1949. Washington, D.C.: University Publications of America, 1985. Reel 1 ("Political Affairs Reports for 1946 and January 1947") ))
Nowadays we can't agree if Snow was a hero or a dupe -- probably both -- but all agree that Snow’s Red Star Over China and Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth were the two most widely read western books on China in the 1930s. They both still have some zip in them, never mind that they showed completely different Chinas. Buck portrayed a petty capitalist farm family which was age old and not in need of revolution. Snow dramatized “the intellectually sterile countryside, the dark-living peasantry....” to which the Communists, he said, “stirred to great dreams by their 'scientific knowledge,' ” had brought to the peasant millions, “by propaganda and by action, a new conception of the state, society, and the individual.” (( Red Star Over China (Random House 1938): 106-107. ))
Snow’s book went off like a bombshell. Mao's "autobiography" was the scoop, but the redefinition of his revolution in Snow's account was even more important. The only thing it didn’t have was sex. It was travel adventure in which Snow played the intrepid explorer going where no white man had gone before.
It was well timed: The London first edition came out in October 1937 just as the Japanese Army was advancing on Nanjing, linking the China war with the global resistance to Fascism. It sold 100,000 copies.
The book was engaged: Snow, whose Irish father implanted a hatred of the British in him, was as much excited by anti-imperialism as by social liberation. Snow had mentored students who mounted the famous December 1935 demonstrations against the Japanese and was reading up on Marxism and world affairs. He adopted Chinese patriotism.
The book was news: Mao was well enough known that Time magazine referred to him in 1935 as the “Chinese Lenin” who was so sick that he had to be carried on a stretcher. But foreign accounts of the Communist movement stressed radical land revolution and anti-foreign attacks which brought the Boxers to mind. Mao rose to the top level of leadership on the Long March by “resolving the contradiction” between radical politics and the politics of survival, that is, what American politicians call triangulating.
With Snow seated on a backless stool, Mao lounged on the stone bed, once turning down his pants to scratch for an “intruder,” and in ten evening sessions told his story. The story was no more spontaneous than were FDR’s fireside chats, but it was no less masterly for having been carefully scripted and the transcript vetted and revised by Party leaders. (( Anne-Marie Brady, Making the foreign serve China: Managing foreigners in the People's Republic (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003): 46-48; Michael Hunt, The Genesis of Chinese Communist Foreign Policy (Columbia University Press, 1996): 236-237. David Apter and Tony Saich argue that Mao's heroic story of Yan'an was "so powerful that it changed the way people acted, thought of themselves, and responded to others, at least for a time." David Apter Tony Saich, Revolutionary Discourse in Mao's Republic (Harvard University Press, 1994): 9 ))
The story was a tour de force of political spin. Mao had to be both loyal to the international communist movement and a patriot, and both dedicated to China's long term socialist revolution and an enthusiastic member of the bourgeois United Front, a move which Stalin ordered and the logic of domestic politics drew him into. He had to address the needs of his rural constituents but keep his eye on long run revolution.
The problem for Snow was both tactical and moral. When Western governments refused to counter Hitler and Mussolini’s intervention in the Spanish Civil War, Stalin seemed the only effective anti-fascist. The question was both tactical and moral. Most of the Left shunned Leon Trotsky for undermining Stalin by charging him with bureaucratic tyranny and the London Left Wing Book Club had refused to publish George Orwell’s report on the Spanish Civil War, Homage to Catalonia, because it exposed Stalin 's ruthless extermination of non-communist rivals. American leftist reviewers gave the London edition of Red Star mixed notices for relaying Mao’s judgment that Stalin’s advice had been disastrous in the 1920s. Fearing that the whiff of Trotskyism would cut sales, Snow edited the New York edition to tone down the explicit criticisms of Stalin while preserving their essence.
