Red Star Over Edgar Snow

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 9:32 pm

Edgar Snow’s birthday is sometime this week but they can’t agree on which day it is. The 1972 obituary in the omniscient NY Times had it as July 19, 1905, as does his most careful biography1. But maybe it’s July 17 if you go with the University of Missouri Archives, which has his papers and should know. Wikipedia also has the 17th, unless somebody’s gone and changed it to the Fourth of July. 2.

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.” 3

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. 4

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. (more…)

  1. S. Bernard Thomas, Season of High Adventure: Edgar Snow in China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996). []
  2. http://www.umkc.edu/University_Archives/INVTRY/EPS/EPS-INTRO.HTM []
  3. Red Star Over China (Random House 1938): 106-107. []
  4. 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 []


Between Nanjing and Chongqing

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 6:48 pm

I posted a piece on Asia Media (July 10 2008) which reviews Steve MacKinnon’s new book, Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China (University of California Press, 2008). Steve is a friend, but I think anyone would find this book not only a good read but also quite informative on a neglected turning point in modern China. It’s also a good introduction to the work in military history which has quietly transformed our understandings of China before 1949.

Steve makes the point that in this period the United Front worked and that the staggering losses were part of a heroic and in some ways quite successful military strategy. Chiang Kai-shek presided over an energetic coalition and had widespread support. The move upriver to Chongqing was heroic in much the same way as the Long March. It’s a page turning story, though quite horrifying in the descriptions of refugee life and battlefield realities. There’s also a section of photographs which do not merely illustrate but actually develop the themes of the text.

Asia Media, by the way, is run out of the UCLA Asia Institute, and is one of the useful sites for keeping up with breaking news in Asia. Every day they post links to dozens of stories in newspapers around Asia, but also the occasional commentary or review such as mine.



Fortune Cookie History

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 1:48 am

A grad student from Kanagawa University may have cracked the great riddle of Asian cuisine: the origin of the Fortune Cookie! As the NY Times reports, the original fortune cookies may have been produced by Kyoto-area confectioners in the late 1800s.1 The practice — and the distinctive iron grills used to make the sembei crackers, which are part of the historical puzzle — spread to Japanese-owned Chop Suey houses in San Francisco.2 From there, Chinese-owned restaurants began to offer them, and Chinese-owned bakeries supplied them.

Then came WWII, which changed everything.

Ms. Nakamachi is still unsure how exactly fortune cookies made the jump to Chinese restaurants. But during the 1920s and 1930s, many Japanese immigrants in California owned chop suey restaurants, which served Americanized Chinese cuisine. The Umeya bakery distributed fortune cookies to well over 100 such restaurants in southern and central California.

Early on, Chinese-owned restaurants discovered the cookies, too. Ms. Nakamachi speculates that Chinese-owned manufacturers began to take over fortune cookie production during World War II, when Japanese bakeries all over the West Coast closed as Japanese-Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps.

Mr. Wong pointed out: “The Japanese may have invented the fortune cookie. But the Chinese people really explored the potential of the fortune cookie. It’s Chinese-American culture. It only happens here, not in China.”

The war also served to popularize the fortune cookie

they were encountered by military personnel on the way back from the Pacific Theater. When these veterans returned home, they would ask their local Chinese restaurants why they didn’t serve fortune cookies as the San Francisco restaurants did.

The cookies rapidly spread across the country. By the late 1950s, an estimated 250 million fortune cookies were being produced each year by dozens of small Chinese bakeries and fortune cookie companies. One of the larger outfits was Lotus Fortune in San Francisco, whose founder, Edward Louie, invented an automatic fortune cookie machine. By 1960, fortune cookies had become such a mainstay of American culture that they were used in two presidential campaigns: Adlai Stevenson’s and Stuart Symington’s.

It’s such an American tale. It’s all there: entrepreneurship, food, racism, migration, war, marketing, invention, industrialization and orientalism.3 I can’t wait to tell my students.

