Report from the China Sea

Since the Communist victory in 1949 there has been very little contact between Americans and Chinese. Although a tiny community of aging Americans continues to live in Peking, no American, except for Edgar Snow, has traveled widely in the People’s Republic and written about it. Peking and Washington are both responsible for keeping almost a billion people apart—the Chinese by turning down all American offers to visit (although other foreigners are allowed), the Americans chiefly by maintaining their occupation of Taiwan, thereby making plain to the Chinese that friendly contact remains low on Washington’s list of priorities.

Hoping to try to break this impasse, on June 11 I and five other Americans set sail in the ketch Phoenix bound from Nagasaki for Shanghai. In a press release we described the voyage as one of “friendship and goodwill. This is an individual effort, a person-to-person venture…not supported by any single organization or group.”

The skipper and owner of the Phoenix is a fifty-eight-year-old physical anthropologist, Earle Reynolds, who has been living in Japan for eighteen years. In addition to sailing around the world, he has taken his boat into both the American and Russian atomic drop zones to protest nuclear testing. An authority on the effects of radiation—he first came to Japan for the AEC twenty years ago—he was detained by the Russians and arrested by the Americans. Reynolds is a hero to many Japanese. His reputation grew after he sailed the Phoenix to North Vietnam in 1966 with a load of medicines. But doubtless because of Tokyo’s ties with Washington and Taipei, official reaction was hostile to Reynold’s announcement of his plan to visit China. Last year when he and his Japanese wife attempted a voyage to Shanghai they were apprehended on the high seas by the Japanese Coast Guard and indicted for violating immigration procedures. This year all six of us were detained upon our return by the Japanese authorities and ten days later Reynolds and two others were still confined to the Phoenix and to the area around Nagasaki.

The rest of the crew included Brian Victoria, an American Buddhist priest who has been in Japan for nine years; Rodger Scott, who teaches English in Tokyo; Michael Stafford, a student of Japanese at the University of California, whose brother was recently killed in Vietnam; Sharon Willoughby, from the Quaker study center at Pendle Hill; and me, whose main qualification was an ability to speak Chinese.

Reynolds began preparations for this voyage of the Phoenix more than a year ago, sending letters to Peking, contacting friends of the Chinese in Japan, and refitting and stocking the boat. When we set off we carried with us two large red flags from the Chinese Students Association of Japan, which we intended to present to the Chinese in Shanghai.

Four days out of Nagasaki and seventeen miles from China we were intercepted by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel. After five days of discussion and entreaties we finally got the point: no…

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