John Gittings

Agnes Smedley and the Manchester Guardian
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The Black Hole of Bali

Please contact me if you wish to see this article which is still in draft form.

[Born in Missouri in 1892, Agnes Smedley was a free-thinking socialist writer whose books on the Chinese revolution have become classics. She first went to China in 1928 as special correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung . She visited the communist areas and wrote China’s Red Army Marches (1934) and China Fights Back (1938). Unlike most Western journalists in China, she spent long periods in the field and behind enemy lines, enduring great hardships which damaged her health. After the outbreak of all-out war with Japan in 1937, she campaigned for medical aid to China, contributing to journals in the US and the foreign press in Shanghai.

From 1938 to 1940 she wrote a series of special articles for the Manchester Guardian , spending most of this time with Chinese Nationalist and Communist forces in central China. Her reports from the guerrilla areas provide vivid material which is unavailable from any other source: her experiences would also form an important section of her next book Battle Hymn of China (1943). Forced by ill-health to return to the US, she sought after Mao Zedong’s victory in 1949 to return to China, but died in England in 1950 while waiting for a visa. Her ashes were buried in Beijing.

The archives of the Manchester Guardian at the John Rylands Library, Manchester, contain a file of correspondence between Smedley and the then editor, W P Crozier which has not previously been examined by biographers. It provides interesting insight into Smedley’s character as a professional journalist rather than in the polemical role for which she is better known. It also illustrates some of the problems of long-distance communication and conflicting editorial priorities which were particularly acute in the war conditions under which she worked.]