(Crossposted, of course)

  1. I’m immediately reminded of the rickshaw, which everyone associates with China but which was actually invented as the jinrikisha in Japan at the opening of the Meiji era. There is evidence in the Times article going back to the early 1800s, though. []
  2. Japanese in North America were much more likely to be from Kansai than Japanese in Hawai’i []
  3. Also the obsession with national origins, Japanese-Chinese competition, the value of open archives, the historiography of food culture and the power of media to shape a historical finding. []


Eighth Route Army POW Policy

Filed under: — Guest @ 10:35 pm

Frog in a Well welcomes a guest posting from Sayaka Chatani, who is a PhD student in the History Department of Columbia University. Her research interests are in the transnational history of early to mid-twentieth century East Asia, mainly focusing on the colonization and decolonization of Korea and Taiwan.

For those who missed the August 2007 issue of Sekai, a journal widely read by (mainly left-leaning) Japanese intellectuals, I would like to introduce an article by Marukawa Tetsushi in the volume, who I think shows an interesting way of addressing multiple postwar contexts through a single historical issue.

The main part of the August 2007 issue of Sekai is dedicated to the 70th Anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, with the subtitle of “how we face the memory of the Sino-Japanese War.” A number of historians devoted articles on issues related to the war. Unlike conventional debates on the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, none of them discusses “who started firing first.” It starts with a series of interviews with Chinese people who survived the experience of forced labor under the Japanese occupation; scholars discuss the decision-making of the navy to carpet-bomb Chinese cities after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident; and it also includes comments by activists on the future of Japan’s war responsibility. Among these articles is Marukawa Tetsushi’s discussion on the 八路軍 (the Communist Eighth Route Army during the resistance war against Japan).

Marukawa’s short article, 「改造」と「認罪」−その起源と展開, focuses on the policy of the Eighth Route Army toward Japanese POWs and war criminals, which constituted an integral part of the Chinese Communists’ strategy towards international society during and immediately after WWII. Marukawa argues that the Eighth Route Army, not being recognized as a legitimate actor or army by foreign powers, had no incentive to abide with the Hague Convention on the treatment of the POWs. Nevertheless, the Eighth Route Army adopted a very lenient policy towards the Japanese POWs as a tactic of psychological warfare. Marukawa introduces “the Yan-an (延安) Report,” which American intelligence compiled to learn from the Chinese Communist strategy in fighting Japanese forces. According to this report, the Communists treated the Japanese POWs with medical care, provided them with education and released them as they desired in order to provide a contrast with the indoctrination of the Japanese military. This lenient POW policy was so effective that, the report argues, many Japanese soldiers deserted and defected during the war. Marukawa identifies the nature of the politics of Chinese Communism in this policy of converting enemies into friends, reminding the reader of Mao Zedong’s comment, “Who is our enemy? Who is our friend? This is the most important problem to our revolution.”

Marukawa continues by discussing how Japanese society remembered – or did not remember – the Eighth Route Army POW policy since the war ended. He argues that the Cold War situation distorted the image of the Eighth Route Army. The setting of Tamura Taijirō’s famous novel, “春婦伝 (A Story of a Prostitute)” (1946), was changed under pressure when it was made into a movie, “暁の脱走” (the main character was played by Yamaguchi Yoshiko) in 1950. In the original novel, a Japanese soldier was captured by the Eighth Route Army and released, but the Eighth Route Army was replaced with the Nationalist (KMT) Army in the movie owing to the GHQ censorship. This was a result of the American fear of “brain-washing,” which had just become an established concept during the Korean War, Marukawa argues.

At the same time, Communist China was wholeheartedly promoting the 整風 (zhengfeng) movement to ideologically convert former KMT supporters. It was in this context that the continuous 思想改造 (thought conversion) and the 認罪 (admitting guilt) movement of Japanese POWs and war criminals was posited. In other words, Marukawa recognizes two contexts – the consolidation of the Communist victory of the Civil War, and the continuation of the Eighth Route Army tactic of psychological warfare as operating at the same time as the 戦犯管理 (management of war criminals) policy. It was also a means for the Chinese to engage with international society. Stalin transported about 1000 Japanese POWs to China in the 1950s so that China could demonstrate its ability to adequately manage them to international society. Marukawa argues (somewhat ambiguously) that, dissatisfied with the result of San Francisco Treaty, Communist China further intensified the 認罪 (admitting guilt) program towards the Japanese POWs/war criminals.

