Yan'an, 1937

After the Xi'an Incident, the Red Army moved into the mountain citadel of Yan'an, an ancient county seat and traditionally the most important marketing and administrative center in impoverished, mountainous northern Shaanxi province. Lying about one hundred miles south of the Great Wall, it had long been the gateway through which trader or invader would pass to Xi'an. It was through Yan'an, for example, that Genghis Khan and his Mongol cavalry swept into China proper in the thirteenth century. Edgar Snow described Yan'an in 1936 as »cradled in a bowl of high, rock-ribbed hills, its stout walls crawling up to the very tops. Attached to them now, like wasps' nests, were newly made fortifications«.[1] A river served as a moat running around the city's ancient and modern battlements. But despite its importance and antiquity the city was tiny: it had a main street lined with one-story shops and a population of fewer than a thousand. At one end of the street was a large abandoned Catholic church and at the other a magnificent gate dating from the Song dynasty (954—1268 a.d.). Perched high on a mountain overlooking the citadel was an eighth-century Buddhist pagoda.
Before he was kidnapped, Chiang Kai-shek had set up a military blockade around Xi'an to contain the Communists. His aim was to cut the Communists off from the province's major source of supplies and to control access to the area. Foreign journalists were explicitly prohibited from entering the Red Army strongholds. Now anxious to proceed to Yan'an, on January 12, 1937, Smedley took advantage of the confusion in the wake of the Xi'an Incident to sneak past the blockade, in the back of a truck provided by her Red Army escort.
Smedley spent three weeks getting to Yan'an, traveling slowly by truck through central Shaanxi, where the Red Army was integrating shells of villages into a new soviet area. The surrounding countryside reminded Smedley of the blasted landscape she had known in her youth in the American Southwest: »The countryside was desolate, without population. Now and then we came to a tiny village with a few houses and a few ragged peasants... [Further to the south we] came out on high plateaus. They reminded me of the broad mesas of southwestern America... [except that] the sides of the plateaus were terraced and, in many places, cultivated. But there were times when we traveled for a whole day and saw not one cultivated terrace. The rains had washed many of them away and grass had grown over them. They had not been used for years«.[2] The lack of cultivation Smedley observed was the result of the Great Northwest Famine: between 1928 and 1933, about three million people—almost half the population of Shaanxi province—died of starvation. Alternating periods of flood and drought had ruined agriculture. Missionaries had organized an International Relief Commission, but it had faced formidable obstacles. It tried to send grain, but the province had no railroad or river system for transporting it; even the roads were inadequate for the purpose. And throughout the famine, absentee landlords and competing warlords protected their most reliable cash crop by keeping the best land in opium poppy production, and also siphoned off much of the famine relief for themselves.[3]
Besides wanting to examine rural conditions for herself, Smedley was eager to visit Red Army units. She found her first chance at Tongli, a half-deserted county seat that was now serving as headquarters of the First Red Army Corps, after she had spent three days traveling forty miles across rough terrain. The commander of the First Corps was Zuo Chuan, one of the soldiers she had sheltered in Shanghai; shortly after arriving she was greeted by Ding Ling, who, as her official host, had been sent from Yan'an to escort her the rest of the way. Just to the east and west of Tongli were units commanded by two Red Army heroes she had never met: the dashing, jovial He Long, and the ugly, austere Peng Dehuai. She stayed in the Tongli area for two weeks, spending many hours interviewing He and Peng. She described her first impressions in Battle Hymn of China:

»Shades of the Taiping rebels!« I exclaimed to myself, for He Long looked not like a Chinese, but like some old print of a mustachioed folk-tale Mongol or Central Asiatic. He was a man in his middle forties, but he walked with the lithe grace of a panther. As he drew near 1 saw that his dress seemed so strange and vari-colored because it was made up of the remnants of many uniforms. His jacket was of faded gray and his trousers black, the latter fitting so tightly that he appeared to be made up for some medieval drama. Above his blue cloth Chinese shoes white socks showed, and from his ankle to the knee was a splash of green puttees wrapped tightly in a long, leaf-like pattern. Something seemed missing from his uniform—oh yes, a blazing sash and a curved scimitar!...
Ding Ling and I rode to a large village near [a] snow-covered mountain [Bei Wutian Shan], where Peng Dehuai had his headquarters. He was of medium height, built like a stocky peasant, and perhaps in his middle thirties. He was ugly, but as he smiled in welcome his face was pleasant. His eyes were level and penetrating, his voice gruff... When we arrived he was ill. The Long March had left him with gastric ulcers and in addition he had been kicked by a horse shortly before our arrival. But no one dared refer to his illness in his presence. Since [the others present] were anxious, they pushed me forward and I, innocent and unabashed, talked to him about his health. I also suffered from gastric ulcers and carried powders, milk, and soda crackers. I shared these with him, and because I was a guest he had to listen to my advice.
(pp. 156-160)[4]

