The Eighth Route Army and the Magic of Hankou - 1937-1938

For Smedley the ten-day march from Yan'an to Xi'an went badly. The back injury she had sustained in August flared up; she collapsed and at times had to be carried on a stretcher. Heavy rains had washed away whole sides of hills, making passage through the loess country unusually slow and dangerous. The conditions of famine she saw along the way depressed her. She was also unhappy with Mr. Zou, the translator assigned to accompany her now that Lily Wu was gone. Zou was a former schoolteacher from Beijing, and his contemptuous attitude toward the peasants and their health problems galled her. He was an urban intellectual of the sort she had found insufferable ever since her days on the Socialist Call in New York City.[1]
Another source of irritation was the presence of Nym Wales, who was also traveling to Xi'an. Wales had just spent three months gathering materials for her first book, the classic collection of Yan'an vignettes entitled Red Dust. Although they had been acquainted since 1934, the two women had never been friendly, and in Yan'an they steered clear of one another. Smedley was more than ten years older and considered Wales politically naive, intellectually superficial, and vain about her looks. Wales considered Smedley a psychotic prima donna of the left, and a shrill one at that. During the Lily Wu affair in Yan'an, Wales had tacitly opposed Smedley by siding with such Chinese women veterans as Kang Keqing and Deng Yingchao. But on the road to Xi'an the two women kept up an appearance of friendship, for the sake of their Chinese comrades. Forty years later, Wales still had little sympathy for Smedley and expressed doubt about the seriousness of Smedley's back injury.[2]
Smedley arrived in Xi'an on a stretcher in mid-September of 1937, feeling irritable and useless, and very worried about her back, which she wanted x-rayed at the local missionary hospital. Refusing to go to the Xi'an guest house with Nym Wales and partake of its Western comforts, she spent the first week or so flat on her back at the Eighth Route Army headquarters, an old-style compound just outside the city walls, which she had known as the home and office of her friend the German dentist Wunsch, who had been killed on the first day of the Xi'an Incident.[3]
Although personally miserable, Smedley found the general atmosphere in Xi'an much improved since January, and this buoyed her spirits and eventually improved her health. Since the implementation of the united front, political tensions had slackened and Communists could move freely about the city. In an article entitled »The Chinese Red Army Goes to Town«, Smedley described the astonishment of seasoned Red Army veterans discovering the wonders of big-city life—moving pictures, electric light bulbs, the flush toilets of the Xi'an guest house. At the Eighth Route Army headquarters she found high spirits and much optimism, even about confronting the Japanese. When, on September 26, news came of a Red Army victory at Pingxing pass in northern Shanxi, Smedley was swept up in the general euphoria:

A meeting was held. I got out of bed and went. Everybody in the building was present, from all the men in charge to the cooks and cooks' assistants. There were many released political prisoners from Nanjing and Xuzhou, students from Beijing and Tianjin going to Yan'an, political workers from Yan'an en route to various places in China, Red Army men, guards, »little devils«, and two foreigners [Smedley and the New Zealander James Bertram].
This meeting was a wildly enthusiastic one. We were told of the victory in the north and men interrupted the speaker to shout slogans. Zhou Enlai's wife [Deng Yingchao] led the celebration. The New Zealander contributed an aboriginal Maori dance of his country. I tortured the audience with two songs—but then, many of these men had made the Long March or been in prison for years, so they could stand almost anything. A student back from Japan tortured me when he sang what he called a Japanese love song. A Red Army man told an incident of the Long March—how the Red Army [had] crossed the treacherous Datu River in Xizang [while] enemy troops raked their ranks from across the river. As he ended, Deng Yingchao rose and sang two stanzas from a beautiful Long March song.

By early October, Smedley's back was on the mend and she was growing restive. When she received an invitation to join the Eighth Route Army in the field, she accepted immediately, but on one firm condition: Mr. Zou should not be her interpreter. This created a problem, since Zou was the only person available who had the requisite command of English. After a few days a solution was found by Zhou Yang, a party operative Smedley had known in Shanghai; he recommended that Smed-ley accept his young assistant, Zhou Libo. Zhou Libo's English was halting at best, but Smedley liked him at once and agreed to work with him.[4] In about a week, with Zhou Libo at her side, Smedley caught up with the Eighth Route Army at Taiyuan, the political and commercial center of western Shanxi. There she was welcomed and briefed by Zhou Enlai and then sent on to Zhu De's headquarters in the hills to the north. For the next three months Smedley remained there, interviewing and traveling by day, typing the results by night. In 1978 Zhou Libo and Zhu De's widow, Kang Keqing, remembered how Smedley worked at a furious pace. Besides writing individual articles, she was shaping her copious notes into a diary-style narrative that would be published the next year in New York and London as China Fights Back.
Smedley's courage and sense of detail still comes through in the clean, driving prose of China Fights Back. As always, she was passionately honest about her identification with her subjects and she unabashedly mixed reportage with autobiography:

