For Smedley, the period from 1945 to 1948 was relatively calm and productive. Most of her time was spent in upstate New York at Yaddo, where she stayed on at the personal invitation of its director, Elizabeth Ames, and managed to finish writing the first draft of her biography of Marshal Zhu De. Her concentration seemed curiously aided by the growing Cold War atmosphere, civil war in China, and increasing attacks on her for her open support of the Chinese Communists. By 1946 she had become too controversial to be booked on the popular lecture circuit as she had been during 1944 and the spring of 1945. She continued to accept frequent public speaking engagements, but with the exception of one quick trip to Chicago, her appearances were confined to the Boston, New York, Albany-Schenectady axis and were often made before sympathetic left-of-center audiences. Her radio broadcasts also became fewer in number.
In the years 1946 through 1948 the F.B.I.'s interest in Smedley grew, but the intensity of its investigation fluctuated in response to outside political pressures from the right. In January of 1946, the bureau reported that it was investigating Smedley's old friend Mary Knoblauch in New York City. A field agent noted in frustration that Smedley had no phone at Yaddo and that he had been »advised that the subject had very few visitors«. About the same time, however, army intelligence sent the bureau's Albany office a report on a Smedley lecture at the Old South Meeting House in Boston. In the course of the lecture Smedley had denied that she was a Communist, and this provoked an investigation into her background by the F.B.I.'s Boston bureau office. In their report, the Boston agents wrote that Smedley had been called a Communist in Elizabeth Dilling's book, Red Network. They noted that Battle Hymn of China had been offered by the Book Find Club, which, »according to information available locally,« was »a Communist Book of the Month Club«. They also pointed out that Battle Hymn had been favorably reviewed by Mark Gayn, who had been arrested the previous June as one of the six principals in the Amerasia espionage case.*
(* On the Amerasia case see Chapter 18, note 23. The F.B.I, report neglected to say that Gayn was never indicted and charges against him were dropped by August, 1945.)
The report ended with a melodramatic warning that »the subject was reported to at all times carry a sidearm of heavy calibre«.
On May 31, 1946, the F.B.I.'s New York bureau had »ascertained that the book entitled Daughter of Earth by Agnes Medley [sic], 1931 edition [sic] was out of publication—no copy available«. From this point on, the name Medley was listed in the F.B.I, files as one of Smedley's »aliases«. On June 2, Albany agents tried round-the-clock physical surveillance for the first time, following Smedley from Yaddo to New York City. From the time she left until midnight on June 7, agents tailed Smedley and three Skidmore students with whom she had come to New York to attend a performance of Oklahoma! After tracking all four women for five days, the agents reported no suspicious behavior or contacts with possible espionage figures. Smedley had spent most of her time with Mary Knoblauch, whom the reporting agent described as »seventy years of age and childless, brilliant mind, quite hard of hearing, and slowly dying from a 'cause' with which the informant was not familiar«. After this experience, the Albany bureau decided that future coverage of Smedley's activities could be handled through »spot checks«.
But in mid-July of 1946, F.B.I, headquarters in Washington put Smedley on its special Security Watch List. This was a list of suspected Soviet agents or spies, who were candidates for »custodial detention« if »their presence at liberty in this country in time of war or national emergency would be dangerous to the public peace and safety of the U.S. government«. Smedley's Security Watch Index card was captioned simply »Smedley, Agnes: Native Born Communist«. Noted below were various aliases, including Brundin, her married name, and biographical data since 1944.
This sudden upgrading of Smedley's case was not the result of any new information. It reflected the rising Cold War tensions in Washington: in the spring and summer of 1946, J. Edgar Hoover launched a concerted propaganda campaign against an alleged internal Communist conspiracy, and in the process Smedley and many other leftists in the public eye were elevated to Security Watch Index status.
From the beginning, the aim of the Smedley investigation had been simple: find concrete evidence of her membership in the American Communist Party and her connections to the Soviet Union. The assumption behind this effort was likewise dazzling in its simplicity: if Smedley could be sympathetic to the Chinese Communists, she must be either a member of a Communist Party or a Soviet agent, or both.
In fact, of course, Smedley's independence from the American Communist Party was a matter of record. In 1937 the Daily Worker announced twice that she was not a party member. She was friendly with certain individual Communists, like Anna Louise Strong, but she had always kept her distance from the American Party itself. She was on particularly bad terms with the party leaders—most notably, Earl Browder, but also Grace and Manny Granich, with whom she had fought in Shanghai. In Battle Hymn she had gone out of her way to criticize the American Communist party. And in private and in public, she had repeatedly denied being a party member.
At this point the F.B.I, had no concrete evidence that Smedley was a Soviet agent—indeed, none existed. Despite this, the F.B.I, was convinced of her guilt, because she had not publicly and categorically denounced the Soviet Union. In fact, her attitude toward the Soviet Union in 1946 was complex. Smedley's independence from Moscow was a matter of record. Stalinism repulsed her, especially after she learned of the disappearance in 1938 and death in 1940 of Chattopadhyaya. When Anna Louise Strong, still a party member, visited Smedley at Yaddo on her way to Moscow in 1946, Elizabeth Ames's secretary reported to the F.B.I, that the two women had »bitter arguments relating to Communism, Stalinism, and Marxism«. On the other hand, the Cold War atmosphere, the atomic bomb, and her angry debates with Powell, Judd, and others had driven Smedley to the despairing conclusion that another World War was inevitable. Thus in April of 1945, when the Soviet Red Army became the first of the Allied armies to reach Berlin, she wrote Karin Michaelis:
It is a satisfaction to know that the Red Army took Berlin. It was of the utmost importance... that the Russians give the warning to all Fascists throughout the world of what will happen to anyone who tries to emulate Hitler. May they take warning—though I do not think they will. This is not the last war. So long as the capitalist system exists, it will try to smash any cooperative country that dares lift its head. We have so many American Fascists who would much rather have joined with the Nazis against the U.S.S.R. They will bide their time—and they will engineer another world war. You and I will not be on this earth by that time, but I am convinced that that will be the last world war and that a socialist system of society will thereafter rule the earth. I do not think that ruling classes learn anything from history.
