In 1936 Xi'an was a poor, dusty city in a forgotten corner of China. During the Tang dynasty (686-906 a.d.), as the eastern terminus of the Silk Road across Central Asia, it was the biggest, richest, and most cosmopolitan capital in the world. In the tenth century it was sacked and demolished and thereafter grew very slowly over the centuries to the condition in which Smedley found it in the autumn of 1936: a sprawling, dingy, windswept trade center, protected by thick medieval walls from the rugged, impoverished countryside of Shaanxi province. Its foreign community consisted only of a handful of missionaries and an itinerant merchant or two.
Smedley's contact, Liu Ding, had been in Xi'an since early 1936 as a top aide to »the young marshal« Zhang Xueliang, a refugee Man-churian warlord-general.*
(* After earning a degree in engineering in Germany, Liu Ding returned to China in 1933 and j«oined the Chinese Communist Party; he first worked in a munitions production at a Red Army guerrilla base in Fujian province. After the Fujian and jiangxi Red Army basecampswerebrokenupbyChiangKai-shekin1934-35,hetookrefugeintheShanghai apartments of Smedley and Rewi Alley (Liu Ding interview).
Liu's assignment from the party was to serve as a secret liaison between Zhang, then only thirty-two years old, and the Red Army to the north. In May of 1936 he had arranged a secret meeting between Zhang Xueliang and Zhou Enlai in an old Catholic church at the county seat of Yan'an, then under control of Marshal Zhang's troops. The purpose of this meeting explains why Liu asked Smedley to come to Xi'an in September. Zhou Enlai and the Communist Party leaders hoped to induce Marshal Zhang and other warlords in the region to force Chiang Kai-shek to join the Communists in a united front against the Japanese. If progress could be made toward this end— and success seemed near—they wanted an international correspondent of progressive sympathies on hand to report the results.
The reasons the Communists thought Marshal Zhang Xueliang in particular might be susceptible to their wooing were complex. Marshal Zhang had inherited his position and his army from his father, Zhang Zuolin, the notorious bandit turned warlord whom the Japanese had assassinated in 1928 as an early step in their takeover of Manchuria. By 1932 the Japanese had completed their occupation and driven the young warlord and his army out of Manchuria. Aching for revenge and the chance to win back his territory, the young marshal was given command in the south at Wuhan, and throughout 1934 he supported Chiang Kai-shek as the only leader who could muster the military strength to take on the Japanese. By 1935 Zhang Xueliang's patience with Chiang was wearing thin, and Chiang was beginning to see Zhang's army as a potential threat to his own regime—a loose cannon on the deck of central China. Chiang's solution was to send Zhang and his men northwest to Xi'an with the task of suppressing the Communists in the area.
In 1935, Xi'an was already under the control of a Shaanxi warlord, Yang Hucheng, a man of the old school whose army had a reputation for rapaciousness. Yang was not interested in fighting either the Japanese or the Communists, but he was fiercely independent and resented Chiang Kai-shek's authority. Wisely, the young marshal Zhang Xueliang kept his troops clear of Yang Hucheng's men. As the two warlords consulted personally and worked out separate spheres of military responsibility, however, they found that they could more than coexist; they were actually agreeing on a number of issues. Soon their two staffs were working together on intimate terms—in part because both staff groups were heavily infiltrated by Communists.
In the summer of 1936 the two warlords believed that the Communists, whose strength had been sapped by the Long March, posed no threat to them, even in Shaanxi province, as Chiang Kai-shek alleged. They saw a much greater threat in the Japanese, who by summer had reached the suburbs of Beijing and were now heading west, toward Shaanxi. The generals' point of view matched that of public opinion in major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, as articulated by Mme. Sun's National Salvation Association, which was dedicated to pressuring Chiang Kai-shek into fighting the Japanese. Somehow the Japanese had to be stopped.
When she arrived in mid-September, Smedley was not disappointed by the political climate in Xi'an. Since August, politically active students and intellectuals from Beijing and Shanghai had been migrating to Xi'an, where repression of the student-intellectual community was minimal. Anti-Japanese street demonstrations were openly condoned by local authorities. Moreover, although direct contact with the Red Army to the north was still forbidden and access closed to foreigners, it was now possible surreptitiously to go there in disguise and under escort. Dissident students from Beijing and Shanghai such as the future foreign minister Huang Hua passed through Xi'an on their way to the Red Army base camp.
Liu Ding greeted Smedley warmly upon arrival, but she stayed in the city proper for only a few days. Liu wanted her close at hand but not in the public eye, where she might prematurely raise suspicions and draw fire from Nanjing. For her part, Smedley was content to lie low and wait for an invitation and escort to visit the Red Army. At this point the warlords Yang and Zhang did not interest her much, and she had already seen a lot of the anti-Japanese student movement in Shanghai. Thus, when Liu Ding arranged for her to stay in Lintong, about twenty miles to the east, she did not object.
Lintong is one of China's most ancient resort towns. Built around fine sulphur hot springs, it was once the elegant playground of Tang dynasty emperors and their consorts, and its mix of temples, baths, and covered walkways, all in a classical Ming-Qing architectural style, invited nostalgia for the romantic past. Smedley lived quietly in Lintong until late November, regaining her health and working on a new book about the Long March. As a girl she had loved to ride horses, and now she began to take regular excursions on horseback. (One of her favorite destinations was the nearby tomb of Qin Shihuangdi, China's first emperor and the builder of the Great Wall.) Every week Liu Ding would send out an aide with bread, mail, and news of the outside world. Chinese friends also paid occasional visits, and one day in late October a young woman from Shanghai brought her word of Lu Xun's death. At about the same time, she learned of the death of her father in California, which provoked a brief but sharply painful spasm of guilt and reflection about her family. Smedley interrupted her Lintong retreat only once, for a trip to Xi'an in late October to see Edgar Snow, who had just returned from four months with the Communists at their base camp near Baoan. It had been a trip that Smedley had encouraged and helped to arrange when she was in Beijing in December, 1935. The Communists had wanted the first journalist visitor to be someone without any association with the international left. Smedley understood politically, but at a personal level Snow's journalistic opportunity left her burning with envy. Containing her jealousy well, she greeted Snow warmly.
The high point of this visit was a dramatic reunion one evening with Ding Ling, the writer friend she had presumed to be dead after her arrest in Shanghai in 1933. Ding Ling now said that the international attention Smedley drew to her arrest was responsible for saving her life. The reunion was held at the compound of a German dentist, Dr. Herbert Wunsch, where Ding Ling was hiding from Guomindang police disguised as a servant. Dr. Wunsch, whom Smedley had persuaded to come to Xi'an from Shanghai, worked on Zhang Xueliang's teeth, but his real job was to serve as a conduit for medical supplies to the Red Army. Forty years later, Ding Ling recalled the laughter and tears of that October reunion at Dr. Wunsch's, and how hard she had worked to prepare a chicken for the occasion. It was a joyful, rousing evening dominated by talk of the doings of the Red Army and a preview by Snow of the material he had collected for Red Star over China (1938). A few weeks later Ding Ling slipped out of Xi'an to join the Red Army near Baoan.
In late November Smedley was told abruptly that she would have to leave immediately for Xi'an. Chiang Kai-shek was about to arrive in Lintong. He intended to consult with his warlord generals, Zhang Xueliang and Yang Hucheng, and to insist that they put more energy into suppressing Communist »bandits.« On December 7, Chiang made Lintong his headquarters for private meetings with the Xi'an generals. Chiang's staff and most of his officers remained in Xi'an, where they were billeted at the very guest house Smedley had moved into a week earlier.
Although Chiang Kai-shek thought war with Japan was inevitable, he had various reasons for wanting to postpone it. First, he was negotiating with the Japanese, trying to buy time to develop and modernize his army. Second, he had just embarked on an ambitious three-year industrialization plan which he hoped would provide the kind of industrial base he would need to hold out against the Japanese. In these efforts he was counting heavily on German assistance, and he hoped that the Germans would act as a restraining influence on Japan, their new ally in an anti-Comintern pact. Third, he was confident that his new security apparatus, modeled on the systems developed in Fascist Germany and Italy, gave him more control of China's major population centers than ever before. In these circumstances, Chiang believed he had time to deal with the Communist »bandits« in the northwest. He tackled this unfinished business late in 1936 by making two visits to Xi'an: the first for a day or two in October, to order a suppression campaign; and the second in December, to oversee the execution of his orders in person.