Tonight as these hungry men sang, and then as they marched away to their beds of straw or cornstocks spread on mud floors, their singing had more meaning to me than ever before. Their voices were like a strong orchestra in the night. I, who have food this day, realized that I can never know fully the meaning, the essence of the Chinese struggle for liberation, which lies embedded in the hearts of these workers and peasants. I am still an onlooker and my position is privileged. I will always have food though these men are hungry. I will have clothing and a warm bed though they freeze. They will fight and many of them will die on frozen battlefields. I will be the onlooker. I watch them blend with the darkness of the street; they still sing. And I hunger for the spark of vision that would enable me to see into their minds and hearts and picture their convictions about the great struggle for which they give more than their lives.
(p. 123)

Smedley took an almost maternal interest in Zhou Libo's intellectual and physical well-being. Zhou recalled that he affectionately called Smedley lao taitai, »the old lady«, to friends. Smedley saw him as too young and too intellectual for the Eighth Route Army — a fish out of water.*
(* In March of 1978 the authors interviewed Zhou Libo, a large-framed, sickly, and bespectacled figure with a thick Hunan accent. Having just survived ten years in prison on trumped-up charges of polltical crimes during the Cultural Revolution, he was being fully rehabilltated and honored in the Chinese press as one of China's most important living novelists (Renmin ribao, March 23, 1978). Now he was being shown off to foreign visltors. We did not know that he was dying of cancer and would not live out the year. We wondered, however, what Smedley, who had absolute confidence in bis personal and political integrity, would have thought about bis recent treatment as a member of the Chinese Communist Party.)
In China Fights Back she worried about his future and that of Xu Quan, another struggling young writer-soldier:

The real story of China can be told only by the Chinese workers and peasants themselves. Today that is impossible. I do not believe that my companions [Zhou and Xu], Chinese though they are, can write the real story of the struggle of the Chinese people. They are true Chinese intellectuals, as removed from the life of the masses as I am. And one of them, Xu Quan, is first of all interested in »style«. If you ask him about a book, he will tell you first of all of its style. Later on you can pry out of him something of the content. Libo is more interested in content, it is true. But the life he lives is so hard now that he is often too weary to make use of his experiences. Later on he will become hardened to this life, I think.
(p. 148)

Smedley saw Zhu De, the commander of the Eighth Route Army, almost daily, and an extraordinary rapport developed between them. This gave rise to the rumor, both inside and outside China, that they must have had an affair.[5] But beyond Smedley's hero-worship, there is no evidence to support it. Weighing against it is the fact that Zhu De's young wife, Kang Keqing, was always in the vicinity and in later years actively promoted Smedley's image in the People's Republic of China. For Smedley, Zhu De was another father figure, a successor to Lajpat Rai and Lu Xun. Because Zhu himself had grown up in rural poverty, Smedley's identification with him was often painfully personal. Later, in The Great Road, she wrote:

Sometimes, when General Zhu himself talked [about his parents], I would be unable to go on and he would regard me with curious and questioning eyes. »Sometimes«, I would explain, »you seem to be describing my own mother. We did not work for a feudal landlord, but my mother washed clothing for rich people and worked in their kitchens during holidays. She would sometimes sneak out food for us children, give us each a bite, and tell us of the fine food in the home of her employer. Her hands, too, were almost black from work, and she wore her hair in a knot at the nape of her neck. Her hair was black and disheveled«.
»And your father?« he asked in wonderment.
»In my early childhood he was a poor farmer who plowed the fields in his bare feet, but wore leather shoes most of the time. He ran away periodically because he hated our lives, and left my mother alone. He was not so disciplined as the men of your family. Then he became an unskilled day laborer, and we never had enough to eat«.
»The poor of the world are one big family«, he said in his hoarse voice, and we sat for a long time in silence.
(p. 18)

