By Rev. Michael O'Neill
The Other Side of the River, by Edgar Snow (Gollancz 63s.).
vEW people are as well equipped to write about China as ,Edgar Snow. He
lived in China before the Communist revolution and he speaks Chinese. He was the first outsider to penetrate to the guerrilla areas controlled by Mao Tse-tung in -1936. Although not himself a Communist, his sympathetic and
idealistic account of what he saw there, Red Star' Over China, became a powerful propaganda tract for Chinese Communism both in China itself and outside.
His new book, based largely on a recent visit to China. contains much first-rate reporting, is argued with sincerity and fervour and in places is salted with wisdom. It is also an extremely prejudiced book.
In the great American debate ("Why We Lost China") Snow has evidently not emerged unscathed. He carries a large chip on his shoulder. "I know you won't like this but it sives me great pleasure to tell you is his recurring message. Scarcely the most adroit manner in which to woo adult readers throughout 800 pager; and at three guineas a copy.
He presents the Chinese case, the cold war seen through Chinese eyes, and adds to it his own vigorous and at times effective assault on Western and particularly American policy in Asia. He questions the Western image of China, its communes, its food shortages, us labour-reform camps and all the rest.
Like other visitors to China he lays great emphasis on how Mao Tse-tung has harnessed Chinese patriotism to the needs of the Communist revolution. Snow reminds us that 41 per cent of all Chinese are ,under the age of 17, have known no other China but Mao's and are enthusiastically behind the regime.
In the wider context of world politics he makes some observations well worth our meditation.
"Power politics and nationalism (arc) cloaked in the deadly cliches of the cold war."
"If Korea became a Communist state hut opposed both China and Russia the United States might support it for the same reason it supports Yugoslavia.
" All political power 'grows out of the barrel of a gun observed
Mao Tse-tung. a philosophy with which existing nuclear powers obviously agree."
Even the Russians are not spared. In Chinese eyes Khrushchev is "a rich peasant riding an H-bomb." Snow's prejudice, it should be noted. is in favour of' the Chinese, a people whom he loves and admires. Unfortunately some of his partisanship spills over if not in favour of at least in explaining away the excesses of Communism. The asperity with which he criticises Diem's dictatorship in South Vietnam is singularly lacking in his evaluation of Mao's in China or of Mao's ally. Ho Chi Minh. in North Vietnam.
This selectivity of fact, this reluctance to present the other side
of the argument, is nowhere more noticeable than in his dealing with the Church in China. Snow makes some valid points against the missionary Church its links with past imperialist aggression, the numerical predominance of foreign bishops, its Western orientation so offensive to Chinese nationalism. But he adds to the litany of complaints some unpardonable misstatements of his own.
Thus, the Legion of Mary in China was "an anti-Communist youth organisation" and by implication necessarily linked with "sabotage and espionage" against the regime. Archbishop Yu Pin, who was a member of Chiang Kaishek's Kuomintang Party, is, according to Snow, "now a Cardinal". Another Vatican "provoca tion" against the People's Government?
Coloured He quotes a highly coloured version of Pope Pius Xll's 1958 Encyclical given by a Chinese priest, in which the Pope is alleged to have called for a counter-revolution and the return of Chiang Kai-shek. Snow's rather lame comment to the priest is: "1 am not familiar with the Letter you mention." Why not?
Nor is one's sense of grievance assuaged by the author s assurance that his report of the official Communist attitude is given "without prejudice to other facts with which the Vatican doubtless would contradict it." Surely the objective reporter should make it his businness to investigate and record all the facts, even to the reading of a Papal encyclical.
To repeat, this is a partisan account. If you have not read any other book on Communist China this is not the one to start with. If you have read some of the others, you could with profit read this one too.