Marukawa’s article concludes by reflecting on the stunning leniency seen in the rules of the Shenyang war crime tribunal, as well as the fact that many Japanese soldiers felt responsible and guilty of the crimes that they were only indirectly related to. A round-talk with some Japanese survivors who had experienced Eighth Route Army POW policy and became anti-war activists follows his article in the same volume.

Marukawa Tetsushi, “Kaizō to Ninzai, Sono Kigen to Tenkai,” in Sekai, Iwanami Shoten, August 2007, no.768, pp. 243-252


Yang Tianshi on the Chiang Kai-Shek Diaries

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 9:30 am

Jonathan Benda reports on a talk by the historian Yang Tianshi on Chiang Kai-Shek’s diaries given at Tunghai university in Taiwan. Professor Yang is a very well published and respected historian, and I had a chance to meet him when he was the chairman of the Chinese delegation to the Third International Conference on Wartime China held in Hakone in November, 2006 that brought together Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, and North American historians to discuss issues related to the Sino-Japanese war.

According to Benda’s notes on the talk, Professor Yang argues that Chiang’s diaries were primarily written for himself, rather than written with his future legacy in mind.

He said that two key pieces of evidence for this are how much CKS cursed (罵) people close to him, and how much private, even confessional, material is in the diaries. (CKS used to give himself demerits for looking lustily at women.) Prof. Yang argued that CKS would not have wanted this kind of material to be made public…One result of the private nature of Chiang’s diaries, according to Prof. Yang, is that we can learn a lot more about what was really going on in CKS’s head at certain important historical moments, such as the 1926 Zhongshan Warship Incident and the 1936 Xi’an Incident.

I find this quite interesting since I have seen the diaries used in quite a number of places and whenever I have heard them mentioned in presentations, it is usually accompanied by warnings about the care that needs to be taken when using the source.

The first thing thing this makes me wonder is why, if Chiang was concerned about the confessional material and other damaging contents ever becoming public, he did not take better care to destroy what must have amounted to a huge amount of material (if the diaries indeed covered the period 1915-1972)? Surely the great generalissimo must have suspected these diaries would get into the hands of someone following his death and get published? Were there secret orders for them all to be burned that were betrayed following his death? Sounds like there could be a great story here.

Second, given Chiang’s exposure to Christian, Western, and Japanese historical, military, and political traditions and heroes that are filled with the diaries, memoirs, etc. of great leaders – I really find it very difficult to believe that Chiang could have put pen to paper every time he made a diary entry and not ever have imagined his words were speaking to an audience larger than one. Although I haven’t come across it myself, I suspect there is a whole theoretical literature among historians and literary scholars on the topic of diaries, their authors, and their conscious or unconscious audience.

I would venture to suggest that it is really difficult for an author, writing something like a diary – or a weblog, for that matter, to maintain a consistent audience in mind across a large span of time. Let me give a few examples. I have a public personal weblog that mixes postings about my own life with my thoughts on more academic and political topics. When I write, I try to imagine that my own graduate advisor or a future hiring committee is reading every posting (I honestly hope they don’t and won’t). The idea is that this way I don’t write anything that would be inappropriate for the widest possible audience. This is the reverse of what Professor Yang is arguing. However, going back over my entries, I notice that over the past few years, I see numerous postings where I slip, where I can tell that I was writing a posting which had a much smaller audience in mind – and though not too embarrassing, is probably not the kind of thing I would written if I really was imagining that hiring committee or advisor reading it.

Isn’t the opposite quite common too? Maybe I’m on my own here, but I don’t think I have ever been able to write a diary entry in my life where the thought hasn’t occasionally crossed my mind: won’t someone else someday somewhere possibly see what I wrote? Are there really people out there, especially ambitious military and political leaders, who are so confident that they are the one eternal and only audience for their writing? I suspect that at the very least, CKS suffered from the kinds of “lapses” that I mentioned above – a kind of “audience” slippage in his writing.