The atmosphere in Xi'an in early December was electric. Although she was making frequent visits to the local missionary hospital because of back trouble, Smedley spent as much time as she could in the streets. As generals Zhang and Yang held strained talks with Chiang Kai-shek at Lintong, student marchers swept through the city demanding that all Chinese unite against Japan. The first demonstration was to protest the November 27 arrest in Shanghai of »the seven gentlemen«, leading liberal journalists and non-communist intellectuals who had called publicly for a united front of the Guomindang and the Communists. Having worked in Shanghai with these »gentlemen« on behalf of Mme. Sun Yat-sen, Smedley shared the student outrage over their arrest. The climax came on December 9, when students marched to commemorate the demonstrations and shootings of a year earlier in Beijing, which had led to the formation of the National Salvation Association under Mme. Sun. Xi'an police, emboldened by the presence of Chiang Kai-shek and his private guards, opened fire on the marchers, killing nine and arresting dozens. The young marshal, Zhang Xueliang, was furious and demanded the release of the demonstrators. Supremely confident in his authority, Chiang gave generals Zhang and Yang a two-day ultimatum: cease disobeying orders and launch a military campaign against the Communists or be relieved of command. The reply took all sides by surprise, including the Communists.
Before daybreak on the morning of December 12, Zhang Xueliang dispatched a small number of troops to arrest Chiang Kai-shek at Lintong and bring him back to Xi'an. Simultaneously, Yang Hucheng's troops were sent to detain Chiang Kai-shek's staff officers at the guest house in Xi'an, where Smedley was also staying. In Lintong, hearing a few gunshots outside his quarters, Chiang scrambled up a nearby cliff in his nightshirt. He was found near the top of the cliff in a shallow cave, his feet too bloodied to climb further. The officer who was leading the expedition apologized to the general, carried him down the cliff on his back, and hustled him back to Xi'an by car. Chiang was in shock and at first refused to speak.
Whereas the young marshal's men had captured Chiang Kai-shek at Lintong without violence, and given him treatment that was almost courtly, Yang Hucheng's troops assaulted the Xi'an guest house and arrested Chiang's staff before dawn in a more traditional fashion. Here is Smedley's account in Battle Hymn (pp. 141—42):
Rifle butts crashed against my door. Unwilling to help in my own murder, I backed into a corner just as three rifle shots splintered the wood and the glass panel crashed and scattered. I heard shouts of »Japanese« and thought in terror: »God, they're going to kill me under the pretense that I'm a Japanese«,
A soldier's head appeared through the door panel and stared wildly about. I recalled enough Chinese to say: »I'm not Japanese. I'm an American«.
Someone pushed him and he tumbled into the room. A crowd of gray-clad soldiers, rifles ready, poured after him and then milled around confusedly. Some dashed into the bathroom, others jerked open the door of the clothes closet, and then all but two streamed out and began beating on the manager's door, which was next to mine.
The two soldiers left in my room began moving around. One suddenly thrust his rifle barrel into my stomach and pushed me back against the wall, while the other dumped everything out of my dressing table. He filled his pockets with everything that struck his fancy—my eyeglasses, rolls of film, flashlight, and batteries. He gathered up my woolen sweater and woolen underwear with particular exclamations of satisfaction.
The soldier pinning me to the wall reached out and flipped over the pillow on my bed. There lay my purse, with all my money. With cries of joy the two soldiers pounced on it and divided up the money. One took my fountain pen and one my pencil, then each clipped his trophy into his breast pocket. Finally each dragged a woolen blanket from the bed and disappeared down the hall.
A few hours later, when the shooting and looting had subsided, Dr. Wunsch, the German dentist who had hosted Smedley's reunion with Ding Ling and Edgar Snow the previous October, arrived at the gates of the guest house. He was refused entry. Insisting that he had an eight o'clock appointment that had to be met, he brushed the guards aside and pushed through the gates. He was gunned down on the spot. Smedley contacted Wang Bingnan, the underground Communist and one of Yang Hucheng's top aides, who rushed over to handle the situation. Forty-two years later Wang, who had studied in Germany, described how he buried his friend on a small hill in the suburbs of the city with great sadness and embarrassment.
On the morning of December 12, in shock over the loss of all her worldly goods and the death of her friend Wunsch, Smedley at first thought the raid on the guest house had been part of an action by Chiang Kai-shek's Blueshirt police against the warlord troops in the city, but by midday Liu Ding had told her what had actually happened. By afternoon Smedley was on the streets with a military pass to do first-aid work. In a remarkable letter written May 19, 1937, from Yan'an to Shanghai newspaperman Randall Gould, she described the scene:
For the first week of the Sian [Xi'an] events I was a first aid worker in the streets of Sian. I had plenty to do, and the foreign hospital gave me bandages, lint, gave me some instruction in first aid whenever I was up against a problem, and took me through the wards to show and demonstrate the care of wounded. The hotel manager gave me cognac in small bottles, and I bought alcohol, iodine, and other first aid medicines. I once took care of thirty Yang Hucheng soldiers in the streets [where] an accident [had] killed eighteen on the spot, and wounded the rest. I found myself battering down the doors of merchants to get water. The merchants are as a rule rotters when something uncomfortable happens on their door steps. Then, when the four hundred political prisoners were released (all of them Red Army men, women and children), I became the only medical attendant. One hundred of the three hundred men were wounded—some with untended old wounds that would soon kill them, some with wounds that festered along, some with leg ulcers, and many with the big, hard, bare feet of peasants—feet swollen and bloody from marching and fighting in the winter's snow. I washed the feet of these men, disinfected their wounds, bandaged them—and returned to the missionary hospital to ask for instructions about certain wounds...
So I had to be the doctor to these wounded men until we could remove them to the hospital. There were fifty-four women and forty little boys with the Red Army prisoners, and I went daily to take care of them also. Nearly all were poor peasants, and some had been slaves. I felt always that I was walking down one of the most tragic and terrible corridors in human history when I worked with them. The sight of poor peasants or slaves who had known nothing but brute labor all their lives, lying there with no covering, no bed, on stone floors, with untended and unhealed wounds, with big, hard, bloody feet—no, I shall never forget that, and shall carry that with me to my grave. I have written for years of the Red Army, yet my first living contact with it was with these peasants. They did not understand me. I was the first foreigner they had seen, most certainly; I wore wool dresses, a fur coat and hat, warm stockings, and leather shoes. I could not talk with them. Those men watched me with hostile eyes at first, many standing back and scowling at me. I do not know what they thought when I washed their feet and tended their wounds. Perhaps they thought me an insane yang kweitze [guizi, foreign devil].
Later, many of those prisoners were sent to Yan'an. Now and then in the theatre some little boy whom I do not remember comes and cuddles up near me, and holds my hand. I know he is one of those »prisoners of war.« One day I was passing through the streets when a crowd of women surrounded me and began caressing my hands, face, and shoulders. You see, it is not always easy if you have a foreign background, because many of these women had trachoma. But they embraced me, caressed me, and some cried. They were those poor peasant women, prisoners of war, whom I had tended in Sian—women who had fought with guns in the Red Army, or who had followed their sons or husbands in the army because the poor have no protection but the Red Army.
Five days after the kidnapping, Zhang Xueliang dispatched Liu Ding in a plane to pick up Zhou Enlai and two other members of the Communist Party's Central Committee; he was to bring them to Xi'an to join in negotiations with Chiang Kai-shek. Smedley talked at least briefly with Zhou and his colleagues soon after they arrived in Xi'an. We know little about what was said, but within days Smedley began making forty-minute broadcasts in English every evening from Zhang Xueliang's headquarters. She would summarize major developments of the day in Xi'an and interview key players in the drama, such as Marshal Zhang and General Yang. When her programs were picked up in Shanghai, as intended, they caused considerable stir. Except for the official Guomin-dang communiques emanating from Nanjing, which were hostile to Zhang and Yang as well as to the Communists, Smedley's reports were the only daily news coming out of Xi'an. Not incidentally, the person in charge of the radio broadcasts was Wang Bingnan, the man who had buried the German dentist, Wunsch, on the day of the Xi'an Incident. Then thirty years old, Wang had recently returned from Germany, via Moscow, with his German wife, Anna. In Moscow he had joined the Chinese Communist Party and received orders to try to join the Xi'an staff of General Yang Hucheng, with whom he enjoyed close family ties. He soon became one of Yang's most trusted aides.
The Xi'an broadcasts made Smedley an international figure and stamped her permanently as an apologist for the Chinese Communists. Within China's foreign community she was already legendary—as heroine or pariah, depending on the political point of view. Now she became an international celebrity, and an infamous one in most circles. By early January of 1937, American newspapers were giving her front-page coverage under sensational headlines: »Huge Army at Her Back«, »U.S. Girl a Red Peril«, and »American Woman Aids Chinese Rising«. The appeal to popular ignorance and stereotypes was not confined to headlines. In a flight of irresponsible fantasy, a long Associated Press background story described her as »the one-time American farm girl who may become a virtual 'white empress' over yellow-skinned millions.« Even Upton Sinclair, who had admired Smedley's early Socialist impulses, wrote an overblown popular portrait of her for Liberty magazine, under the title »America's Amazing Woman Rebel in China«, Ironically, the American Communist paper, the Daily Worker, taking its cue from Moscow, attacked Smedley on its front page for her public criticism of Chiang Kai-shek and her obvious jubilation over his kidnapping, thus putting Smedley and the American Communist Party at loggerheads once again.