This next world war, Smedley believed, would be fought for control of newly liberated colonial countries, whose only protector among the great powers was the Soviet Union. Because of its role as protector, then, the Soviet Union should not be attacked. And in the 1940s Smedley had come to feel that the United States had replaced Great Britain as the major enemy to legitimate national aspirations around the globe, particularly in China.
Smedley's lifelong involvement with radical Indian and Chinese nationalists led her to an early appreciation of what today is recognized as national communism, or the phenomenon of Communist parties rising to power on the crest of nationalist forces. By the 1940s Smedley saw it as natural and appropriate that the nationalist, anti-imperialist aspirations of a people should play the leading role in creating a socialist state and defining its foreign policy. Soviet Russian models no longer interested her, as they had briefly in the early 1930s. This is evident from her concern about Yugoslavia, as well as China and India. But although she didn't want to attack Moscow, the potential protector of new socialist nations, she was afraid Moscow might not fulfill that role; she was concerned above all with the fate of the poor and oppressed in China, and the 1945 treaty with Chiang didn't look promising to her. Thus she was guarded in her reaction to the Sino-Soviet Treaty between Stalin and Chiang Kai-shek's Guomindang government signed in August of 1945. In public, the Communists in Yan'an had felt obliged to endorse the agreement; and in order to avoid further isolation from the Great Powers, they had begun negotiating directly for a political settlement and a coalition government with Chiang Kai-shek in Chongqing. But privately, the Chinese Communist leadership was surprised and angered. Smedley must have sensed this from discussion with Dong Biwu when he visited Yaddo, as well as with other Chinese friends on the left.
In an article for a compendium of diverse views on China published by the United Nations in the winter of 1945—46, she stated that the Chinese Communists would continue their efforts without Soviet support:
On August 14, 1945, a Sino-Soviet treaty of alliance was signed in Moscow in an effort to prevent another world war. Conservative sections of the American press proclaimed that the treaty had »knocked the props out from under the Chinese Communists«. One might ask, what props? For years Moscow had recognized and dealt with only the Guomindang Nationalist government. The only »props« on which Chinese Communists could depend were the Chinese people, whose interests they represented. Since the needs of the people had not changed, the Communist and guerrilla armies did not evaporate when the Sino-Soviet treaty was signed.*
(* Smedley's thirty-three-page article, entitled »Social Revolution,« appeared in China (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1946), edited by H. F. MacNair of the University of Chicago. (Until the mid-1950s, this book was widely used in college survey courses on Chinese history, culture, and thought.) Throughout her piece, Smedley stressed the importance of national communism and argued that the Communists were seen at the grassroots as a more democratic alternative to Chiang Kai-shek's government. Although she questioned the impartiality of America's China policy after Stilwell's dismissal, Smedley concluded her article by expressing hope that the Marshall peace mediation mission, then in its initial stages, would succeed.)
Smedley's radio confrontation with Powell and Judd in August had foreshadowed a larger public debate over China policy that unfolded during the fall of 1945. Hearings on China in both the House and the Senate were climaxed by the appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of Ambassador Patrick Hurley, who charged that the foreign service officers under him were anti-Chiang and obstructive. Taken as a whole, these hearings and the public airing of views on China policy that went with them represented the first national debate on the subject. The results were inconclusive; support for Chiang Kai-shek remained ambiguous, neither increased nor reduced. In a sense, the Truman administration cut off the debate by dispatching World War II hero General George Marshall to China in December, 1945, on a special peacemaking mission which was to last until January, 1947. It was the failure of the Marshall mission to create a coalition government and prevent civil war, coupled with Chiang Kai-shek's losses on the battlefield in 1947 and 1948, that turned China policy into a major domestic political issue and produced the venomous debates in 1949 over »who lost China«.
In this controversy, many American scholars and journalists with expert knowledge of China sided neither with the Guomindang nor with the Communists. Their sympathies lay with a group of Chinese intellectuals, many of whom they knew personally, who had organized a new party, the Democratic League. China experts like John K. Fairbank of Harvard or the journalist T. H. White hoped that somehow these liberal democrats might emerge to lead a coalition government in Nanjing. Indeed, it was Chiang's systematic persecution of them between 1944 and 1946 that made Fairbank and White lose faith in the Guomindang government. Their cause celebre came in 1946, when Professor Wen Yiduo, a nationally famous poet and literature professor, was gunned down in the streets of Kunming, and Yang Chao, a prominent journalist who worked closely with Western newsmen, was arrested and executed. Smedley helped to organize the protest petitions that promptly appeared in the New York Times. To her, the situation in China in 1946 reminded her of Shanghai in 1933, when the civil rights leader Yang Jie was murdered and Lu Xun launched his bitter attacks on the Guomindang government. The time had come, she thought, for liberals like Fairbank and White to choose between the Communists and the Guomindang. In her view, the Democratic League had no hope of success: its independent intellectuals, many of whom were her friends as well, simply had no military or mass support.
Throughout the period between 1945 and 1948, with its maze of negotiations and intensifying civil war, Smedley depicted the Communists as the popular choice of the Chinese people. She publicly denounced the presence of U.S. Marines and naval forces in northern China coastal ports and their active defense of Chiang Kai-shek's interests against the Communist-led guerrillas in the surrounding countryside. On January 15,1947, shortly after the failure of the Marshall mission, she wrote her friend Anna Wang in China about a confrontation she had had in Boston with Harvard professor Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., over the activities of the U.S. Marines.
