Red Star over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism

Red Star over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism

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“A historical classic” that brings Mao Tse-tung, the Long March, and the Chinese revolution to vivid life (Foreign Affairs).
Journalist Edgar Snow was the first Westerner to meet Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese Communist leaders in 1936—and out of his up-close experience came this historical account, one of the most important books about the remarkable events that would shape not only the future of Asia, but also the future of the world.
This edition of Red Star Over China includes extensive notes on military and political developments in the country; interviews with Mao himself; a chronology covering 125 years of Chinese history; and nearly a hundred detailed biographies of the men and women who were instrumental in making China what it is today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802196101
Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
Publication date: 12/01/2007
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 229,199
File size: 3 MB

About the Author

Edgar Parks Snow was an American journalist known for his books and articles on Communism in China and the Chinese Communist revolution. He was the first western journalist to give a full account of the history of the Chinese Communist Party following the Long March, and he was also the first western journalist to interview many of its leaders, including Mao Zedong. He is best known for his book, Red Star Over China, an account of the Chinese Communist movement from its foundation until the late 1930s.

Read an Excerpt


Some Unanswered Questions

During my seven years in China, hundreds of questions had been asked about the Chinese Red Army, the Soviets, and the Communist movement. Eager partisans could supply you with a stock of ready answers, but these remained highly unsatisfactory. How did they know? They had never been to Red China.

The fact was that there had been perhaps no greater mystery among nations, no more confused an epic, than the story of Red China. Fighting in the very heart of the most populous nation on earth, the Celestial Reds had for nine years been isolated by a news blockade as effective as a stone fortress. A wall of thousands of enemy troops constantly surrounded them; their territory was more inaccessible than Tibet. No one had voluntarily penetrated that wall and returned to write of his experiences since the first Chinese soviet was established in southeastern Hunan, in November, 1927.

Even the simplest points were disputed. Some people denied that there was such a thing as a Red Army. There were only thousands of hungry brigands. Some denied even the existence of soviets. They were an invention of Communist propaganda. Yet Red sympathizers extolled both as the only salvation for all the ills of China. In the midst of this propaganda and counterpropaganda, credible evidence was lacking for dispassionate observers seeking the truth. Here are some of the unanswered questions that interested everyone concerned with politics and the quickening history of the Orient:

Was or was not this Red Army of China a mass of conscious Marxist revolutionaries, disciplined by and adhering to a centralized program and a unified command under the Chinese Communist Party? If so, what was that program? The Communists claimed to be fighting for agrarian revolution, and against imperialism, and for soviet democracy and national emancipation. Nanking said that the Reds were only a new type of vandals and marauders led by "intellectual bandits." Who was right? Or was either one?

Before 1927, members of the Communist Party were admitted to the Kuomintang, but in April of that year there began a great "purgation." Communists, as well as unorganized radical intellectuals and thousands of organized workers and peasants, were executed on an extensive scale under Chiang Kai-shek, the leader of a Right coup d'état which seized power, to form a "National Government" at Nanking. Since then it had been a crime punishable by death to be a Communist or a Communist sympathizer, and thousands had paid that penalty. Yet thousands more continued to run the risk. Thousands of peasants, workers, students, and soldiers joined the Red Army in armed struggle against the military dictatorship of the Nanking regime. Why? What inexorable force drove them on to support suicidal political opinions? What were the fundamental quarrels between the Kuomintang and the Kungch'antang?

What were the Chinese Communists like? In what way did they resemble, in what way were they unlike, Communists or Socialists elsewhere? The tourist asked if they wore long beards, made noises with their soup, and carried homemade bombs in their briefcases. The serious-minded wanted to know whether they were "genuine" Marxists. Did they read Capital and the works of Lenin? Had they a thoroughly Socialist economic program? Were they Stalinites or Trotskyites? Or neither? Was their movement really an organic part of the World Revolution? Were they true internationalists? "Mere tools of Moscow," or primarily nationalists struggling for an independent China?

Who were these warriors who had fought so long, so fiercely, so courageously, and — as admitted by observers of every color, and privately among Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's own followers — on the whole so invincibly? What made them fight like that? What held them up? What was the revolutionary basis of their movement? What were the hopes and aims and dreams that had made of them the incredibly stubborn warriors — incredible compared with the history of compromise that is China — who had endured hundreds of battles, blockade, salt shortage, famine, disease, epidemic, and finally the Long March of 6,000 miles, in which they crossed twelve provinces of China, broke through thousands of Kuomintang troops, and triumphantly emerged at last into a new base in the Northwest?