Finally, as a historian, we must confront the issue of what it means to know what is “in someone’s head.” The issue of diary audience notwithstanding, the actions, intentions, and opinions of someone like CKS caught in the Xi’an Incident, for example, inevitably goes through a form of translation as he puts his thoughts to paper. Diaries are not written thoughts, they are narrated thoughts. While what is put on paper in this manner does not lose historical value – we might want to be careful in how to articulate what it is that we have found. I didn’t hear Professor Yang’s talk or how exactly he expressed these ideas but it sounds like it was a fascinating discussion of an important historical source. I’m curious what others have to say about some of these issues surrounding the diaries of leaders like CKS?

UPDATE: Jonathan records another interesting comment by Professor Yang: “One last thing that Prof. Yang mentioned–he said that Chiang’s status has risen in China from that of a devil (鬼) to a human (人), while in Taiwan, coincidentally, it seems his status has gone from god to human. (No one commented on the immediate political conditions that might be responsible for that coincidence.)” On this point, Sayaka over at Prison Notebooks has an interesting posting worth checking out.


Great Moments in International Journalism

Filed under: — Jonathan Dresner @ 12:47 pm

Philip J. Cunningham at Informed Comment Global Affairs has a great post about Chinese State TV and their Dialogue commentary program. I’m just going to excerpt the funny and historical bit below the fold, but the rest of the discussion, hopeful and realistic, is quite worthwhile. The focus is actually on the collaboration/mutual exploitation relationship between CCTV and Japan’s NHK.

Asian symbols

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 8:39 am


Useless Tree has a post up on the Chinese roots of the Korean flag. This post led me to look up an interesting, if rather old, article on the use of “the T’ai Chi symbol in Japanese wartime propaganda.”1 That Japanese governments in  China used “Chinese/Pan-Asian” images like the Great Ultimate was not news to me. What was new was his discussion of the use of the image in Korea. Obviously in the end it ended up on the Korean flag, but before that it was a very common symbol in Korean architecture, turning up on all sorts of gates and entryways, especially for official buildings, schools, temples, etc. Rowe also says that the symbol turned up on the Independence Arch in Seoul, which was erected right after the Russo-Japanese War and symbolized Korean independence. Soon after that the flag became a symbol of resistance against Japan. Has anybody done anything more recent than Rowe on Korean nationalist symbolism?

  1. Rowe, David Nelson. “The T’Ai Chi Symbol in Japanese War Propaganda.” The Public Opinion Quarterly 5, no. 4 (Winter 1941): 532-547. []


Our Japanese Comrades

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:29 pm

I’ve been paging through 抗战漫画 a book re-printing lots of wartime cartoons. Although some work has been done on these, one thing I have not seen commented on much are the pro-Japanese cartoons


Here we see Japanese soldiers and people being driven to disaster by a “warlord” 军阀.



The Buddha goes to war

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:13 pm

Xue Yu’s new book Buddhism, War, and Nationalism: Chinese Monks in the Struggle against Japanese Aggressions, 1931-19451 is the first major work I have found on a very interesting topic. Religion and nationalism have always had a tendency to conflict. Nationalists like to claim that they are tying people together in a trans-local identity for the first time, but of course many religions have done that long before nationalists turned up, and this has often led to conflict between the two, as well as recycling of a lot of religious imagery by nationalists.

The Nationalist period in China was not good for Buddhists. They were portrayed as an example of the feudal backwardness that held China back. Given how well this fit with earlier Confucian critiques of Buddhists as parasites and Western missionaries’ dismissal of the religion as primitive hokum there was not much room for Buddhism in many nationalist’s visions of a new China. Buddhism vanished even more completely from Chinese history, and from reading most histories of 20th century China you would get no idea that there were still lots of lay Buddhists, clergy, temples, and an active Buddhist press. Like most of the rest of the Chinese press the Buddhist journals spent a lot of time talking about the threat of Japan.