Shortly after her arrival, Smedley began working with Zhu De on a project of importance to the future of Chinese relations with India. Seeking medical aid for the Chinese, they established the first formal contact between the Chinese Communists in Yan'an and the Indian nationalist movement led by Gandhi and Nehru. Smedley knew Nehru personally and had corresponded with him since coming to China in 1929. She now persuaded Zhu De that Nehru was sincere in his international outlook and had genuine sympathy with China's struggle against imperialism.
Smedley wrote to Nehru on November 23, 1937, and Zhu De followed with a letter on November 26. Both noted the serious problems the Eighth Route Army was having in feeding and caring for its troops, particularly the new volunteer units, and they made a broad appeal for help. Nehru responded quickly. He publicized the letters, began raising funds, and revived an earlier Indian National Congress idea for a medical mission to China. By the summer of 1938 a relatively well-equipped medical mission of five Indian doctors was organized and ready. Smedley met them when they arrived in Hankou in October, 1938, and was instrumental in the mission's final decision to go to Yan'an and join the Eighth Route Army.[6] Their host in Yan'an was of course Zhu De. One of the doctors, Dwarkna Kotnis, decided to remain in China throughout the war and married a Chinese woman a year before dying in the service of the Eighth Route Army. In short, the medical mission was a great success, and it remains today a major symbol of friendship between the Indian and Chinese peoples.[7]
In mid-December of 1937, into Zhu De's headquarters walked a man who would become one of Smedley's closest friends. He was Evans Carlson, forty-one years old, a Marine captain and the fervently devout son of a Congregational minister in Connecticut. He had come to investigate the Eighth Route Army and study its guerrilla tactics. Carlson had the tall, rawboned, Nordic look of Smedley's first husband, Ernest Brun-din, and more recently, her lover Richard Sorge. As it turned out, he was also a friend of Edgar Snow's, and, like Smedley, was disarmingly straightforward, open-minded, and daring. According to Smedley, Carlson's principles »were deeply rooted in early American Jeffersonian democracy; that must have been why he felt at home in the political and ethical atmosphere of the Eighth Route Army«.[8]
When they first met, however, Smedley refused even to speak to Carlson, because he was an American official: »I considered him a military spy sent by the American Embassy and the Marine Corps. ... I regarded him not only as a spy against that army, but a traitor to the principles on which the American Republic had been founded. Because of [his] background in Nicaragua and with the Marine Corps generally, I had little faith that he would understand the Eighth Route Army. He did not know my deep-seated hostility to all that he represented. We had only coffee in common, it seemed«.[9]
For his part, Carlson was startled by Smedley's appearance. He wrote in his diary that she looked »woefully grim in her military uniform . . . [and] her face had the signs on it of suffering... But absolute honesty in thought, speech, and action was written all over her«. Soon the two were spending much time together, walking and talking, exploring each other's lives and ideas. »She was grand, attractive, alive, animated, wise, courageous, a wonderful companion, impetuous, wants things done right away«. He also saw in her a Christian vocation of self-sacrifice: »She had forsaken the comforts of what we regard as civilization for a primitive life among an alien people. Her one desire was to remain with these people who were making such a valiant effort to realize the ideals for which she had consistently fought«.[10]
The rejection in Yan'an had already forced Smedley to begin reconsidering her views on America. Now, as she came to know Carlson, there were signs that she was beginning to move toward a less dogmatic and more tolerant political position; she began reaching out once again toward well-meaning liberals, even officially connected ones. Clearly, Carlson touched the native American roots of her radicalism: »[He] reminded me of the words of the Battle Hymn of the Republic: 'As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.«[11]
Christmas Eve, 1937, was their last night together before Carlson departed for the field. In his diary entry for that evening, Carlson describes a touching scene in his room. Agnes brought some coffee, and Carlson supplied a half-pound of peanuts. When the pot was hissing on the charcoal stove, Agnes suggested they celebrate »in our own style«. Carlson asked if she knew any Christmas carols, and Agnes said she couldn't remember any, but she knew a few Negro spirituals. »You sing the spirituals«, he said, »and I'll play some carols on my harmonica«. Agnes sang »Let my people go«. Carlson played »Silent Night«, and then, characteristically, the Marine Corps song, »From the Halls of Montezuma«. Then Agnes asked for a favorite of hers. At her request, the two stood up by the stove while Carlson played and she sang out loudly, »My Country Tis of Thee«.[12]