Who were their leaders? Were they educated men with a fervent belief in an ideal, an ideology, and a doctrine? Social prophets, or mere ignorant peasants blindly fighting for an existence? What kind of man was Mao Tse-tung, No. 1 "Red bandit" on Nanking's list, for whose capture, dead or alive, Chiang Kai-shek offered a reward of a quarter of a million silver dollars? What went on inside that highly priced Oriental head? Or was Mao really already dead, as Nanking officially announced? What was Chu Teh‡ like — the commander-in-chief of the Red Army, who life had the same value to Nanking? What about Lin Piao, the twenty-eight-year-old Red tactician whose famous First Red Army Corps was said never to have suffered a defeat? Where did he come from? Who were the many other Red leaders repeatedly reported dead, only to reappear in the news — unscathed and commanding new forces against the Kuomintang?

What explained the Red Army's remarkable record of resistance for nine years against vastly superior military combinations? Lacking any industrial base, big cannon, gas, airplanes, money, and the modern techniques which Nanking had utilized in its wars against them, how had these Reds survived, and increased their following? What military tactics did they use? How were they instructed? Who advised them? Were there some Russian military geniuses among them? Who led the outmaneuver-ing, not only of all Kuomintang commanders sent against them but also of Chiang Kai-shek's large and expensive staff of German advisers, headed first by General von Seeckt and later by General von Falkenhausen?

What was a Chinese soviet like? Did the peasants support it? If not, what held it together? To what degree did the Reds carry out "socialism" in districts where they had consolidated their power? Why hadn't the Red Army taken big cities? Did this prove that it wasn't a genuine proletarian-led movement, but fundamentally remained a peasant rebellion? How was it possible to speak of "communism" or "socialism" in China, where over 80 per cent of the population was still agrarian, where industrialism was still in infant garments — if not infantile paralysis?

How did the Reds dress? Eat? Play? Love? Work? What were their marriage laws? Were women "nationalized," as Kuomintang publicists asserted? What was a Chinese "Red factory"? A Red dramatic society? How did they organize their economy? What about public health, recreation, education, "Red culture"?

What was the strength of the Red Army? Half a million, as the Comintern publications boasted? If so, why had it not seized power? Where did it get arms and munitions? Was it a disciplined army? What about its morale? Was it true that officers and men lived alike? If, as Generalissimo Chiang announced in 1935, Nanking had "destroyed the menace of Communist banditry," what explained the fact that in 1937 the Reds occupied a bigger single unified territory (in China's most strategic Northwest) than ever before? If the Reds were finished, why did Japan demand, as the famous Third Point of Koki Hirota (Foreign Minister, 1933–36), that Nanking form an anti-Red pact with Tokyo and Nazi Germany "to prevent the bolshevization of Asia"? Were the Reds really "anti-imperialist"? Did they want war with Japan? Would Moscow support them in such a war? Or were their fierce anti-Japanese slogans only a trick and a desperate attempt to win public sympathy, the last cry of demoralized traitors and bandits, as the eminent Dr. Hu Shih nervously assured his excited students in Peking?

What were the military and political perspectives of the Chinese Communist movement? What was the history of its development? Could it succeed? And just what would such success mean to us? To Japan? What would be the effect of this tremendous mutation upon a fifth (some said a fourth) of the world's inhabitants? What changes would it produce in world politics? In world history? How would it affect the vast British, American, and other foreign investment in China? Indeed, had the Reds any "foreign policy" at all?

Finally, what was the meaning of the Communists' offer to form a "national united front" in China, and stop civil war?

For some time it had seemed ridiculous that not a single non-Communist observer could answer those questions with confidence, accuracy, or facts based on personal investigation. Here was a story, growing in interest and importance every day; here was the story of China, as newspaper correspondents admitted to each other between dispatches sent out on trivial side issues. Yet we were all woefully ignorant about it. To get in touch with Communists in the "White" areas was extremely difficult.

Communists, over whose heads hung the sentence of death, did not identify themselves as such in polite — or impolite — society. Even in the foreign concessions, Nanking kept a well-paid espionage system at work. It included, for example, such vigilantes as C. Patrick Givens, former chief Red-chaser in the British police force of Shanghai's International Settlement. Inspector Givens was each year credited with the arrest — and subsequent imprisonment or execution, after extradition from the Settlement by the Kuomintang authorities — of scores of alleged Communists, the majority of them between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. He was only one of many foreign sleuths hired to spy upon young Chinese radicals and hunt them down in their own country.