In Boston I had a fierce and ugly fight with Arthur Schlesinger, an Associate Professor at Harvard and author of the new book The Age of Jackson, who told me with fierce anger:
»You whitewash everything the Chinese Communists do—such as the attack on the American Marines at Anping. They lied about that incident, yet you whitewash them«.
My viewpoint is this: the American Marines had no right to be at Anping or at any other place in China. ... If we had peaceful motives in China, we had no right to be transporting ammunition. If foreign troops were on the soil of the United States, I also would ambush them and kill as many as possible.
Schlesinger said: »The Communists denied attacking. They lied. There is such a thing as truth«.
I replied: »You are taking a small truth and putting it above the major truth, which was that the Marines had no right to be there; that Chinese soil belongs to the Chinese people; and that we were there supporting a Fascist regime. The guerrillas had as much right to ambush that convoy as the French underground had to ambush German Nazis in France«.
He said: »The Communists lied«.
I said: »Marshall has lied, by commission and by omission. When he blames the Communists for the anti-American feeling in China, he lies. Anti-American feeling is nation-wide, affecting all classes of the Chinese people. There would be none if we did not arm and finance the enemies of the Chinese people«.
Both [Schlesinger] and others in my audiences have spoken of the »totalitarian« goal of the Chinese Communists, but 1 have declared that they have not been afraid to arm the people, or to place democratic power in their hands. Then I have said time without number that our government is not opposed to totalitarianism, because we recognize, arm, and support it in China when we recognize and support the Guomindang and Chiang Kai-shek.
In my lectures I am stating also that a few weak liberals cannot establish a democratic government in China, and that Chiang has not the slightest intention of permitting a democratic government to be formed. He makes a few statements directed at ill-informed Americans, playing for American loans.
So far, I have been surprised to find that the public does not swallow Marshall's report without question. They are, above all, afraid of military men in such a key position[s].... One man said if Roosevelt were alive, he might have such a man as Secretary of State without danger, because Roosevelt was stronger than such a man. But President Truman is so weak and so mediocre that Marshall will be master of the government—which means that our War Department will direct our foreign policy. Furthermore, even our Congress is much more reactionary than General Marshall, and its leaders have already announced their intention of insisting on a Chinese government without the Chinese Communists. Marshall will soon be called before the most powerful government body, the Senate Foreign Policy Committee, to testify. So I expect Marshall to bend before the reaction. That reaction is furthermore backed by great newspaper monopolies like Henry Luce's publications [and the] Scripps -Howard and Hearst combines.
As an old-fashioned advocate journalist, Smedley saw the American media as a sophisticated instrument of propaganda. In her view, the battle for control of the press and radio was being won in the mid-1940s by the political right. She continued in her letter to Anna Wang:
Henry Wallace [F.D.R.'s Vice President, 1941-45] and such men are fighting the reaction, but we are weak, financially, and our public organs cannot even attempt to compete with the great newspaper monopolies.
So far as I can see, nothing can offset the reactionary policy of our government toward China except the mass movement of the Chinese people. I hope the Communists and the democrats will entertain no illusions about this country or our policy. Our progressives will continue to fight as best we can, but we cannot really make any impression on [U.S.] policy toward China. The student movement threw a scare into our reactionary circles, and it is unfortunate that it has died down. I wish the [Chinese] Communists had someone with them who is conversant with American conditions and reactionary propaganda. For instance, Marshall accuses the Communists of [obstructing road and railway routes between Guomindang and Communist areas]. The Communists should put out releases charging that [these routes] are merely used to transport Guomindang armies for civil war [purposes] and that the actions of the Communists differ in no way from that of the French underground resistance against the Nazis and the government of Petain in France during the war.
Above all it is important to have such men as General Yang Jie [Guomindang general] make public statements [against U.S. involvement]. Otherwise Marshall will give the impression to the U.S.A. that only the Communists are anti-American.
We are in for a hard and bitter era in this country. Some people may take comfort in the coming depression, but that depression is the great danger, for when it comes, American men will enter the Army, Navy, and Air Force to earn a living. The capitalist class always solves its problems by war; and the danger is that with the coming depression we will have the dreaded Third World War. Even now many, many men have remained in the armed services or have rejoined, because they are afraid of unemployment in the future. My own nephew has done that. So the problem sits right on my own doorstep. My nephew lives on the West Coast, and a few letters from me can never offset the daily, hour-by-hour propaganda pounded into his head by the Army. He is typically American—-politically ignorant. He does not even read my books, let alone others.
Teddy White's new book [Thunder out of China] has had a great influence on the country, but while a million people may read it, 12 million read such a weekly magazine as the Saturday Evening Post, while others have circulations of 3 to 15 million. Everyone today with even liberal ideas is being called a »fellow traveler« of the Communists, if not an outright »Red«. Our people swallow the most amazingly superficial propaganda. I sometimes think that Madame Sun Yat-sen might have a very good influence on this country if she came for a lecture tour. But she would have to become tough to endure the slanderous campaign against her by the reactionary Chinese and Americans. Yet this country is the center of power, and what it does will be decisive. Only the mass power of the Chinese people is capable of disrupting its machinations. I sometimes grow sick with the very thought of the suffering the Chinese people must endure to offset the reaction of my own country. I want to come back to China, and as soon as my new book is finished, I shall come by some means.
Later, in a lecture in Chicago entitled »The Struggle for Democracy in China,« Smedley tackled the charge that the Chinese Communists were »totalitarian«. She described the occasion to Anna Wang on February 5:
The audience was tremendously enthusiastic. I was amazed with their response. There was only one hostile question—from a very finely dressed man student, who reminded me that Marshall says the Chinese Communists may advocate democracy today but they have a totalitarian Marxist goal. That is the one reactionary cry in this country today, and it is very important.... Speaking to the young man who asked the question, I asked:
"Have you ever studied Marxism?"
"No,« he said.
"Neither have I, very much,« I replied. »I am an American in that, I fear; and it is a weakness. For the majority of people [in the world] today are inspired by Marxist principles. I have read here and there, from the works of Marx and those that came after him. But not thoroughly. From what I have read, however, I have learned that human societies take on the coloring of their background—from the history and culture of specific countries. Chinese Communists are Chinese, rooted in the soil of their country. They have used Marxism as a method of understanding their history and culture. They indeed aim at a socialist system of society, but this does not mean that they will follow Soviet Russia, or America, or any other country. All they think and do is, and will be, influenced by their own history, culture, and needs. If they are forced, by a combination of Chinese and American reactionaries, to create a totalitarian system that denies civil rights to people, that will not be their fault. They may be forced to fight for their lives and the lives of their people, against all opposition. But from what I know of them, they would prefer it otherwise. They have believed in the power of persuasion. They have believed that they could convince even landlords to advance with them toward more progressive forms of government. During the war I saw them in action. I was often more »leftist« than they, for I could not believe that feudal landlords would surrender their stranglehold on the peasants without violence.
When we Americans say we fear totalitarianism, I question them because, if we feared totalitarianism, we would not support the totalitarian regime of Chiang Kai-shek. Yet we [have] supported that regime for the past twenty years, and we [have done] the same with Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. We found nothing wrong with them, though they violated every aspect of democracy, denied civil rights to the people, and ruled by totalitarian violence. It is dishonest for our government to speak of totalitarianism of the Chinese Communists in some distant future while supporting Guomindang totalitarianism today«
Applause shook the building.
Yet, as I spoke, a woman sat in the front row and took down every word I said in shorthand. Later she asked me to lunch with her, and said she was from the Military Intelligence Service (54th Army Command). I had another engagement and did not lunch with her, which was too bad indeed. I should have gone.
How long it will be before I land in some concentration camp, I do not know. Our Congress is just like the beginnings of Nazism.
I was also booked for a 15-minute broadcast in Chicago. The sponsor which puts on the program is a big department store. I sent in my script, as is required, and they... cancelled the broadcast because they said it was »controversial« and critical of General Marshall's statement. Two weeks before they had had Dr. Walter Judd on the same program, and he had advocated an all-out American support of the Chiang Kai-shek regime.
In the spring of 1947, as Cold War tensions increased in Europe, particularly in Greece, Smedley saw rightist conspiracies everywhere. A mirror image to her reaction was occurring on the right in American politics. In 1946 Smedley's former friend J. B. Powell had joined forces with polemicist Alfred Kohlberg to form the American China Policy Association, with Powell as its first president. Behind it coalesced the increasingly influential »China Lobby« of journalists and politicians, led by Henry and Claire Boothe Luce, who advocated increased U.S. aid for Chiang Kai-shek and opposition to the Chinese Communists. In March of 1947 the National Industrial Conference Board, a business group associated with the China Lobby, issued the following statement, which was duly recorded by the F.B.I.: »The pro-Chinese Communist propaganda in this country has been so pervasive that it has made it almost impossible for the American people to get an objective picture of the situation. The books, articles, and speeches of such persons as Agnes Smedley and others, forever smearing the legal government of China as 'Fascist' and misrepresenting the Communist quislings as mere agrarian reformers, all have supported and strengthened the official policy of appeasement«.
In the meantime, the F.B.I, had continued to focus its investigation of Smedley on her alleged connection to the Soviet Union. A late 1946 classified study of »Underground Soviet Espionage Organizations (NKVD) in Agencies of the U.S«. said: »Agnes Smedley, for many years, has been an important fanatical Soviet propagandist and has made frequent trips to the Soviet Union and contiguous territory«. The trouble was that surveillance and mail censorship had still not produced any evidence of a direct Soviet connection or Communist Party membership. For the spring of 1947, the major entry in Smedley's file was a report that she was one of the signers of a letter sent to House Speaker Joseph Martin by the Civil Rights Congress protesting as a violation of the Bill of Rights the proposed Rankin Bill, which would fine and imprison schoolteachers if they »conveyed the impression of sympathy with Communist ideology«. Along with Smedley's were one hundred other names, including those of Archibald Cox, Elmer Benson (a former governor of Minnesota), Margaret Sanger, and Arthur Miller. In May of 1947 the Albany office of the F.B.I, announced that after watching Smedley for over three years they had found nothing illegal about her activities, and thus notified headquarters: »The Subject's name is being deleted from the Key Figure List of the Albany Division. In view of SAC Letter #44 dated April 17, 1947, it is not believed this subject warrants active investigation. It is requested that the Subject's name be removed from the Bureau's Key Figure List. This case is being closed in the Albany Office«.
During this period a network of Chinese friends living in New York gave Smedley their perspectives on conditions in China and on U.S. policy. Three of these friends were women: the actress Wang Yong, who helped Smedley with the play she was trying to write at Yaddo; Huang Shaoxiang, a student of American history who helped Smedley with translations; and the journalist Yang Gang. Not incidentally, all three were women of great accomplishment, and two of them later became victims of the Cultural Revolution.*
(* Huang Shaoxiang was interviewed by the authors in Beijing. In the 1950s she wrote what became the standard work on American history in China, Meiguo tongshi qian pian (Beijing, rev. ed. 1979). As a faculty member of Beijing University, she was criticized severely during the Cultural Revolution for her American past. By the late 1970s she was working in a new Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing as the dean of China's America historians. Wang Yong was arrested by U.S. immigration authorities in the early 1950s and finally deported, in part because of her association with Agnes Smedley. She then worked in Chinese theater during the 1950s and became increasingly critical of the overly stylized, ideologically restricted productions. She herself was first criticized in the anti-rightist campaign of 1957—ironically, for her relationships in America with figures like Pearl Buck. The attacks became vicious during the Cultural Revolution of the mid-1960s and Wang Yong died in prison. A memoir written in the 1950s about her life in America, Liangzbong Meiguo ren, was published posthumously in Beijing in 1980 and introduced apologetically by the great dramatist Xia Yan (Interviews with Wang Yong's husband, Xie Hegeng, and a friend, Frank Xu, as well as Xia Yan). Yang Gang rose in the 1950s to be vice-editor of the People's Daily and one of the most important journalists in China. She too was often impatient and outspoken about the traditionalism and slow pace of Chinese journalism. Her suicide in 1957 was apparently for personal reasons and not, as has often been alleged in the West, because she was under political attack as a rightist (for which there is no evidence). Sources on Yang Gang are cited in note 14.)
Yang Gang (1905-57) was the most experienced politically. In the mid-1930s she had participated in the student movement at Yenching University in Beijing and had joined the Chinese Communist Party shortly thereafter. She moved to Shanghai in 1937 to become literary editor of the influential Da Gong Bao. After the Japanese occupation, she followed the paper first to Hong Kong and then, in 1941, to Guilin. She had left her daughter behind in Hong Kong and lost track of her after the Japanese took the city. She came to the United States via India in 1945 on a Radcliffe fellowship to study literature and to write a series of columns for the liberal non-Communist press in China about life in the United States. These columns included descriptions of racial prejudice in the South and on the streets of New York as well as positive portraits of individual Americans like Agnes Smedley. To Smedley, Yang Gang was like many of the heroines she had known and written about in China. The two women apparently saw each other often in New York and Boston until Yang Gang's departure in 1948. The writings of the two women about conditions in the United States and China in the 1940s are strikingly similar in point of view.
One of the two most important senior figures in Smedley's circle of Chinese friends was Professor Chen Hansheng. Smedley had first met him in Shanghai in 1929, and it was he who introduced her to conditions in the Chinese countryside by taking her with him on an economic field survey outside the city of Wuxi in central China. In 1932, Smedley had hidden Chen and his wife, Susie Gu, from Guomindang police and smuggled them out of Shanghai in disguise, which, according to Chen, had saved their lives. When they arrived in New York in late 1945, Smedley had not seen them since 1941, in Hong Kong. Professor Chen remained in the United States until 1950, teaching and writing at Johns Hopkins, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Washington. He was also the designated representative of the Chinese Communist Party in the United States at the time. Although Chen traveled a great deal, he and Smedley kept in regular contact, and he and his wife visited Smedley at Yaddo on at least one occasion.
Smedley's other important Chinese friend at this time was the writer Lao She, who had established his reputation in China in the 1930s with works like Rickshaw Boy, based on neighborhood life in the old capital of Beijing where he had grown up. Although he became bitterly opposed to the Guomindang during World War II, when he was head of the Chinese Writers Association, he was not a Communist. He came to the United States in 1946 at the invitation of the State Department, a translation of Rickshaw Boy having been a bestseller and Book of the Month Club selection in 1945. He remained in the United States for three years, in part to avoid assassination or imprisonment at the hands of the Guomindang police, who in 1946 had murdered his close friend and fellow writer Wen Yiduo. It was in the United States that Lao She completed what many today consider his masterpiece, Four Generations under One Roof, the story of a Beijing neighborhood during the eight years of Japanese occupation. Lao She returned to Beijing in the fall of 1949, angry about U.S. support for Chiang Kai-shek and doubtless also disturbed by the attacks being made on his friend Agnes Smedley at the time of his departure.
Smedley and Lao She had met in China, probably first in 1938, in Hankou. Soon after he arrived in the United States in early 1946, they met again in New York and Smedley arranged with Mrs. Ames for him to come to Yaddo. Lao She lived in the Saratoga Springs area as Smedley's guest for about six weeks in August and September of 1946. For Smedley, his visit was invaluable to her work and a great boost to her spirits. They talked at length about patterns in modern Chinese history, the historical setting into which she was laboring to place Zhu De in her biography. Doubtless they also discussed the political situation in China; and it is quite conceivable that Smedley was a major source of Lao She's increasing disillusionment with U.S. policy toward China. By the time he left in 1949, his disgust extended to almost everything American, including films, ice cream, and Coca Cola. He allegedly committed suicide during the Cultural Revolution.*
(* In the 1950s Lao She was best known as a playwright and a prominent figure in the writers' union. During the Cultural Revolution, however, he came under heavy attack from Red Guards and was physically beaten. After such a beating in 1966 his death by drowning occurred: either his tormentors killed him or he committed suicide (the latter seems to be the view of most, but is not accepted by his widow, Hu Xieqing) (Interview with Hu Xieqing; see also Jonathan Spence, Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution, 1895-1980 [New York, 1981], pp. 389-94).)
During Lao She's visit to Yaddo, Smedley had been invited to speak to veterans' groups in Albany and Schenectady, New York. She took Lao She with her, and together they spoke on September 16 and October 15, 1946. The F.B.I, agent who was present noted that Smedley read letters from General Stilwell that were critical of the Guomindang government. In one letter, in reference to Chiang Kai-shek, Stilwell allegedly wrote that he did »not want to fight [along] with a skunk«. Smedley's version was more colorful:
Lao She went to town against American policy in China. To the question of a man who seemed to be a businessman in the audience—about Chinese attitudes toward American bankers and businessmen—Lao She said something like this: »We don't like you and we don't want you there. You support Chinese reactionaries and they support you. You have only one interest—to exploit the Chinese people«.
A young G.I. who had been in Kunming stood up and complained against the Chinese. The minute Japan surrendered, he said, their attitude towards Americans changed. He was traveling in a jeep in the country, he said, and he immediately saw their attitude—they asked him when Americans were going to get out of China. The young fellow thought that pretty mean of the Chinese.
Lao She answered that one by telling the young fellow that every egg in the province of Yunnan had to be delivered to the Americans during the war; [and that] farm animals were also taken and slaughtered.
The young fellow said: »We paid for them«.
»But the people had no eggs, no chickens, no meat at all,« Lao She said. »You can't eat American bank notes«.
»Oh,« exclaimed the young fellow, »you mean you're thinking of it from the view of the peasant?"
»Certainly,« said Lao She. »Even if you paid for it, our people had to do without food«.
One fellow [recently returned] from China was wonderful. He said something like this: »They wanted us to get out just as we'd want foreign soldiers to get out of this country. Our fellows acted pretty bad—black marketeering, women, and a contempt for all Chinese. Now in India and in China both, I watched Indian and Chinese coolies loading or unloading our airplanes... They were underfed and thin— they can't do as much work as an American. Or take General Chennault. I was in his air force. It was said that he owned an interest in every restaurant and wine shop in Kunming, and in every industry in the province. That was why he had such a conflict with Stilwell«.
Another fellow from Chennault's air force said the same thing.1
In July of 1946, after much prodding by Dong Biwu and Anna Wang, Marshal Zhu De, the commander-in-chief of the Red Army and the subject of Smedley's biography in progress, sent her by courier more biographical materials about himself in Chinese, adding that he had faith in the American people's ability to move their government in the direction of supporting »peace and democracy« in China. When she finally received this letter in December of 1946, Smedley replied with a warning. She said she had heard rumors of a secret agreement between Chiang Kai-shek and Washington by which Qingdao would remain a permanent naval base for the U.S. Seventh Fleet. She said she believed that U.S. relations with China were »determined entirely by our War and Naval Departments« and that »the State Department does not even know what the policy is«. She continued: »America is becoming a vast militaristic imperialism, but there is a serious storm brewing inside this country.
Within a year the storm may break. There are powerful reactionaries in this country [besides] Luce, Vandenberg, and others... and the most dangerous are the agents of the great banks and corporations who are in the Navy and War Departments with the highest ranks«. As for the effectiveness of the organizations trying to counter Luce and the influence of the Navy and War departments, Smedley was gloomy. She told Zhu De: »The Committee [for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy] works under great financial hardship. We all support it and I am giving all my lecture fees to it. I wish I could say that we made a wide impression. [But we only] make a little impression on important people here and there«.
The Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy had been formed in late 1945, at the time of the first public debate in Washington over postwar China policy. Its purpose was to lobby actively in Washington against the Guomindang, organize public rallies in support of »democratic« China, and, eventually, publish a monthly magazine, Far East Spotlight. For the old China hands among its founders, such as Edgar Snow, it represented an open break with Henry Luce and his umbrella organization, United China Relief, through which most private aid for China had been funneled during the war. The first chairperson of the Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy was Smedley's good friend Evans Carlson.
From the beginning, Smedley supported the new committee and appeared regularly at its functions. She was on friendly terms with such leading committee activists as Elsie Cholmeley and Israel Epstein, but she stopped short of lending her name to the committee's letterhead or becoming involved in the organizational work. Her reasons were mostly personal. She was unwilling to work with certain activists such as Nym Wales and Ida Pruitt, with whom she had had poor relations since the 1930s, and later she became troubled by the increasing influence of the U.S. Communist Party on the organization. Moreover, she remained fiercely loyal to Dr. Robert K. Lin, who after the war became the Nationalist government's medical director, and to Mildred Price, who, as head of the China Aid Council of the United China Relief, was in charge of medical aid to China and continued to direct money and supplies to Dr. Lin. Some committee leaders, however, thought Price and Lin had »sold out« to the Nationalists. Smedley's solution was to position herself midway between Price's China Aid Council and the new committee by being friendly with both. She felt closest to the committee when it was led by Evans Carlson and was publicizing the anti-Guomindang position of General Joseph Stilwell.
By 1946, General Stilwell was stationed in California and deeply depressed by the silence imposed upon him. He had deliberately not been brought to Washington to testify at China policy hearings in the fall of 1945 because of the controversy he might stir up. His rival, Claire Chennault, had Joseph Alsop to champion his case in print. But so far, Stilwell had no one to tell his side of the story of his conflict with Chiang Kai-shek. He had begun to confide in T. H. White and Brooks Atkinson in Chongqing at the time of his dismissal in 1944, but because he was still on active duty, he had to obey orders to limit his comments.
In late February of 1946, T. H. White gave a party in his New York apartment for General and Mrs. Stilwell, and Smedley was among the invited guests. She wrote on February 19 to her friend Aino Taylor in California:
I returned tonight from a 24-hour trip to New York to see General Stilwell and Mrs. Stilwell. Teddy White gave a party of China people for them in his home. Present also were Eric Sevareid; Betty Graham (who is leaving soon for India as a freelance writer); Jack Belden, whose new French wife will have a baby any day now; Richard Watts, Jr.; Maxwell Stewart; Elsie Fairfax Cholmeley and Eppie; Major Schoyer; Annalee Jacoby; Harold and Viola Isaacs; and groups of others. Sevareid's new book will be out soon, Teddy White's book will be ready by June, Elsie's book will be ready about the same time, or appear at that time; all on China...