The Xi'an Incident caught both the Russian and the Chinese Communist parties by surprise. The Chinese Communists had hoped only that Marshal Zhang and General Yang would refuse to launch an extermination campaign against them, thereby creating a split in loyalty within Chiang Kai-shek's military forces. They had never dreamed that the warlords might kidnap Chiang. When the news reached them at their base camp, they were shocked and began emotionally charged discussions about what to do next. At first many argued for revenge: execute Chiang and then form a united front. Then came Moscow's reaction, by telegraph: condemn the kidnapping as a Japanese plot and demand Chiang Kai-shek's release unconditionally. This message perplexed and embarrassed the Chinese Communists and shocked Zhang Xueliang. But Mao and Zhou won out against the comrades who wanted Chiang executed, and managed to forge a compromise. Chiang would be released, but on three conditions: he would call off his campaign to exterminate the Communists, he would join the Communists in a united front against the Japanese, and he would formally declare war on Japan. Mao and Zhou were willing to go this far, but no further, because they believed at this time Chiang was the only figure behind whom the Chinese people could unite.
This was the position that Zhou Enlai and two other party leaders brought to the negotiations between Chiang Kai-shek and his warlord captors. After ten days of discussion, in which Mme. Chiang and her brother, Song Ziwen (T. V. Soong), participated, a bargain was made. Its provisions are still a mystery, but its immediate result is suggestive. Chiang was released and flown back to Nanjing on Christmas Day. By the end of February, 1937, Chiang had announced that he would cease hostilities against the Communists. Not until July, after the Japanese attacked Lugouqiao (Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing), did both sides publicly commit themselves to a »united front« against Japan, Chiang formally declaring war.
Until January, 1937, Smedley knew little about the furor her broadcasts had stirred up. Then, besides learning of denunciations from Nanjing, she heard that U.S. consular officials in Nanjing were trying to get her passport revoked. The State Department had received complaints from the Chinese ambassador in Washington. The consulate was also influenced by reports from Christian missionaries in Xi'an, who charged that Smedley was a leading conspirator in the Xi'an kidnapping, a political agitator who was about to lead the once-contented peasants of Shaanxi province in a massive Communist uprising. These missionary tales were the main source of the fantastic charges leveled against Smedley in the Western press. At this point the U.S. government solidly supported Chiang Kai-shek's reluctance and hoped to delay a full-scale war between China and Japan, and official Washington thus expressed outrage at Chiang's kidnapping and named the Communists as its instigators. Over the next few months, however, Smedley successfully rallied friends like Margaret Sanger, Upton Sinclair, and Roger Baldwin to speak out in Washington in her defense. She also set the record straight by publishing a long factual account of the Xi'an Incident in The Nation on February 13.
Smedley's credibility outside Xi'an was improved by the arrival, and subsequent participation in the broadcasts, of James Bertram, a young New Zealander. Bertram had arrived in Beijing in early 1936 on a Rhodes traveling fellowship to study the Chinese language and see China after graduation from Oxford. He made the acquaintance of Edgar Snow and John Fairbank and began writing for the British press about the encroachments of the Japanese, the anti-Japanese student movement, and the conclusion of the Communists' Long March to the northwest. In England he had been sympathetic to left-of-center causes such as that of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Not surprisingly, in Beijing he began to abandon scholarly pursuits in order to concentrate on the current political situation. He befriended a number of Chinese journalists and students from Manchuria, at the time occupied by the Japanese and the home province of the young marshal in Xi'an, Zhang Xueliang. Then in December, electrified by the news from Xi'an, Bertram resolved to break the news blockade and somehow get to Xi'an. He made it, with a Manchurian friend, in eleven days, by train, rickshaw, donkey, and military truck. He arrived on December 27 — two days after Chiang Kai-shek's release and return to Nanjing.
Bertram joined Smedley as the only other foreign resident of the Xi'an guest house, which now billeted Marshal Zhang Xueliang's staff officers. Their first meeting was not a success:
A woman of something over forty came striding down the corridor, my card in her hand. She was short, strongly built, with a brown weather-beaten face and short hair, and with extraordinarily wide-set, candid eyes.
»Mr. Bertram?« The voice was harsh and sounded hostile. She wore a red woolen jersey, brown skirt, and heavy barogues.