We all knew that the only way to leam anything about Red China was to go there. We excused ourselves by saying, "Mei yu fa-tzu" — "It can't be done." A few had tried and failed. It was believed impossible. People thought that nobody could enter Red territory and come out alive.

Then, in June, 1936, a close Chinese friend of mine brought me news of an amazing political situation in Northwest China — a situation which was later to culminate in the sensational arrest of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, and to change the current of Chinese history. More important to me then, however, I learned with this news of a possible method of entry to Red territory. It necessitated leaving at once. The opportunity was unique and not to be missed. I decided to take it and attempt to break a news blockade nine years old.

It is true there were risks involved, though the reports later published of my death — "killed by bandits" — were exaggerated. But against a torrent of horror stories about Red atrocities that had for many years filled the subsidized vernacular and foreign press of China, I had little to cheer me on my way. Nothing, in truth, but a letter of introduction to Mao Tse-tung, chairman of the Soviet Government. All I had to do was to find him. Through what adventures? I did not know. But thousands of lives had been sacrificed in these years of Kuomintang-Communist warfare. Could one foreign neck be better hazarded than in an effort to discover why? I found myself somewhat attached to the neck in question, but I concluded that the price was not too high to pay.

In this melodramatic mood I set out.


Slow Train to "Western Peace"

It was early June and Peking wore the green lace of spring, its thousands of willows and imperial cypresses making the Forbidden City a place of wonder and enchantment, and in many cool gardens it was impossible to believe in the China of breaking toil, starvation, revolution, and foreign invasion that lay beyond the glittering roofs of the palaces. Here well-fed foreigners could live in their own little never-never land of whisky-and-soda, polo, tennis, and gossip, happily quite unaware of the pulse of humanity outside the great city's silent, insulating walls — as indeed many did.

And yet during the past year even the oasis of Peking had been invaded by the atmosphere of struggle that hovered over all China. Threats of Japanese conquest had provoked great demonstrations of the people, especially among the enraged youth. A few months earlier I had stood under the bullet-pitted Tartar Wall and seen ten thousand students gather, defiant of the gendarmes' clubbings, to shout in a mighty chorus: "Resist Japan! Reject the demands of Japanese imperialism for the separation of North China from the South!"

All Peking's defensive masonry could not prevent reverberations of the Chinese Red Army's sensational attempt to march through Shansi to the Great Wall — ostensibly to begin a war against Japan for recovery of the lost territories. This somewhat quixotic expedition had been promptly blocked by eleven divisions of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek's crack new army, but that had not prevented patriotic students from courting imprisonment and possible death by massing in the streets and uttering the forbidden slogans: "Cease civil war! Cooperate with the Communists to resist Japan! Save China!"

One midnight I climbed aboard a dilapidated train, feeling a little ill, but in a state of high excitement. Excitement because before me lay a journey of exploration into a land hundreds of years and hundreds of miles removed from the medieval splendors of the Forbidden City: I was bound for "Red China." And a little ill because I had taken all the inoculations available. A microbe's-eye view of my bloodstream would have revealed a macabre cavalcade; my arms and legs were shot with smallpox, typhoid, cholera, typhus, and plague germs. All five diseases were prevalent in the Northwest. Moreover, alarming reports had lately told of the spread of bubonic plague in Shensi province, one of the few spots on earth where it was endemic.

My immediate destination was Sianfu — which means "Western Peace." Sianfu was the capital of Shensi province, it was two tiresome days and nights by train to the southwest of Peking, and it was the western terminus of the Lunghai railway. From there I planned to go northward and enter the soviet districts, which occupied the very heart of Ta Hsi-pei, China's Great Northwest. Lochuan, a town about one hundred fifty miles north of Sianfu, then marked the beginning of Red territory in Shensi. Everything north of it, except strips of territory along the main highways, and some points which will be noted later, was already dyed Red. With Lochuan roughly the southern, and the Great Wall the northern, extremities of Red control in Shensi, both the eastern and western Red frontiers were formed by the Yellow River. Coming down from the fringes of Tibet, the wide, muddy stream flows northward through Kansu and Ninghsia, and above the Great Wall into the province of Suiyuan — Inner Mongolia. Then after many miles of uncertain wandering toward the east it turns southward again, to pierce the Great Wall and form the boundary between the provinces of Shensi and Shansi.