General Stilwell is ... a very sad and lonely man. I wish Madame Sun could be induced to write him [so] he might know that the Chinese still honor him. Yesterday he spoke at the party and said he had no faith whatever in the Guomindang carrying out its side of the new military agreement; and he thinks that as soon as Marshall leaves the Guomindang will start killing again. C.K.S. [Chiang Kai-shek], he said, now faces an idea, and has not the slightest knowledge of the meaning of that idea; he thinks in military terms, and is not so very good in such matters either.
Smedley was one of those in whom the general confided, not only in letters but during a visit to Yaddo, when he was in the area to see his aunt. According to Smedley, they had long talks. He told her that he intended to resign in November of 1946 and write a book focusing on the Chinese situation. But November would not be soon enough. Joseph Stilwell died suddenly from a heart attack in California on October 12, 1946.
For Smedley, the news was a terrible blow. She wrote to Taylor on October 22: »You perhaps read of the death of General Stilwell... Now the facts of China will not be told from his viewpoint ever. He was a real democrat and his loss is irreparable«. Quickly realizing the importance of the letters Stilwell had written to her, Smedley sent copies off to Israel Epstein, for use by the Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy, and to Jack Belden, Upshire Evans, a Colonel Robins, and Elmer Benson of the National Citizens' Political Action Committee. She also urged that they get in touch with the former executive secretary of the American Veterans' Committee for access to Stilwell letters in their files. She added, however, that before publishing any letters they should first receive permission from Stilwell's widow, as she herself was, for the letters in her possession.
Soon there was a consensus among Stilwell's China friends that some sort of book should be written presenting his point of view to the American public. Who should write it was the question. On December 18, 1946, Smedley wrote to Israel Epstein: »As for someone to do the Stilwell book, I am at sea. Frank Taylor asked Jack Belden to do it when he returns six months hence, and Jack gave some kind of tentative agreement. Only someone like Jack, very close to Stilwell, could write the book; and Mrs. Stilwell would never release papers to anyone who had not been close to him. Jack was the closest of all correspondents to him and he spent many days with Mrs. Stilwell after the General's death. Even at this, Mrs. Stilwell wrote me that she herself intends to write the book. I think she'll drop that after a few chapters. I am, of course, out of the running«.
Smedley considered herself out of the running for a number of reasons. She realized that because of the attacks on her by Powell, Judd, Lin Yutang, and others, she was becoming notorious enough to injure Stilwell's credibility if she were to do the book. She had just been stung by her inability to place an article on Stilwell in either the New Republic or the Nation. Indeed, the New Republic had stopped publishing any of her articles and book reviews after 1945, and the Nation had followed suit after 1946. Moreover, she still considered her most important task the completion of her Zhu De biography. In the end, the Stilwell project fell to T. H. White, whose edition of the general's papers was published in 1948.
In May of 1947, only eight months after Stilwell's death, Smedley suffered another grievous loss: Evans Carlson died suddenly, at the age of fifty-one. (He suffered a heart attack during a conversation with former Vice President Henry Wallace and Michael Straight, both of the New Republic, about the U.S. policy of support for Chiang Kai-shek.) Smedley attended the military funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, and on January 25, 1948, at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York, she delivered the main eulogy for Carlson at a memorial meeting of the Committee for a Democratic Far Eastern Policy. It was a speech full of righteous anger, sprinkled with quotations from Carlson's last letters to her.
Indeed, Smedley said, over the last two years—and especially after Stilwell's death in late 1946—she had watched Carlson grow more cynical and discouraged. He had called Winston Churchill's »Iron Curtain« speech at Fulton, Missouri, »the most arrogant insult to the American people from an Englishman since the time of George HI,« an attempt to arouse support for »bankrupt policies of colonialism, special privileges, human exploitation, and military balance-of-power alliances«. He had become convinced, from bitter personal experience, that the name-calling and Red-baiting now common in U.S. politics were »designed to obscure the vigorously conducted campaign for economic domination of Eastern Asia by American industrial interests, which jeopardizes the political independence of Asiatic peoples«. In concluding her eulogy, Smedley emphasized Carlson's commitment to building a new social order and a new foreign policy on the basis of Roosevelt's Four Freedoms: freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear.
Smedley's F.B.I, file contained two reports on the Carlson memorial meeting. One stated that she chaired the proceedings; the other said it was chaired by Congressman Hugh DeLacey, who turned it over to Smedley to give the main eulogy. A brief summary of her remarks emphasized her point that Edgar Snow had helped to change Carlson from a reactionary to a »fighter for the people« at Beijing during the mid-1930s.
By early 1948 the F.B.I.'s investigation of Smedley had intensified again. The agency was probing her activities in Germany in the 1920s by conducting interviews in New York with two old German acquaintances of Smedley's who were known to be »reliable« anti-Communists. But these two persons—internal evidence strongly suggests that they were Julian Gumperz and Karl Wittfogel—offered no proof of the long-sought Soviet connection. They emphasized Smedley's work with the Indian nationalists in Germany and said they were positive that she had not been a Comintern agent or a Communist Party member. One of them described her as an anarchist-syndicalist, and both added that party members at the time had thought her unreliable and emotionally unstable«.