On the twenty-sixth, Carlson was to go to the front lines. Smedley had asked permission to accompany him. When Zhu De told her he could not let her go because she was a woman, she was furious. Kang Keqing, Zhu De's wife, remembered that Smedley pouted for a day and, much to everyone's amazement, even tried tears. But Zhu De and others stood firm, insisting that Smedley should leave the increasing dangers of the field and go to Hankou, where she would be much more effective as a writer and an organizer of medical supplies. Smedley, of course, had no real choice in the matter. Carlson left with Zhou Libo, and Smedley began preparing for departure as cheerfully as she could.[13]
Hankou, part of the tri-city industrial complex known as Wuhan, straddles the Yangzi River midway down its long course from the Himalayas to the sea. After the Japanese capture and rape of Nanjing in December, 1937, it became China's new capital. Helped in part by a major victory at Taierzhuang in April, 1938, the Chinese were able to hold onto the city until mid-October. In January, 1938, when Smedley arrived, the international community had joined Nationalist and Communist politicians in descending on the city. Spirits were high. For the first time in a decade, there seemed to be some unity of purpose in China. Hankou seemed to represent a fresh start. In retrospect, the next ten months were the most romantic of China's wartime experience.
With Franco's victory over the Loyalists in Spain, the international press began to see Hankou as the most prominent new arena in the worldwide struggle against Fascism. The city quickly became almost a tourist stop for journalists, diplomats, and political radicals. It attracted veterans of the Spanish Civil War—notably the Canadian doctor and Communist Norman Bethune. Film-makers Joris Ivens and Frank Capra turned up, as did such leaders of the U.S. Communist movement as Earl Browder and Mike Gold, with whom Smedley had been sparring in recent years. Anna Louise Strong had just arrived from Moscow. The writers W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood passed through. The German, Italian, and Russian military officers advising Chiang Kai-shek added yet another international dimension. The Russians were particularly important, because Russian planes and pilots provided the only air defense against the intensifying Japanese bombing raids. Smedley thrived in this exciting atmosphere, and because of her myriad Chinese contacts, she enjoyed something like celebrity status. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to meet her or use her as a go-between.[14]
After arriving in Hankou on January 9, 1938, Smedley's first stop was the U.S. embassy, where she delivered a letter from Carlson and briefed the ambassador and assorted military attaches on the activities of the Eighth Route Army in northwestern Shanxi. The first of many visits she made to the U.S. embassy, this was the beginning of her regular contact with such figures as John Davies, Frank Dorn, Joseph Stilwell, and Claire Chennault, all of whom later became important in the shaping of America's China policy.
Clearly, this new relationship with official America was an about-face for Smedley. For years she had had difficulties with U.S. consular officials in Berlin, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. It was the rejection in Yan'an, the changed political situation in Hankou, and the anti-Japanese war that made the difference. Hankou offered a fluid and open environment in which Smedley and her new diplomatic friends could interact. Smedley found that she shared with Evans Carlson's cohorts a hostility toward Japan and an impatience with official U.S. reluctance to confront Japanese expansionism. Moreover, for the first time the embassy was interested in making contact with the Chinese Communists, and Smedley seemed an ideal go-between. Thus in Hankou we see Smedley returning to the coalition-oriented, political organizer role she had played during 1919 and 1920, when she had effectively lobbied and raised funds among New York and Washington elites and unions around the country for the Friends of Freedom for India. Perhaps the most striking evidence of her new approach to political work was her friendship with the British ambassador, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr. Suspicion of the British, who had harassed her for many years because of her anti-imperialism and her commitment to Indian nationalism, was an old habit. But Clark Kerr, the leading liberal of the Western diplomatic corps, won her over with his interest in the Eighth Route Army and medical aid. Within months he became a friend and one of the strongest supporters of her causes.*
(*Sir Archibald Clark Kerr (1882-1951) proved tobe one of the most important and controversial British diplomats of the World War 11 and postwar periods. As ambassador to China (1937-42), Moscow (1942-45), and Washington, D.C. (1946-48), he demonstrated remarkable empathy for the problems of the countries to which he was posted. In the case of China this meant supporting medical aid, economic reconstruction, and resis-tance to the japanese. He also adopted a consistently liberal or tolerant view of Moscow
and the Chinese Communists, positions which some histortans in recent years have considered naive. Thus Clark Kerr's enthuslasm in 1938 for Smedleys causes came naturally-laying a base for a relationship which continued through Clark Kerr's Washington, D.C., days and their loint condemnation of the Cold War. Clark Kerr is in need of a good blographer; for basic facts see the Times (London), july 6, 1951, and, on his role in Anglo-American World War 11 China pollcy, the frequent references in Christopher Thorne, Allies of a Kind: The United States, Britain, and the War againstjapan, 1941-45 (Oxford, 1978).)

