Maybe it is because I am a sensitive Chinese that I prefer the books which depict author’s true experience than those which state cold analysis. And red star over China is one of the accountable classics that I found.During the hardest time of China, with both internal turmoil and external invasion threatening, Edgar Snow set our for the northwest of China, the blockaded Red area ,1936, with an introduction from Mr. Sun Yat-sen(Zhongshan Sun), he had an insight into Chinese conditions and the sentiments of Chinese youth which made him almost uniquely capable of perceiving the powerful appeal which the Chinese Communist movement was still in the process of developing. I can not assert that his words are totally objective and not biased at all, but I learn something different from his version of telling, which is both different from what I read from a Chinese view, and from other westerners’ always-similar opinion. From his work, the figures of great leaders become vivid on paper; through his expression, the scenes become sophisticated and imaginative.
when the book was firstly published in London, the concession of Shanghai announced being neutral to the Sino- Japanese war, it is impossible to publish it publicly and openly in hostile territory and districts under Kuomingdang’s rule, so the Chinese version used the title”Journey to the West” to cover up. It is worth tasting the title cause the title contains a sense of ease and freedom, which is obviously contrary to the intense atmosphere at that time.
After the long process of formation of perception in Chinese education, Edgar Snow is always regarded as “Chinese people’s old friend”. He is invited to accompany chairman Mao in 1970 at Tiananmen Square, Mao commented him, ”I have not changed, neither have you.”Snow and his book greatly contributed to bridging and narrowing the gap between Chinese and American people, at least Chinese people always think so.
Based on the principle of comprehensive and thorough understanding, I will divide this book review into 3 parts: firstly, present the structure of the book quickly; second of all, to address what author strived to delivery in his ; last but not least, to comment and to discuss upon the book.
review this book with 3 key words:
faith, divergence, reflection
To both prove and argue author’s opinion: only millions of people’s——instead of a few leaders’ revolutionary practice can be the criterion of truth.
There is no radical criticism or praise in this book review since the majority of chapters is rather descriptive than argumentative. Also, it will be a one-sided argument if there is no “dialectic perspective”, stated Karl Marx.
Throughout the history, either from the West or from the East, the book on history can not escape from taking its own “color” to achieve a certain goal such as propaganda, , which might hide or distort the truth. However, what we should pursuit is to restore history, and to learn from it using objective methodology.
“What kind of people are members of CCP like? What’s the difference between CCP and other social parties?” This are the first questions that the author raise in the first paragraph of first chapter, the author cannot answer it himself, so he feel the desperate need to go to them, to figure out the answer, with a desire for adventure.
Starting from this point, to a large extent Snow managed to be responsible for the job of “a journalist” and was not influenced by rumors and western stereotype. In his own words, “CCP, or red armies, can not change nothing in my writing, cause I have no connection with CCP at all, in fact, I have never joined any party. I just made a fair report about all the things I’ve seen, heard and learnt.” Is that the reality? Indeed from my perspective as an individual, even if Snow had some preconception about CCP thanks to Kuomingdang’s effort, it was obvious that he changed his mind during the life he’s spent in northwest. However, politics are not that simple at all.
Snow is both good and bad at delineating characters, “Mao zedong sleeps late and gets up late, Zhu de sleeps late and gets up early, a lot of soldiers’ wives gathered under one roof and asked me to play poker with them, sometimes their husbands joined as well. But when there is some emergency, they are always so prepared to fight.”. They are way more like “people” than in TV episodes. As a young Chinese student, I heard a lot their remarkable deeds and the great images of personage. But it is a rare moment that I feel the ordinary people just like you and me have the great power in them to make some change in China. I do realize this does cater for what CCP wanted us to figure out, that is, as long as you have the faith and believe in this ideology, no matter which class you come from, no matter what kind of background you have, communism can bring these people together, create an equal atmosphere and do something extraordinary. Snow perfectly and simply demonstrated this idea to every reader.
Not only did he put emphasis on the main leaders, but also the “small characters”. The concept of equality was invested in his experience. He described when he first met two “hongxiaogui”(children who are also CCP”s supporters), he used an impolite way of calling the kids, and was ignored by two boys. He didn’t realize his fault until he was reminded by another soldier. when the kids gave him some water to drink that he switched to use the title ”comrade” to address them. A 12-year-old boy with a serious look answered him,”You are welcomed, you don’t have to call me comrade when I serve you a bowl of water.”
However, I can easily interpret all these characters as “formulaic and simplified’ if I only read this part of the book, even though maybe it is the truth. Cause all the people have nothing to concern in their life except the party. To see it from a good side, that indicates their passion and firm towards communism, but on the contrary, to some extent these people lack their own original thoughts.