The F.B.I, was taking a renewed interest because in October of 1947 it had received a summary report from General MacArthur's G-2 (the Far East command, Military Intelligence Section) which claimed that
Smedley had been connected to a Soviet spy ring in Tokyo before the war. This ring allegedly originated in Shanghai in the early 1930s and centered on Richard Sorge, who along with certain other members had been arrested in 1941 and executed by the Japanese. The sources of the allegations were Sorge's interrogation and Japanese police reports uncovered by MacArthur's intelligence chief, General Charles Willoughby, in Tokyo. The charges as summarized were undocumented but were provocative enough to cause J. Edgar Hoover to order increased surveillance and deeper investigation into Smedley's activities in the 1920s and 1930s. In a memorandum to district offices, Hoover said: »The Subject was active in Russian intelligence work in China from approximately 1930 to at least 1934. You are requested to be on the alert for any such present activities on part of the Subject«.
By December of 1947, guilt by association with Agnes Smedley had become a common feature of right-wing attacks on liberal organizations. For example, Smedley was named as a Communist Party member in an editorial in Counter-Attack, one of J. Edgar Hoover's favorite political journals. This editorial was part of a larger attack on Progressive Citizens of America, a civil liberties group that had defended Hollywood writers, directors, and producers who had recently been named as Communists or Communist sympathizers by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Smedley was a member of Progressive Citizens of America and one of sixty-five persons who had signed a public petition in defense of the Hollywood figures.
On January 1 and 2, 1948, the Chicago Tribune carried a two-part news story, datelined Tokyo, which had been leaked to the reporter Walter Simmons by General MacArthur's intelligence chief, General Charles Willoughby. The story began: »Details of the most successful Communist espionage ring ever exposed, whose operation probably helped precipitate World War II, have been pieced together by the Tribune from once top-secret Japanese documents«. Certainly the way the story was »pieced together« gave it a sensational slant that neatly coincided with the prevalent conservative view that the American media had been infiltrated by persons sympathetic to Moscow. One of the two reporters named in the story was the Swiss journalist Gunther Stein; the other was Agnes Smedley.
The Tribune story described Smedley as a former Colorado schoolteacher who had »aided radical movements in Asia for years« and »become a principal apologist« for the Chinese Communists. The writer, Walter Simmons, stopped short of saying that Smedley had actually been a member of the spy ring, but he quoted Sorge as »crediting« her with introducing him to his key accomplice, Ozaki Hotsumi. He emphasized that the spy ring had »picked the brains of their newsmen« and had used »left leaners« of all nationalities to gather facts »concerning the military and economic potentials of non-Russian countries« to be sent to Stalin.
Yaddo had been a haven for Smedley during the war years. The small number of guests had included writer-refugees from war-torn Europe. All had been concerned with the progress of the war, including the Asian front, and Smedley's expertise was valued. But all that slowly changed after the war ended. By 1947, Smedley was feeling increasingly isolated at Yaddo as the new artists- and writers-in-residence were no longer preoccupied with the war. As pressure on her increased, Smedley's self-confidence in her writing ability began to waver. On November 12, 1947, she wrote to Malcolm Cowley:
Since writing comes so hard to me, I always think I am not a writer. I have a feeling of guilt about my writing—as if I am an imposter who pretends to be a writer but is something else. There are two me's inside me: one that seems compelled to diddle with a typewriter and paper and without which my life would not be worth another day of living; the other me sits back and watches in disgust, sometimes with contempt, sometimes with despair. Guests at Yaddo have actively contributed to this latter state of mind—most of them do not consider me a writer in the fine, noble style. They turn to Joyce, Kafka, Sartre, etc, spending endless evenings splitting hairs about writing and writers, tossing lesser mortals into the burning pit. Kafka and Sartre bore me to tears, Joyce merely amuses me, in spots. You see, I lack the proper approach to writing. Instead of a perfectly balanced sentence with or without commas or periods, I see armies of barefoot peasants in China and other parts of the world reaching for the stars of humanity but being shot to death for their endeavors.
Earlier that summer she had written to Karin Michaelis of her frustration at not being able to finish the Zhu De biography, but she had ended with a more positive assessment of herself: »Do you remember my first book, written in your home? Without you that could never have been. I have written only five books in my life, which is a small harvest. But I have turned out thousands of political articles which have never been collected. I have no idea how much I have written in my life, but on the whole I'm rather contented. I have not been the writer I had hoped to become, but I have done fairly well with such poor equipment as I was fitted with in the beginning« (July 21, 1947).
Frustration with her writing, the deaths of Stilwell and Carlson, and the increasingly vicious political attacks on her left Smedley feeling depressed, isolated, and vulnerable. But it was an event at Yaddo in the spring of 1948 that turned her private mood of bitterness into one of desperation. In late February of 1948 a public radio debate was held at Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, between a White Russian refugee, Countess Tolstoy, and the Communist Party organizer of the northeastern subdistrict of New York State, Harold Klein. After the debate Smedley held a reception and cocktail party for Klein in her room at North Farms on the Yaddo estate. Some students from Skidmore attended. (F.B.I, informants later said Smedley »had tried to convert [them] to the Communist cause«.) When they heard about this event, several townspeople from Saratoga Springs complained to Yaddo's Board of Directors. In response to irate parents, Skidmore college officials added their voice to the protest. They had already complained a few months earlier after Smedley had disrupted a lecture at Skidmore by rudely interrupting and attacking the speaker. Elizabeth Ames had expressed embarrassment then, but she now felt forced to confront Smedley, and a bitter quarrel ensued. With steely righteousness, Smedley insisted that she had a right to her own political views and did not have to explain them or apologize for her guests to anyone. Mrs. Ames, seeing no sign that the controversy would blow over, decided that in order to protect the integrity of the Yaddo corporation, she had to ask Smedley either to promise to be more discreet or to leave. Smedley's reaction was shock followed by hysteria. On March 9,1948, she moved abruptly out of Yaddo, leaving most of her packed belongings behind until she could find a place to live.