Smedley's second stop in Hankou, after the U.S. embassy, was the humble headquarters of the embryonic Chinese Red Cross, where she delivered requests for medical supplies from the Eighth Route Army. Smedley had been working since 1934 to get medical supplies to the Red Army. Now, in the director of the Chinese Red Cross, Dr. Robert K. S. Lin (Lin Kesheng) she found a leader, a man whose personality, experience, and energy seemed to promise hope at last for the Chinese soldier. Lin was indeed a man of parts. Born in Singapore, he had been a professor of physiology from 1924 to 1937 at China's most important medical school, the Rockefeller-funded Peking Union Medical College. He was a Christian who spoke beautiful English with a pronounced Scottish accent, having received his secondary and university education in Scotland. He was attracted to Fabian socialism and admired the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. With his knickers and cane, he looked very much the Anglo-Chinese gentleman, a familiar cultural type. But as a Chinese, he was deeply nationalistic. By 1938 he was one of China's best-known medical figures. He also had considerable organizing experience behind him, including the field directorship of the Medical Relief Commission during the north China famine of 1933. In late 1937 he came to Hankou to organize a new Chinese Red Cross Medical Relief Corps out of the remnants of the civilian Chinese Red Cross which had survived the rape of Nanjing. Considering the difficulties he faced, Lin was astonishingly successful in Hankou and afterward. (By 1943 he had set up a medical supply system for the army, with more than one hundred units and two hundred ambulances in the field. And in Hankou he started a medical-service training school, which later moved to Guiyang and maintained five branch schools in the field, that is estimated to have given training to more than thirteen thousand people.)[15]
When Lin and Smedley began working together in 1938, the only organized Western medical care in China was provided by missionary doctors and hospitals. The rest of Western medical practice in China was entirely private and could be found only in large cities. The soldiers in China's armies — those who served Chiang Kai-shek, as well as the warlords — were expected to fend for themselves on a minuscule medical supplement added in cash to their salaries (and often expropriated by their officers). By 1938 several Chinese Red Cross committees had been organized by missionaries to care for the civilian refugee population. These committees received almost all the medical relief funds raised abroad, but the missionaries assiduously followed the practice promised by the myriad international fund-raisers: no medical care would be provided to wounded combatants, whether Chinese or Japanese. Thus by 1938, the second year of total war in China, the problem of medical care for the Chinese wounded had reached crisis proportions.
For the next ten months, Smedley devoted most of her energies to raising funds for the Chinese Red Cross and publicizing the misery and heroics of the Chinese wounded. Her articles appeared first in the Manchester Guardian and the China Weekly Review, and later in China Today, the Nation, the Modern Review, Asia, and even Vogue. In her fund-raising efforts, she ferreted contributions out of every conceivable source in Hankou: the American and British embassies, Standard Oil, and high Guomindang government officials were all fair game. Her biggest success came at a dinner party when she publicly shamed Finance Minister T. V. Soong (Song Ziwen) into contributing 10,000 Chinese dollars to the cause. Her journalist friends remember being dragooned on several occasions into visiting hospitals, to sing songs to the wounded and to leave substantial contributions. For Dr. Lin, Smedley wrote to the United States and Hong Kong appealing for help. As it turned out, the lion's share of aid in money and medical supplies was effectively solicited from overseas Chinese, especially those in Hong Kong. By mid-spring, Lin and Smedley had the support of the British Hong Kong medical establishment in the person of Hilda Selwyn-Clarke, the wife of Hong Kong's medical director and a very able fund-raiser, who was by then a fervent convert to the cause of the Chinese Red Cross.[16]
Smedley grew intensely loyal to Dr. Lin, and he to her, but both paid a political price for the relationship. For Smedley the problem was Dr. Lin's association with Mme. Chiang, which at times brought him into fund-raising competition abroad with Mme. Sun and her China Defense League, which was often at odds with the Chiang government. This fact reopened Smedley's old conflicts with Mme. Sun and tended to isolate her from such friends as Edgar Snow, Rewi Alley, Elsie Cholmeley, and Israel Epstein, who were working closely with Mme. Sun on various projects. For Dr. Lin, the problem was Smedley's close ties to the Communists, which regularly got him into trouble with the Guomindang leadership. (Once in 1940, when he was detained in Chongqing and threatened because of Smedley, he was saved only by the intervention of Mme. Chiang Kai-shek.) In sum, Smedley's alliance with Dr. Lin was another sign of the more independent political course she was now charting. Increasingly, she was moving away from political positions, alliances, or publications that were exclusively associated with the organized left in the United States, Europe, and treaty-port China.
When Smedley arrived in Hankou, she stayed first at the home of an Episcopal cleric, Logan Roots, who was known at the time as »the pink Bishop« because of his contacts with the Chinese Communists. The atmosphere at the Roots compound was extraordinary. Zhou Enlai paid regular visits there, as did other Communists such as the Moscow-oriented Wang Ming. At lunch came a steady stream of Guomindang officials, missionaries, diplomats, and journalists of various political persuasions. Other missionaries called the Roots' luncheon table the »Moscow-Heaven Axis«. Sharing the spotlight with Smedley at these lunches was Anna Louise Strong, whom Smedley had presumably met in Moscow in 1933. Between them, they put on quite a show, Smedley describing the exploits of the Eighth Route Army and Strong analyzing the international situation from Madrid to Hankou. Strong was more ideological and still oriented toward Moscow; Smedley was passionately down-to-earth in her concern for the wounded and the details of the war itself. Strong later liked to tell friends a story that illustrates well how the two women differed. She once invited Smedley to join her for a dinner with H. H. Kung (Gong Xiangxi), her one-time classmate at Oberlin College and nominal head of state as president of the Executive Yuan. According to the biography co-authored by Strong's nephew:

In the midst of an elegant banquet and innocuous conversation, [Smedley] suddenly interrupted Dr. Kung and asked for a large donation for the peasant guerrillas who were fighting the Japanese in Shanxi, Kung's home province. Anna Louise froze with embarrassment, knowing as Agnes certainly also did, that Kung was a bitter enemy of the Communists. As Anna Louise expected, Kung exploded angrily that he disapproved of people collecting extra money for the Communist Eighth Route Army, which, he said, should be content with its regular wages and not ask for special gifts. All three of them knew the injustice of Kung's response; the Eighth Route Army was twice as large as the number of troops for which Chiang Kai-shek was paying. Agnes did not attempt that argument. »Oh, Dr. Kung«, she protested, »I am not asking for anything for the Eighth Route Army. Of course they are satisfied with their wages. I am asking you for the peasant guerrillas of Shanxi, who are protecting your property, Dr. Kung, against the Japanese«. Agnes left the party with a large check for her peasant guerrillas, and Anna Louise retired to their quarters with a new sense of the difference between her and her housemate. Her good middle-class upbringing, she concluded, would never have allowed her to dare such a request. »But Agnes never recognized impossibilities«.[17]

Despite their differences in style and background, Strong and Smedley seemed to respect each other and did not clash directly. Strong wrote an introduction for China Fights Back, which Smedley was just finishing, and she may well have been responsible for its speedy acceptance and publication.
Neither Strong nor Smedley stayed with the Roots for more than a few weeks. Strong soon left for the United States and the Soviet Union. Smedley, after borrowing money from a Chinese engineer friend from Shanghai on the strength of her promised advance for China Fights Back, rented a small apartment in town. From there she began to write for the Manchester Guardian, an assignment that by summer turned into a position as special correspondent — her first in years, and a sign that the quality of her war reporting was gaining international recognition.
She also began to socialize a bit, though warily. Captain Frank Dorn, General StilwelPs debonair aide, later recalled his first »date« with her:

Getting in touch with Zhou Enlai was a tougher nut to crack since I felt it essential that I meet him under auspices acceptable to him. So [the journalist Walter] Bosshard arranged for me to meet Agnes Smedley at a luncheon in the Y.M.C.A. dining room. She was now a correspondent for the Manchester Guardian — when she took time off from her aggressive assaults on the foreign community for money and hospital supplies to alleviate the neglect with which the Chinese treated their sick and wounded soldiers. She was without much conventional charm or femininity; her face was squarish, as was her figure. Her blonde hair, streaked in shades of sun-scorched yellow, was cut in an indifferent bob; she wore clothes for the sole purpose of covering her body, with no thought for fashion... She had little use for most military officers, except of course her beloved Chinese Reds. In her eyes the military were all politically naive, an opinion she promptly stated in an abrupt and somewhat harsh voice. But after this initial phase of putting me in my place, she settled down and we got along pleasantly enough. During coffee I invited her to have wiener schnitzel the next evening at the Austrian-Chinese restaurant. Though her eyes widened momentarily with surprise, she accepted. That evening, after the third gimlet, Agnes set her glass down with a thump and said flatly:
»What's this all about, Captain Dorn? I know damned well I'm not the type that your type asks out on a date«.
»I want you to introduce me to Zhou Enlai and to ask him to be frank with me«.
»Well, at least you're honest about it. That's to your credit... aside from all these drinks. I like honesty. Even though I think I'm being taken in, I'll see what I can do. I've got an appointment with Zhou tomorrow morning«.
We finally shook hands across the table, and I began a long friendship with this intense, unhappy woman. A radical with a great heart, she refused to submit to any form of discipline and distrusted all political leaders.[18]