It was within this great bend of China's most treacherous river that the soviets then operated — in northern Shensi, northeastern Kansu, and southeastern Ninghsia. And by a strange sequence of history this region almost corresponded to the original confines of the birthplace of China. Near here the Chinese first formed and unified themselves as a people, thousands of years ago.

In the morning I inspected my traveling companions and found a youth and a handsome old man with a wisp of gray beard sitting opposite me, sipping bitter tea. Presently the youth spoke to me, in formalities at first, and then inevitably of politics. I discovered that his wife's uncle was a railway official and that he was traveling with a pass. He was on his way back to Szechuan, his native province, which he had left seven years before. But he was not sure that he would be able to visit his home town after all. Bandits were reported to be operating near there.

"You mean Reds?"

"Oh, no, not Reds, although there are Reds in Szechuan, too. No, I mean bandits."

"But aren't the Reds also bandits?" I asked out of curiosity. "The newspapers always call them Red bandits or Communist bandits."

"Ah, but you must know that the editors must call them bandits because they are ordered to do so by Nanking," he explained. "If they called them Communists or revolutionaries that would prove they were Communists themselves."

"But in Szechuan don't people fear the Reds as much as the bandits?"

"Well, that depends. The rich men fear them, and the landlords, and the officials and tax collectors, yes. But the peasants do not fear them. Sometimes they welcome them." Then he glanced apprehensively at the old man, who sat listening intently, and yet seeming not to listen. "You see," he continued, "the peasants are too ignorant to understand that the Reds only want to use them. They think the Reds really mean what they say."


Excerpted from "Red Star Over China"
by .
Copyright © 1968 Edgar Snow.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction by Dr. John K. Fairbank,
Preface to the Revised Edition,
Chronology: 125 Years of Chinese Revolution,
A Note on Chinese Pronunciation,
1. Some Unanswered Questions,
2. Slow Train to "Western Peace",
3. Some Han Bronzes,
4. Through Red Gates,
1. Chased by White Bandits,
2. The Insurrectionist,
3. Something About Ho Lung,
4. Red Companions,
1. Soviet Strong Man,
2. Basic Communist Policies,
3. On War with Japan,
4. $2,000,000 in Heads,
5. Red Theater,
1. Childhood,
2. Days in Changsha,
3. Prelude to Revolution,
4. The Nationalist Period,
5. The Soviet Movement,
6. Growth of the Red Army,
1. The Fifth Campaign,
2. A Nation Emigrates,
3. The Heroes of Tatu,
4. Across the Great Grasslands,
1. The Shensi Soviets: Beginnings,
2. Death and Taxes,
3. Soviet Society,
4. Anatomy of Money,
5. Life Begins at Fifty!,
1. Conversation with Red Peasants,
2. Soviet Industries,
3. "They Sing Too Much",
1. The "Real" Red Army,
2. Impression of P'eng Teh-huai,
3. Why Is a Red?,
4. Tactics of Partisan Warfare,
5. Life of the Red Warrior,
6. Session in Politics,
1. Hsu Hai-tung, the Red Potter,
2. Class War in China,
3. Four Great Horses,
4. Moslem and Marxist,
1. More About Horses,
2. "Little Red Devils",
3. United Front in Action,
4. Concerning Chu Teh,
1. Casuals of the Road,
2. Life in Pao An,
3. The Russian Influence,
4. Chinese Communism and the Comintern,
5. That Foreign Brain Trust,
6. Farewell to Red China,
1. A Preface to Mutiny,
2. The Generalissimo Is Arrested,
3. Chiang, Chang, and the Reds,
4. "Point Counter Point",
5. Auld Lang Syne?,
6. Red Horizons,
Epilogue, 1944,
Notes to the Revised Edition,
Further Interviews with Mao Tse-tung,
Biographical Notes,
Leadership in the Chinese Communist Party,

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Red Star over China: The Classic Account of the Birth of Chinese Communism 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the first accounts to come out on communism in China and it took place before the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) overthrew the GMD (the Nationalist Party). Snow's book is easy enough to read and is very descriptive. Although, Snow's view is biased (the book reeks with his opinions on communism) it is an enlightening book on his travels throughout China in Red territory and his interview with Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong). It is a fascinating account and, despite the biases, reveals a lot about the communists during this time. Snow is very descriptive¿almost too descriptive¿ but is a very clear writer. When you read this book you have to take into account that it is written by a biased viewer and critique it that way. You will be looking at the heart of the CCP through the eyes of another, who has their own opinions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago