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[Classic] #45. Edgar Snow’s “Red Star Over China”

Edgar Snow’s “Red Star Over China” covers the Chinese communist movement. In 1936, Snow interviewed leaders like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, revealing the inner workings of the movement. He documented the Long March and the support from peasants, providing a comprehensive view of Chinese communism to the West.

Author Introduction

Edgar Snow (July 17, 1905 – February 15, 1972) was an American journalist best known for his accounts of the Chinese Communist movement and the Chinese Civil War. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Snow studied journalism at the University of Missouri. In 1928, he traveled to China via Japan and remained there until 1941. During his stay, Snow married American writer Helen Foster Snow. His landmark work, “Red Star Over China,” was first published in 1937 and introduced the Western world to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its leaders, particularly Mao Zedong.

Background of the Book

Chinese Civil War

In the late 19th century, China’s Qing Dynasty faced internal corruption and external pressures from Western powers, leading to social and political turmoil. The fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1912 marked the beginning of the Republic of China, but the nation soon descended into further chaos. The Chinese Civil War began in 1927 between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the CCP. The conflict, coupled with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, intensified China’s internal strife. The CCP, under Mao Zedong, employed guerrilla warfare to expand their influence, culminating in the Long March from 1934 to 1935, which solidified their base in northern China. In 1949, the CCP declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing​​.

Summary of the Book

Part 1: Seeking Red China

Edgar Snow, intrigued by the communist movement in China, sought to uncover the reality behind it. In 1936, he managed to enter the communist-controlled regions, known as the “Red Areas,” to gather firsthand information. Snow conducted interviews with Mao Zedong and other key leaders of the CCP​​.

Part 2: The Road to Red China

Snow traveled to Ansai to meet with Mao Zedong. He was introduced to the structure and daily life of the Red Army by Zhou Enlai, a prominent political commissar. Zhou explained the Red Army’s philosophy and operations, highlighting their efforts to educate and mobilize the peasantry​​.

Part 3: In Bao’an

In Bao’an, Snow met with Mao Zedong, who shared his personal history, including his early life, youth, conflicts with the Kuomintang, and his journey to becoming a communist leader. Mao detailed the CCP’s Long March and the Red Army’s growth. Snow recognized Mao as a leader who truly understood and represented the needs of the Chinese peasantry​​.

Part 4: The Making of a Communist

Mao Zedong recounted his life story, illustrating the development of the communist movement in China. His narrative connected personal experiences with the broader revolutionary process. Mao asserted the CCP’s commitment to Marxism-Leninism and their confidence in ultimate victory​​.

Part 5: The Long March

The Long March began in 1934 as the Red Army retreated strategically over 10,000 kilometers to evade the KMT. Throughout this arduous journey, the Red Army secured new bases and garnered peasant support. The Long March was a testament to the Red Army’s resilience and ideological commitment​​.

Part 6: The Red Star Over Northwest China

The Red Army arrived in the northwest region, where they encountered a population suffering under feudal exploitation. The communists redistributed land and abolished taxes, winning the support of the local peasantry. These efforts laid the foundation for the expansion of the communist movement​​.

Part 7: Living with the Red Army

Snow lived with the Red Army, observing their educational and self-sustaining economic practices. Soldiers received literacy training and military education, and most of their equipment was captured from enemy forces. The Red Army’s struggle against feudal landlords and imperialists gained them significant popular support​​.

Part 8: Returning to Bao’an

Snow returned to Bao’an to continue his discussions with Red Army leaders. Mao Zedong expressed his desire to collaborate with the Kuomintang against Japanese imperialism. By October 1936, Snow prepared to leave the Red Areas and return to the broader world to share his findings​​.

Reflections

Snow’s “Red Star Over China” provides a vivid and detailed account of the Chinese Communist movement from an insider’s perspective. By living among the Red Army and interviewing key figures, Snow captures the hardships, ideals, and strategies of the CCP. His work introduced the Western world to the reality of the Chinese revolution and the leadership of Mao Zedong and other communist leaders. The book remains a crucial historical document that offers deep insights into the early years of the Chinese Communist movement and the socio-political dynamics of the time.

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