»Yes«, I said. »You won't know me, but I've met some people you know in Shanghai.« I gave the names.
»Indeed«, said Agnes. »And what are you doing here?«
It was the question I had wanted to ask her. But I explained that I had come out of a natural curiosity to find out what was happening in Xi'an, and to do some writing about it. I had a connection, I added, with some English newspapers.
»What papers?« Agnes was relentless. I mentioned the Daily Herald and — in a weak moment — the Times.
»The London Times is no friend of China«. Her mouth shut like a trap. »How did you get here? For all I know you may be a British spy«.
This was unpromising. »I came in with a Dongbei [Manchurian] man«, I said. »Would you like to meet him? We're going out to Lintong with Sun Mingjiu«.
This name, which had been unknown [to the public] three weeks ago, made a more favorable impression. Agnes Smedley was not unwilling, it seemed, to meet the man who had captured Chiang Kai-shek. But she was still a little suspicious about me. »Do you know anyone else in Sian?« she asked.
I drew a bow at a venture and mentioned the young editor of Zhang Xueliang's daily. Fortunately, she had met him.
»Yes, I know him. Is he a friend of yours?«
»We used to live in the same rooms in Beijing. He'll tell you I'm not a spy«.
»Good«, said Agnes decisively. »I'll ask him«.
Smedley's suspicion of an Oxford-educated Englishman is not surprising. But within a few days Bertram proved himself. He found Smedley tough and uncompromising, yet »one of the most human and lovable people I have ever met.« He joined her in the streets, helping to minister to the medical needs of Red Army women and children. By New Year's Day, 1937, they were making daily radio broadcasts together from the primitive transmitter in Xi'an. As Bertram wrote:
We divided the news of the day between us, and sometimes gave short descriptions of various activities going on in Xi'an and in the countryside around. We tried very hard to be objective, and always satisfied ourselves that the facts we announced were accurate. But Agnes had a fine slashing style that was not very well-suited to diplomatic statement, and an incurable fondness for the word »masses.« In fact, the way she pronounced this word, with a broad »a« and a vigorous enunciation of the sibilants, would—I felt sure—identify her voice to anyone who had ever spoken to her for two minutes. By contrast, I tried to make my voice sound as unemotional as possible, modelling my delivery on the soothing accents of the B.B.C.... We would come back from the radio station each night, and make coffee in Agnes's room. All kinds of people drifted in during these evenings—journalists, students, officials, soldiers — and we would talk over the general situation, or speculate on the probable plans of the Japanese. Agnes, who had renounced most home comforts, retained an American taste for good coffee; she made it over an alcohol lamp with a skill that excited my envy.
Bertram was astonished by Smedley's knowledge of the Red Army:
One night a tall, slim young man in a plain khaki uniform came in with a friend. I noticed at once his beautiful carriage and the healthy glow of his brown cheeks. He was a Red Army commander and had been for nine years with Peng Dehuai, fighting in Hunan and Jiangxi, and then on the long trek to the North. Peng Dehuai was Agnes Smedley's favorite Red leader; she knew every campaign he had fought. They settled down to discuss details of strategy five years old. The newcomer flushed with pleasure when he found that this foreigner knew the name of obscure villages in the South, once given a brief fame as the scene of fierce engagements. Their conversation sketched the ten years' history of the Chinese Red Army. It was as vivid as a novel by Stendhal.
In retrospect, it is hard to overestimate the importance of the Xi'an Incident as a turning point for the Chinese Communists. At a time of great military weakness, with one stroke of luck the Communists recouped the fortunes of their movement.*
(* Only the outcome had been unpredictable. Despite the fact that the Communists were clearly surprised by the kidnapping of Chlang, it is difficult not to see in the Incident the catalytic effects of masterful behind-the-scenes maneuvering by such party operatives as Liu Ding and Wang Bingnan.)
In early January, 1937, a messenger slipped into Xi'an from the new Communist headquarters of Yan'an and handed Smedley an official invitation to visit. This was the opportunity for which Smedley had been waiting for years. There was a modest farewell dinner party attended by Bertram, Wang Bingnan, and his German wife, Anna. »The resources of the Sian [Xi'an] Guest House were getting rather low after almost a month's economic blockage. Agnes wore a Red Cross armband; 'officially' she was going on a trip to the front to do first-aid work. . . . That was the last I saw of Agnes Smedley in Sian. She left the Guest House early the next morning, a businesslike figure in heavy riding breeches and the familiar red sweater. Always she wore it like a banner«.