Edgar Snow and Reimagining China

Mao, Maoist China, and China in general during the course of the revolution is often conceived in internal terms – Chinese events impacting only Chinese people, with no real interaction with the external. If foreign entities are said to play a part at all, it is either as an amorphous states that have their set agendas reacted to by the Chinese – such as the invasion of the Japanese Empire – or as foreign observers, presented as viewing and interacting with China as one views and interacts with animals at a Zoo – detached, and almost as a voyeur of sorts.

This is of course, a deeply flawed picture – China in this period was not an island – and the foreign individuals in China at the time were more than observers. Julia Lovell’s Maoism: A Global History, while discussing the international impacts and discourse surrounding Maoism, discusses the case of Edgar Snow. Well known for his journalistic work on the CCP and Mao in Red Star Over China, Julia Lovell does more than just using his experiences in China to discuss the CCP and Mao, but also explores western reactions to communism in China, and Mao through the story of Julia Lovell.  Describing Snow as ‘the first main character in this global history of Maoism’, Lovell first describes the initial reviews for Snow’s book1.  Red Star Over China was a best seller received with glowing praise, presenting Mao and his CCP as both larger than life, but deeply human – one particular striking example of it’s impact described by Lovell is that of an American State Department official so entranced by Snow’s picture of Mao that he leaked KMT military plans to the CCP2.

Discussing it’s longer term impact, Lovell points out how influential the book was in creating discourse and images of China abroad – from being read by revolutionaries the world over, to earning Snow the ear of the then President Roosevelt, to becoming an important text in academic circles3. Lovell’s conclusion, that Red Star Over China is a ‘powerful emblem of the international Mao cult’ is agreeable, but Lovell perhaps even understates it’s impact – in the middle of a period in the west where Communism was viewed with at best suspicion, and visions of China was dominated by orientalist conceptions and stereotypes, Red Star Over China monumentally contributed the international reimagining of China4.

– Lovell, Julia. “The Red Star – Revolution by the Book.” In Maoism: A Global History, 60–87. London: The Bodley Head, 2019.

  1. Lovell, Julia. “The Red Star – Revolution by the Book.” In Maoism: A Global History, 60–87. London: The Bodley Head, 2019, PG61-62. []
  2. Lovell, Julia. “The Red Star – Revolution by the Book.”, PG61-62. []
  3. Lovell, Julia. “The Red Star – Revolution by the Book.”, PG82-83. []
  4. Ibid, PG87. []