The humors and passion described in the book have gained it lots of shining points, and gained CCP lots of new members, the book was so popular that Kuomingdang had to broadcast fake news like Snow was tortured and killed by CCP and to forbid 15 versions of Red Star Over China from spreading and stopping people joining the party secretly. We can say it is “many things grow in the garden that were never sown there”, like CCP never have thought that the book will function as propaganda , and the social fact pushed Chinese youth then yearn for this agreeable, equal and passionate party to join and the nationalism then had climbed up to the peak. I have to admit that when the majority of young generation haven’t gained enough capital, especially cultural capital and economic capital, the CCP would definitely defined as “attracting”, comparing to Kuomingdang’s behavior. Cause what is black and white——binary opposition was very clear, never will a CCP believer “compromise and bend down to the enemy”.
A lot of scenes he wrote was so beautiful and peaceful that I even think there was some symbolic meaning invested in the words, like “when we passed by a natural pool which was surrounded by huge stones, there I met the first red solider. He was all alone except for his horse which was dressed in a blue blanket with a golden star embroidered on it, eating grass beside the water.” And this to Me, seems like a beginning of a religious bible.
Indeed, the journalist felt confused and a bit insane from time to time about some facts happened to him, like watching a “red theatre” performing, he thought that was a extreme form of propaganda, but soon he relieved himself,”you can regard the whole movement led by CCP as a propaganda”. But some already went beyond the scale of political action, and acts like a religious worship. There were a lot of “leonine’ s rooms” in the red district, the soldiers will admire the portrait of him and enthusiastically discuss subjects on Marxism, nothing less than the Christians on the issue of “whether god truly exists”. But this will not be an obstacle standing in the way where people commit themselves to the party.
I swear my attitude towards CCP is neutral, or you can say I am a pragmatism advocator, I only judge something after it has caused some consequences. Except from the Brainwashing part, I still regard these people remarkable and the most suitable people for leading the mass people fight against external threat at that time, since they have most acceptable and capable ideology to bring people solidarity.
The reason why communist theory and practice was born on this planet is not because there was too much happiness, but rather the misery had overflew the last dyke. A person himself equipped with dream and fight for most people’s happiness is noble. Sometimes he will identify himself as the redeemer, sometimes he will identify himself same as the public, he has to find a balance between reality and imagination. He chose a brand new ideology to fill the divergence with When he applies unapproved approaches, he will be regarded as deviant, especially the person who was not from dominant class, wanted to unify all the dominated class together. The objective environment and condition, tend to switch people’s characteristic and meaning invested in social change.
In Chinese history, there seems to be a unchangeable rule: what we once defended for will eventually become what we forgot and abandoned. Several decades ago, the party sacrificed thousands of lives in order to strive for coalition government, people’s participation in politics, freedom of speech and publication, freedom to make assemblies, nowadays become something they would rather not have. These changes are on account of the change of position, also the goal and interest, but people still want to go back to the good old days at times. After reading Daniel Bell’s theory of political meritocracy, I think we don’t need great radical change, but the entire atmosphere is what we should focus on.
At the end of the book, Snow said “these are the minority people among all the Chinese proletariats I have ever known that are genuinely feeling happy. Passive content became a silent accustom in that struggling country, but the more superior happiness was to embrace the positive side of life, having something to believe in. That is enough precious.” That is one of the most important elements of my comments, that is what we can get excluding all the political actors.
A lot of western readers were arguing that Snow’s writing is totally biased for Snow himself is a potential socialist, I cannot deny this possibility, I stated before Snow can be “infected” by the ideology, but what made me feel hilarious is that when I was searching for different people’s opinion, I saw an “expert” who read this book and went to Yan’an to conclude that “It was such a cold and desolate place, and I personally found it very difficult to gain an understanding of how the movement was inspired and carried out by merely visiting the place where it began”. It is so good to see the great thought that a great movement cannot be born in a cave or on mountains. At the very beginning, CCP was born on a small boat floating on the river of Jiaxing. And I don’t think that has any link with the movement itself. More ironically, I cannot even put on a comment under this article, it seems that sometimes the West need to take a breath and escape from freedom of speech a bit.
To me, it is not the only remarkable achievement that this book obtained that Snow is the first western journalist who had ever contacted in person with members of CCP and wrote reports , also the fact that he recorded the daily life of those people who are supposed to be simple and casual. This book combined documentary writing, journey diary, and personal thoughts.
If you want to read critics about CCP, read it everywhere, but if you want to learn from a different angle, read Red Star Over China. But don’t forget to bring in your own contemplation, I mean which erased the influence from both eastern and western press. Cause from what I saw, the advocator consider this book a glory record and perfect reflection of the success of CCP; the opposite voice consider this book a biased and unaccountable distortion. To me, history is alive, is energetic. It is rather bizarre that when living people depict it, it becomes dead and partial. We scruple too much, forget the fact that we are supposed to keep all the real details and let the readers decide on their own.