One of Smedley's closest friends and confidants in Hankou was Freda Utley. A British Communist and graduate of Oxford, Utley had gone to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and married a Communist official. After he disappeared in a purge in the mid-1930s, she made her way with her small son to Tokyo, where she began working as a journalist. She arrived in Hankou in 1938 fiercely anti-Russian but not hostile to the Chinese Communists. Compared to Strong and Smedley, she knew little about the Chinese situation. But she had written lucidly about the Japanese as fascists, and she saw the Chinese struggle as a prelude to World War II. In Hankou she and Smedley soon became a twosome. In 1970, after having turned rabidly anti-Communist, she wrote:

[Agnes] was one of the few people of whom one can truly say that her character had given beauty to her face, which was both boyish and feminine, rugged and yet attractive. [She was] one of the few spiritually great people I have ever met, [with] that burning sympathy for the misery and wrongs of mankind which some of the saints and some of the revolutionaries have possessed. For her the wounded soldiers of China, the starving peasants and the overworked coolies, were brothers in a real sense. She was acutely, vividly aware of their misery and could not rest for trying to alleviate it. Unlike those doctrinaire revolutionaries who love the masses in the abstract but are cold to the sufferings of individuals, Agnes Smedley spent much of her time, energy, and scant earnings in helping a multitude of individuals. My first sight of her had been on the Bund of Hankou, where she was putting into rickshaws and transporting to the hospital, at her own expense, some of those wretched wounded soldiers, the sight of whom was so common in Hankou, but whom others never thought of helping. Such was her influence over »simple« men as well as over intellectuals that she soon had a group of rickshaw coolies who would perform this service for the wounded without payment.[19]

Smedley was attracted to Utley for several reasons besides her admiration for Utley's first book, Japan's Feet of Clay (London, 1937). The two shared a background in radical politics, and both had husbands arrested in Stalin's purges. (Smedley had just received word of Chatto's arrest. It is unclear how much she knew as yet about Stalin's purges.) Utley was younger, more attractive, and leading a very complicated love life in a deliberate rejection of marriage. It is possible that Smedley saw in her a faint reflection of her own life ten years earlier. At any rate, by summer the two women were the center of a high-powered, tight-knit social circle of diplomats and journalists (nearly all of them male) which included Evans Carlson, who was back with news from the front.
The international press corps in Hankou had quickly developed a unique sense of camaraderie. As Frank Dorn has written, the increasingly frequent Japanese air raids heightened belief that the city's days were numbered: its fall and pillage were inevitable. But working conditions were favorable: for one thing, there was less censorship being applied than in any Chinese capital before or since. Moreover, there was political consensus about the job that needed to be done, that is, to report the heroic struggle of a united Chinese people against the brutal and Fascist Japanese invaders. One expression of this convivial spirit, and a common interest in seeing who could stay in Hankou the longest, was the Hankou Last Ditchers Club. Beginning in the summer of 1938, its members staged regular farewell dinners for »deserters«, with the rhetorical and comical flavor of press club »roasts«. One such dinner in September was staged as a »trial« of the guests of honor, Evans Carlson and Freda Utley, who were about to leave for Shanghai. Smedley attended many of these dinners, and when she herself left Hankou in October she wrote a long note, addressed simply to the Hankou »gang«, in which she lovingly sketched each of them as characters in a play she might someday write.[20]
Smedley's Chinese associates in Hankou shared some of the hope and exhilaration felt in the foreign community. Politically, the united front was at its most cordial stage, and Chiang Kai-shek's secret police were much less active than they had been (and would be later). In most ways, it was the freest atmosphere Chinese intellectuals had seen in years. Zhou Enlai and Guo Moruo, both Communists, held high government posts. Hankou buzzed with intellectual activities—new magazines, plays, and art exhibits. Lao She, the head of the writers' association, was there, as were other important writers Smedley had known in Shanghai, notably Mao Dun. The poet and scholar Guo Moruo, who seemed to preside over the cultural scene, later devoted a volume of poems to the »spirit of Hankou«. Smedley was interviewed often by Chinese reporters and made friends with some of the young journalists who in the 1980s hold top management positions in the press of the People's Republic of China. She also wrote articles expressly for Chinese publications; Lu Xun, Japanese prisoners, and the Chinese wounded were favorite subjects.[21]
Smedley's most significant contact was with the medical men and women of Hankou, the most important of whom was Dr. Lin. She made regular trips to Changsha, a day's drive to the south, to deliver medical supplies and ambulances, as well as to monitor conditions there for Dr. Lin. About fifteen years later, in the Chinese press a Y.M.C.A. worker named Liu Liangmo described Smedley's appearance at a large Chinese fund-raising event in Changsha in 1938, at which he served as her translator.*
( *Westernized and a highly committed social worker, I-lu Liangmo was a Christian in the mold of James Yen and Robert K. Lin. Shortly after he niet Smedley in Changsha he would become instrumental in introducing mass singing to China on behalf of the war effort. Choosing to return to China (from the Untted States) after 1949, he was a leading figure in Y.M.C.A. and other social-welfare work in Shanghai through the 1950s. His outspokenness and Christian Y.M.C.A. background made him vulnerable during the Cultural Revolution. In a 1978 interview he denounced Chairman Mao in no uncertain terms and charged the authors with the task of telling the world that Mao had ruined the lives of four generations of his family.)
According to his report, she spoke quietly first of the Eighth Route Army's victories over the Japanese. Then, her voice rising gradually to a passionate intensity which seemed to transform her physically, she described the desperate needs of the Chinese wounded, ending with a dramatic appeal for funds. She sat down abruptly, exhausted, and there was a long silence. Then the crowd stirred and began donating money, in large amounts. Liu was amazed; it was the most successful fund-raising event of the year in Changsha.[22]
Hankou fell on October 17, 1938. A few days earlier, Smedley had slipped out of the city, first to Changsha and then onward to join the newly formed Communist-led guerrilla units of the New Fourth Army. There were many successes ahead for her, in terms of writing and medical relief efforts, but she left in a mood of melancholy and regret. In June of 1939 she wrote to Freda Utley:

The last days of Hankou still remain in my mind as rare, unusual days from the psychological and human viewpoint. I still think of Shaw's Heartbreak House when I recall them. As you remarked at the time, no person on earth is more charming than the American journalist abroad, particularly the cultured, serious-minded one. But I wonder what it would be like were I to meet those same men on the streets of Chicago. Gone the magic! The only ones who have maintained some contact with me are Evans [Carlson] and Frank [Dorn]. Evans wrote me a short note from Shanghai and sent it here by [Jack] Belden, who came here for a week. Then Evans remembered to send me a copy of one of his articles in Amerasia. And, as Frank Dorn returned to America, he wrote me a long, human letter from the ship. But then a ship is much like Hankou — an island on which one is thrown back upon oneself. I suppose he has forgotten me by this time. Once [Tillman] Durdin asked someone in Chongqing where I am—so he remembers I am somewhere in the land of the living.
I sort of pine for the magic of Hankou. It was the bright spot in one decade of my life. There I met foreign men, some of them rotters, but most of them with the charm that belongs to many men of the Western world. They themselves do not know how very different they are from the Chinese. Though I have never liked to be treated as bourgeois women are treated, still the foreign men from England, America, and perhaps France, have a deep and unconscious attitude of respect for women; a little feeling of protection for women; of helping a woman; and a kind of gentleness toward her. Often [their] kindness blended a bit with tenderness or a breath of romance. It is difficult to explain, because it is there as an atmosphere. In the Chinese man this is totally lacking in all respects. There is not even friendship and comradeship between man and woman in China. The foreign word »romance« has been taken into the Chinese language and means promiscuous sexual relations. And »love« means sexual intercourse in its usual use in China. For a Chinese man to even touch a woman's arm or hand means something sexual and arouses shock.
So, for ten years I lived in this desert [China], and because of this, I found a magical place. Since then I have thought much of this. Shall I return to the Western world, or shall I remain here? I fear I must remain in China. Hankou was a rare exception, and I believe all of us felt the same about it. I wish to retain it as a precious memory. I think often of the play in which many persons of different classes are on a foundering ship in mid-ocean. Class distinctions fall away as they face death together, drawn closer by humanity. But when the storm passes and the ship is saved, the old cold and cruel class distinctions return. I believe that to be Hankou.[23]