  1. Routledge, 2005 []


Poverty and Prison Camps

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 12:42 am

I recently finished reading Crime, Punishment, and the Prison in Modern China, 1895-1949 by Frank Dikötter. You can find pictures from the book posted on his website here. The book is a well written overview of the history of modern prisons in China, beginning with the late Qing through the war against Japan, with a few pages on the civil war that follows. Dikötter has written elsewhere about his preliminary findings about early Communist labor camps, taking his research into the 1950s.

Dikötter’s book is especially strong when it explores various attempts to reform the prisons in the Republican period, even if a lack of trustworthy information prevents a full evaluation of the effects of some of these reforms. Despite the wide chronological coverage and national scope of the book, the footnotes reveals a truly remarkable amount of archival research.

One section I found of particular interest was his short discussion of Chinese POW camps during the war against Japan.1 In this section Dikötter uses materials from International Red Cross (ICRC) archives to help him get at the conditions in the camps.

The conditions in wartime Japanese POW camps (when captured soldiers weren’t shot, as was sometimes the case, especially in the China theater) were of course infamous, and the target of much criticism at the war crimes proceedings that followed the war. Beyond the unnecessary direct brutality of the guards (a non-trivial percentage of which were Koreans and Taiwanese) towards their prisoners, however, the relatively high death rates in Japanese camps (as well, we might mention, in Soviet camps, North Korean POW camps among other well-known examples) as compared with death rates of non-Slavic prisoners in Nazi POW camps is sometimes attributed to a simple brutal fact: The dire logistical reality faced by the military forces meant they could rarely provide sufficient supplies to their own soldiers, let alone supply thousands of POWs in the elaborate camp system.

If any belligerent in World War II was strained for supplies, surely China was one of them. However, Dikötter’s short discussion of Chinese POW camps based suggests that China’s strong desire for international legitimacy and continued support from international agencies led one of the poorest participants of the Second World War to go to considerable lengths in providing for its Japanese prisoners.

Although the ICRC representative sent to China, Ernest Senn, did not have access to all POW camps and his correspondence was heavily censored, his reports generally suggest relatively good treatment and health for Japanese prisoners in Chinese POW camps. Like many countries, there were also camps used as propaganda showcases such as the “Paradise Camp” located 20km south of Chongqing.2 Suggestions by the Red Cross to improve latrines and washrooms in one camp were apparently followed and supposedly the agency received no complaints from prisoners. Dikötter contrasts the treatment reportedly given to Japanese prisoners in the evidence available and the horrible fate of political prisoners in the SACO (Sino-American Cooperation Organisation) run camps as well as the wretched conditions of the average Chinese soldier fighting in the war. He notes, however, that at least one camp was heavily reliant on medical support from the Red Cross, which suggests that international support might partly explain tolerable conditions in some camps.

The problem with this short section on POW camps is, of course, that it is mostly dependent on ICRC reports from a limited number of camps. We ought to carefully evaluate such evidence, including the lack of prisoner complaints. I am curious what ICRC reports on German prison camps, North Korean, and South Korean camps concluded. One thinks of various war movies showing scenes where prisoners are pressured to spruce things up for visiting Red Cross officials. I’m sure there are memoirs and other materials that can be found on the Japanese side that might give us more anecdotal information on the Chinese POW camp conditions, just as we have learned horror stories in the accounts left by former prisoners of camps elsewhere. I know there is a considerable amount of Japanese material on Chinese Communist run prison camps and the elaborate efforts made to convert and use Japanese soldiers for propaganda uses, not to mention utilizing their technical skills.

If the bulk of Japanese anecdotal materials confirm Dikötter’s suggestion that, overall, Chinese treatment of Japanese POWs was relatively decent, it might contribute to a debate about what conditions are necessary for international norms, such as those articulated in the Geneva conventions that govern the treatment of prisoners, to have a significant impact on even the most resource-starved belligerents in a violent conflict.

  1. Frank Dikötter. Crime, Punishment and the Prison in China (Columbia University Press, 2002), 345-349 []
  2. ibid., 348. []

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