A great deal has been made of this willingness to revise, allegedly “to fall in with policies of the Communist International in Moscow after pressure of the Communist Party of the USA” or “to please critics in Moscow,” and several have quoted from Snow’s fawning letter to Earl Browder, head of the CPUSA. But the more detailed account in S. Bernard Thomas’ biography makes Snow’s revisions seem tactical rather than obsequious. Mao later defended him in a backhanded way: “Snow came here to investigate our situation when nobody else would and helped us by presenting the facts,” he said, “and even if he later did something we detest, we will always remember that he a great service for China.” (( Hans J. Van de Ven, War and Nationalism in China, 1925-1945 (RoutledgeCurzon, 2003): 2; Jonathan Mirsky, Getting the Story in China: American Reporters since 1972 (The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy 1999): 6, both citing Harvey Klehr, John Earl Haynes K. M. Anderson, The Soviet World of American Communism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998); 336-341; Part Three, “Red Star Over China, and Elsewhere,” Thomas, Season of High Adventure, 151-189. ))
Mao spun him, but Snow also spun Mao in order to become one of the top correspondents for the next decade. Other reporters followed his model (( see Charles W. Hayford, "Snow, White & Seven The China Revolution Classics," Asia Media (December 1 2006): )) and used his analysis, sometimes without even realizing that there had been any other way to do it.
Snow, compared to those went before, got the big things right and got them first: Mao was a Marxist revolutionary leading an independent Chinese franchise not a wholly owned subsidiary. His allegiance was to world revolution but he had to “sinifiy” Lenin’s strategies. He adopted the party structure and party army, but developed a base in the countryside. After Red Star, Mao went beyond Lenin to develop a party held together by ideology with a discipline that allowed the party line to swing vigorously from year to year – sometimes from month to month, but the Mao in Red Star is essentially the Mao who led the party to power. Mao in power was a different story.
Snow can hardly be blamed for not predicting a future which was inherently unpredictable, but in the 1950s, Snow returned to China as a friend, not the investigative reporter. His book The Other Side of the River is a huge wooly travelogue in which the travel is not very interesting. The most notorious chapter denies that there was wide spread hunger at a time when tens of millions were starving to death. He returned again in 1965 and Mao summoned him for an extensive interview in 1970, when Snow stood alongside Mao atop the Gate of Heavenly Peace for the October 1 National Day parade. He died just as Nixon was going to China. Maybe it's too bad that he missed the excitement, but maybe it's just as well he didn't have to be pestered on Meet the Press.
Snow had become an icon and fair game. By the 1980s it was possible to say a doubtful word about Snow without being a Red baiter. In “A Message from Mao,” a review of the first biography of Snow, Jonathan Mirsky laid out the case that Snow had become a dupe. To my mind, Mirsky is quite right to doubt that Snow had simply found in the Communist guerrillas “a political movement that, while not a carbon copy of the populism that existed on the Midwestern plains where he was reared, attracted and harnessed people's energies for the common good.” (( Jonathan Mirsky, “Message from Mao,” New York Review (February 16 1985): 17. )). Snow was cannier than that.
What does strike me as true is that in the 1930s Snow looked for a political movement powerful enough to reform Chinese society and defend China against Japan. Snow looked on Mao’s power as liberating and didn’t worry about how to limit the power of the state. If you didn't have a country, he argued, there was no point in worrying about liberties in it.
Significantly, the last paragraphs of Red Star return to the international scene. A “great imperialist war,” Snow speculates, would release the forces to liberate the Asian masses, but actual success would still depend on whether the USSR would be drawn into the war. But whether or not the USSR could fight for world revolution without destroying itself, China’s movement for “social revolution” will eventually win simply because “the basic conditions which have given it birth carry within themselves the dynamic necessity for its triumph.” This triumph will “consign to oblivion the last barbarities of imperialism which now enthral the Eastern world.”
I have some sympathy for Chang Jung and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story. Much of their story not literally true, but their Mao – “Mao the Monster” – is. He and Snow’s Mao both existed and we can't understand one without the other.
Happy birthday Ed, whichever day it is!
Opium burning, 1917-1919. BeijingDuke university has put the entire Sidney Gamble archive on-line. Some of these have been published already (Gamble is pretty well known) but this is the entire archive and it is searchable. Well worth looking at.
