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Edgar Snow’s Alterations

In response to:

Portrait of a Monster from the November 3, 2005 issue

To the Editors:

In his revealing review of Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story [NYR, November 3, 2005], Jonathan Spence shows how credulous Edgar Snow was in his Red Star Over China. But he was more than credulous. In The Soviet World of American Communism (Yale University Press, 1998), Harvey Klehr et al. make use of Soviet documents to show that Snow altered his book to please Moscow.

The Soviets didn’t like a few passages in the first edition of the book, which they regarded, a document of 1938 shows, as “vicious Trotskyist propaganda.” Another document, also dated 1938, states, “Snow connected with the Party and pleaded to have the ‘ban’ lifted…. Snow declared to the CPUSA that he would destroy the entire third part of the book and rewrite it to the satisfaction of the CPUSA for future editions.” He wrote to Party Secretary Earl Browder that he had excised “sentences which I thought might be offensive to the party.” Random House complied. On Moscow’s orders, left-wing reviewers who had condemned the first edition now praised the second. It was distributed to Party-controlled bookshops and unions, and through the unions to soldiers. Years later students of Chinese history like myself learned about Mao from this book. We didn’t compare editions.

The changes in the second edition are in their way even more shaming than the distorting account of China Snow wrote after he returned to Peking in the 1960s and 1970s to renew his relationship with Mao.

Jonathan Mirsky

London, England

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