Agnes Smedley and China’s Red Army

Problems 26 – Smedley: an American Woman Who Loved China’s Red Army

By Gwydion M. Williams

Available as a printed magazine.  Only this sample available on-line.  To subscribe or order a copy, see the Athol Books website.

  • How Agnes Smedley found a life’s purpose in China
  • Her connection with super-spy Richard Sorge
  • Her account of the little-known Red Areas in South China
  • The surprising neglect of her work by later writers
  • How she told a genuinely unknown and potentially damaging story about Mao
  • The cowboy scholarship of ‘Wild Swan’ Chang and ‘Doc’ Halliday.
  • Her account of the ‘A.B. Group’, an early split within the Red Army
  • The Chinese Social Democrats’ efforts to created a functional Third Force

Agnes Smedley was a pioneering US feminist.  She’s best known for a semi-autobiographical novel Daughter of Earth.  This made her famous, became obscure for a time but was revived by modern Feminists.  But her writings on China are unjustly neglected.  Ignored even when she has detailed accounts of Chinese Communism not available from any other source.  When Smedley is mentioned at all, it is only in connection to her visit to the Red Capital of Yenan, where she was one of many visitors.

Smedley wrote Daughter of Earth in the late 1920s, while part of the Broad Left in pre-Hitler Germany.  She wanted to move on to India, but was not allowed in by the British – they knew of her earlier involvement with Indian Nationalists who had sought German support during World War One.  Instead she got Comintern help to go to China, where she would have some safety as a US citizen.  The Comintern also must have vouched for her with the underground Chinese Communist Party, then centred on Shanghai.

Working in Shanghai as a journalists, she wrote some fascinating accounts of the early Red Areas established by Mao and Zhu De.  She was never able to visit them, but knew more about them than anyone other foreigner who could speak freely.  (Some of the Comintern agents did write books, but were obviously obliged to keep the Soviet line.)