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A time of heroism

By Yang Yang | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-10-28 07:36

Head of the National Library of China Rao Quan (right) presents a donation certificate to Liu Liqun, director at the 5S Plus Institute of the China Research Association of International Reportage, who donated a collection of inscribed books and other material by five renowned US journalists and writers. CHINA DAILY

They were journalists and writers from the United States. They wrote their names in history and shared two traits. Their writing on the country was greatly admired and their five surnames began with the letter S.

Consequently, Liu Liqun, the director of a research association, had little difficulty in naming this new body. Liu is director at the 5S Plus Institute of the China Research Association of International Reportage. He recently donated his and his friends' collection of inscribed books, letters and other paraphernalia regarding the five US journalists and writers, all with surnames that started with the same consonant: Edgar Snow, Agnes Smedley, Anna Louise Strong, Helen Snow and Harrison Salisbury, to the National Library of China in Beijing.

"They are friends of the Chinese people," Liu said at the donation ceremony held at the national library on Oct 15. "Their news reporting and nonfiction writing are closely related to China's liberation in the first half of the 20th century, and thus have great value in the study of the modern history of China, the history of the Communist Party of China and Sino-US history."

Liu, now 73, began to study journalism at the graduate school of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in 1978. He focused his study on Edgar Snow, the US journalist and author of Red Star Over China, which was based on his months of interviews in the northwest of the country which began in June 1936.

In the 1980s, as Liu's understanding of Edgar and his wife Helen Snow increased, he started collecting letters, photos, commemorative stamps and inscribed books related to the couple.

In the last decade, he has collected the first editions of all 11 English works by Edgar Snow and more than 10 books inscribed by him via kongfz.com, a Chinese customer-to-customer online platform for used books, and Amazon and Abebooks.

"Among all of the inscribed books, three are particularly interesting," Liu says.

In 2010, Liu bought a copy of a 1937 first edition of Red Star Over China on kongfz.com. On the flyleaf, he found Snow's inscription: "For George Hodgkinson, With best wishes & grateful thanks for preserving this book, but much more for a busy & interesting trip through Coventry. Edgar Snow, 1947."

Liu searched "George Hodgkinson" online and found the mayor of Coventry, a city in Britain that was heavily bombed by the Germans during World War II. After the war, he was involved in the reconstruction of the city. This dovetails with the timeline of 1947 in Edgar Snow's inscription.

He then found a book titled Sent to Coventry by Hodgkinson published in 1970. The book was later brought back to Beijing in May 2013 from Britain. The book turned out to be Hodgkinson's autobiography.

On Page 119, Liu found his comment on Red Star Over China and mention of Snow's visit to Coventry: "None of the publications covering the host of volumes I read impressed me more than Red Star Over China by Edgar Snow. On a visit to Coventry I had the pleasure of showing him round the town in 1947 and he wrote in the flyleaf of my copy."

Snow's vivid recording of the Long March by the Red Army in Red Star Over China deeply touched Hodgkinson.

Hodgkinson wrote in his book: "The epic story he wrote about the 'Long march' of the Red Army is fascinating and almost unbelievable. For an army to keep intact, averaging 24 miles (39 kilometers) each day in a march of 5,000 miles is amazing. The route crossed 18 mountain ranges, five of which are perennially snow-capped, and involved the crossing of 24 rivers-an extraordinary physical performance. This is the human material from which the new China is being made, and this kind of reading conditioned my thinking and shaped my behavior in later years.

"The grit, the guts, and the vitality of the Chinese people shown on the 'Long march' makes them a welcome friend and formidable foe, who ought not to be kept waiting on the doorstep of the United Nations."

Liu says: "You can see after reading the book, Hodgkinson's comment on the Long March and the new China is very positive."

Around the same time, Liu spent 25,000 yuan (current value $3,730) purchasing The Battle for Asia inscribed by Edgar Snow for Ida Pruitt, the executive secretary of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, or Kung Ho, an international organization founded in 1938 that raised funds for cooperative factories in the countryside to support China's industry during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45). Edgar Snow was also one of its initiators.

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