Jed Perl has a piece up attacking Chinese art at TNR. As any number of people have pointed out Contemporary Chinese ArtTM is booming. For Perl, however, it's all totalitarian crap. I would actually agree with Perl that a lot of the stuff being produced by Chinese artists and purchased by China's new ultra-rich (and their foreign buddies) is kinda questionable, and I certainly think that a lot of Chinese young people seem to be buying into a pretty sanitized view of Mao and the Communist period. The nostalgia for communist-period idealism you sometimes hear I always find hard to figure out. For Perl, however, the only possible reason to think about China is to denounce Mao and the Cultural Revolution (which are of course the same thing.) Thus it becomes impossible for Chinese to be anything other than toadies unless they are in jail. The theme of "Revolution" comes up a lot in the art Perl is talking about, in part I think because he is talking about western collectors, who probably don't know much about China but do know there was a revolution and in part because lots of Chinese artists do use Communist iconography and themes from the past. Some of them are probably toeing the official line, some are subverting the official line, some are doing both, some think they are doing both but actually are not. ((I think things like this have happened in other authoritarian societies. Maybe someone who knows art can give Perl some references)) For Perl though it is pretty easy. If you see anything that looks "China-y" it's crap.
I have studied the catalogue of this collection, The Revolution Continues: New Art from China, and I am pretty confident that it is the most hateful art book published in my lifetime. For the revolution that is continuing is none other than the Cultural Revolution.Really? The modern smiley-face authoritarianism of China is the same as the Cultural Revolution? One begins to suspect he does not know much about the CR, which is pretty rapidly confirmed as he scoffs as a curator for suggesting that
"reprising the Red Guards' antiauthoritarian stance to art, sought to bring down the institution of art itself through Dadaist strategies"?Perl asks
In what sense, pray tell, was the Red Guard anti-authoritarian?"Pray tell" suggests that he has no clue what the Red Guards were. The first thing a youth was supposed to do after strapping on the red armband was to "bombard the headquarters" and attack the authorities that actually controlled their lives, teachers, party bosses, etc. Everyone in China over a certain age knows this, which is why it is always so hard to figure out what Chinese artists might be doing with Mao images or CR images or whatever. Not everybody in the world needs to know (or can know) all the things Maoist references can mean in China, but if you are going to write about Chinese art it helps to have some idea what you are talking about. One can imagine touring the Louvre with Perl and having him be stumped by why there were all those pictures of a lady holding a baby. The only tool Perl has for understanding Chinese art is "Radical Chic" which may be useful for understanding why Westerners are buying this stuff but does not help much for understanding the art. After all, the main market for Chinese art is China. Why are wealthy Chinese (many of whom did not have much fun in the Maoist period) buying this stuff? At the top of this post is a painting by Zhang Xiaogang. Perl..
His paintings are said to reflect the tensions of the Cultural Revolution, when children were known to turn their parents in to the authorities. In the Louisiana catalogue, this schlock is described as showing people "isolated in their own emotional universes" or shaped by, "mysterious, unknowable forces." The only mysterious force from which Zhang is isolated is the art of painting.I actually find it an interesting piece, in part because the isolation from family and others is a theme that always comes up in Cultural Revolution memoirs. Maybe Zhang is a hack, but I'm pretty sure I am not going to take Jed Perl's word on that without something to back it up. Perl again
By aestheticizing historic catastrophe, the art world's unholy synthesis of Maoism and kitsch enables people to blur their own memories.That's pretty bold for an American. What should Chinese people do? Commit mass suicide to prove they are free of the Maoist taint? Abandon art for a few centuries? There are lots of ways for Chinese artists and people to deal with the past, including ignoring it, but lumping every Chinese artist from Wang Guangyi to Cai Guoqiang in with the Red Detachment of Women is just sloppy. I suppose what is particularly depressing is that with a minimal amount of effort Perl could have found lots of Chinese artists denouncing the people he talks about as talentless hacks and sell-outs. Had he been writing about British art or French art or maybe ever Japanese art he probably would have done so, or his editor would have sent him back to do it. He then could have written something interesting and informative. ((Perl is also dismissive of the originality of Chinese art, claiming that pretty much all of this has been done before. Some of this I buy (lots of hacks out there) and some I don't. The dividing line between being influenced by someone and copying them is always a tricky thing, but apparently for Perl any vague link to a western work of art renders anything a Chinese does completely derivative. I remember being struck by the "defiance in the sunset" scene in Red Sorghum and realizing that at least in 1987 the visual world of Zhang Yimou was different than mine. He could use a scene like that and not be referring to Gone With The Wind in any meta-critical way. He was, as I took it, just pinching a visual from a foreign film only artsy types would have seen.))