For the rest of the way to Yan'an, Smedley was accompanied by Ding Ling, the only prominent female Chinese Communist she knew whose views about women and marriage approached her own. Both women were outspoken, reckless, flamboyant, and accustomed to living freely »like men«. Both admired the Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai. Despite the fact that they had trouble communicating—Smedley had only broken Chinese—mutual respect developed between them.[5]
Smedley and Ding Ling arrived in Yan'an at night and were taken immediately to see Zhu De and Chairman Mao in their respective mountain caves overlooking the town. Smedley's first impression was that Zhu De was gregarious and down-to-earth; Mao, aloof and »spiritually isolated«. The next day, asked to address a formal welcome meeting before most of the population of Yan'an, she spoke for almost an hour. She talked about her early days on a dirt farm in Missouri and gave a dramatic account of her imprisonment in 1918 because of her anti-imperialist activities. She said that the American people understood the feelings of the Chinese in their struggle against the Japanese aggressors. »You do not stand alone, nor is your struggle an obscure one«, she concluded. »You are part of a world wide anti-fascist movement«. It was a stirring speech, filled with personal emotion. Even as they heard it through a Chinese translator, the crowd was mesmerized by the words of this foreign woman with the broad Roman forehead and penetrating blue eyes. When she ended, they stood and applauded loudly.[6]
Smedley did not come as a complete stranger, of course; she was well known as one of the few foreign friends of the Chinese Communist movement. On hand to welcome her personally were Chen Geng, Liu Ding, Ding Ling, Zhou Enlai, and other comrades she had either sheltered in Shanghai or worked with in Xi'an; George Hatem, the American doctor she had talked into going to the northwest a year earlier; and Wang Bingnan and Anna Wang, the couple who had befriended her in Xi'an. Thus the atmosphere surrounding her arrival was one of joyous public reunion with old friends, beyond the reach of Chiang Kai-shek's hated Blueshirts.[7] Also, Smedley felt oddly at home in the geographical and social setting of Yan'an. Despite its distinctly Chinese landmarks, it reminded her of the one-horse frontier towns she had known in the American West at the turn of the century. With amusement, she compared the newly arrived Red Army soldiers to greenhorn cowboys fresh off the range: »This was a large town for the Red Army boys—so large that the merchants swindled them right and left«.[8]
After staying for several days in a rat-infested downtown building, Smedley was moved to a roomy cave carved into the mountain walls that enclosed the citadel. Here, not far from Mao's and Zhu De's quarters, she spent her first weeks interviewing Mao, Peng Dehuai, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, and others; the sound of her portable typewriter could be heard late into the night as she hammered out the results.[9] In the course of this work she developed a close working relationship with her young interpreter, Wu Guangwei, or Lily Wu, as Smedley and other foreigners called her. Lily was an attractive divorcee, a college student turned revolutionary and an actress in Ding Ling's drama troupe. (It is likely that Smedley had first met her in Xi'an.) She soon moved into the cave next to Smedley's and the two became close friends.[10] In a military encampment, Smedley, Ding Ling, and Lily Wu were a unique group: three strong-minded, divorced women who were critical of traditional marriage and wanted to see women given more power in a socialist society.
By April, Smedley had settled down to work on longer-term projects, the most significant of which was a biography of the Red Army's legendary peasant commander-in-chief, Zhu De, meeting him regularly for long sessions in the evening. A combination of Chinese, German, and English was used, and for help at sticky points they turned to Lily Wu, Hatem, and Huang Hua. The result, though not published until six years after Smedley's death, was The Great Road (1956). In China, where it is still regarded as a classic, millions of copies of a new translation have been sold in recent years.[11]
Characteristically, Smedley did not restrict herself to interviewing and writing but threw herself into several other projects at once. Her international appeals to bring supplies and doctors to Yan'an were responsible in part for enticing Norman Bethune, the celebrated Canadian surgeon, Communist, and Spanish Civil War hero, to come to northwestern China. She became an energetic librarian and took charge of expanding the foreign-language section of Yan'an's new Lu Xun cave library to serve the burgeoning student population; the New Masses of New York was the most popular, due to its combination of graphics and politics. She worked hard to attract foreign correspondents to Yan'an, urging them to break through the Guomindang blockade at Xi'an. By May and June she was beginning to succeed, with the arrival of Victor Sheen, Earl Leaf, and Helen F. Snow, among others. She even mounted a birth-control campaign but had to give up quickly when neighboring villagers, thinking the blue-eyed foreigner was offering them a potion of miraculous powers, drank the lemon-based douche she had imported from Shanghai. Much more successful was Smedley's anti-rat crusade, accompanied by much propaganda about the importance of sanitation. At first many scoffed at her Western »obsession« with rats, but they fell silent when Mao Zedong threw the full weight of his authority behind her campaign. Before long, rat traps imported from Shanghai and Beijing were having an impact on Yan'an's ancient rat population.[12]
Smedley was pursuing all these activities during a six-month lull in fighting before the Sino-Japanese War of 1937—45—probably the most relaxed period in the thirty-year history of the Communist Party's climb to power. Mao and his comrades were in a mood to experiment, even with Western social and cultural forms. New social, economic, and political measures were being introduced as part of the Communist Party's new united-front line: cooperation among all elements of the population who were willing to fight the Japanese. In the villages, new united-front political coalitions were formed, and elections were held for the first time. Land-reform measures directed against landlords were curtailed. Women's and youth organizations that cut across class lines were organized, and literacy campaigns were undertaken.[13]
Exhilarated by all these activities—feeling, perhaps, that here in Yan'an she was seeing the future of the revolution—Smedley took a step she may have been considering for years: in March or April of 1937, she applied for membership in the Chinese Communist Party. Her application was denied. When she received the rejection she burst into tears and, to the amazement of those on hand, became nearly hysterical.
Party propaganda chief Lu Dingyi tried to soften the refusal by explaining that she would be of greater use as a journalist outside the party.[14] But although she continued to devote her life to the cause of the Chinese peasant, this rejection in Yan'an was a devastating blow from which Smedley would never fully recover. In retrospect, it is clear that there were a number of reasons for the rejection, such as her unbridled individualism and Chinese doubts, especially after her fight with Mme. Sun Yat-sen, about her ability to accept party discipline. All of these factors related to a controversy that had been brewing ever since Smedley arrived in Yan'an and that culminated during the summer—after her rejection by the party.
In February, Mao, Zhu De, Zhou Enlai, and others had encouraged Smedley in her efforts to introduce a new pastime: social dancing, Western style. Smedley was convinced that the grim survivors of the Long March needed to learn to relax and play. She also thought dancing might help break down the rigid social code imposed by the wives of leading cadres. Somehow she found an old phonograph and some Western records, and by March she and Lily Wu were conducting evening dance classes in the old Catholic church. The Red Army husbands came without their wives, but they were joined by a sprinkling of young women and men who had recently arrived from campuses in Beijing and Shanghai to serve the united front and the revolution. Edgar Snow wrote:

Since she had been raised in the American West among cowboys, [Smedley] liked folk songs such as »On Top of Old Smokey«, »Red River Valley«, and »She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain When She Comes«. [With records of songs like these] she taught square dancing. ... At first there were very few women who would dance, and frequently only the men danced. Agnes said that when the dancing was over she felt as if her feet had been trampled on by a whole army division. At this time she was 44 and her hair had already begun to turn gray; but she had the energy of a child, and knowing the pleasure of play, she made the dance parties with these »country bumpkins« a more joyful and pleasant experience than a first-class New York dance.[15]

Smedley was playing with dynamite but didn't seem to know it. Doubtless her own staunchly Western feminist views about marriage and freedom between the sexes blinded her. But the dancing parties were creating an explosive social atmosphere in the caves of Yan'an. Increasingly Smedley and her beautiful companion and interpreter, Lily Wu, came under sharp criticism from the women comrades of Yan'an. The situation came to a head in a most extraordinary fashion in June of 1937. Here is the story as Smedley told it to Edgar Snow, who retold it (in Japanese) after her death:

When the women of Yan'an first noticed an atmosphere of defiance among the men of the town, they suspected Agnes as the primary cause. For instance, they thought it strange that a foreign woman should spend so much time talking with their husbands in her cave... It was said that General Zhu De's wife—a combat veteran in her own right—did not like the fact that her husband was being interviewed alone for long periods of time by Agnes, and she told him so. When Zhu De laughingly told Agnes this, her blue-gray eyes widened in surprise. And she said to Zhu De, »Isn't it bourgeois to think that there is only one thing men and women talk about when they are together?«
It was Mao's wife, He Zizhen, who appreciated Smedley the least. In return, Agnes made it plain that she thought Zizhen led a colorless, cloistered existence and did not have the necessary qualifications to be a revolutionary leader's wife. She made this clear by ignoring Zizhen. As a result, although there had been no specific quarrel between the two women, there was much mutual animosity.
Agnes had the habit of reprimanding young communist officials for being afraid of their wives. She told them half-jokingly that if they could not free themselves from women's oppression, they probably could not liberate China... Agnes's introduction of square dancing to Yan'an was the last straw. It galvanized the wives into open opposition.
What we should not forget here is that the Red Army had just arrived in northern Shaanxi province after their famous Long March. The hardships had been great and many had been sacrificed along the way. Only a small number of women survived. Most were the wives or future wives of important party figures or Red Army commanders.
Even with the establishment of the communist base area around Yan'an, the number of women cadres was extremely small. Neighboring peasant women, behind the times politically and not beautiful physically, did not exist as rivals for the communist women. The women cadres controlled their husbands easily by applying the time-honored technique of not sleeping with their spouses. As a result, they gradually ignored personal appearance. They thought it bourgeois to braid one's hair prettily, and so they let their hair grow long and unkempt, casually cutting it short with a knife when it became bothersome. A few of these women had bound feet, so they especially were opposed to dancing and considered it immoral and »suggestive«.
In one letter, Agnes wrote delightedly, »Mao said that because the women can't dance, they are all opposed to dancing«. And again, »I have not yet corrupted Mao with dancing but I'll probably succeed soon. He wants to learn dancing and singing in case he has the chance to go abroad. Thus it was imperative he learn the latest fox trot. I think that if he has this chance to travel he'll have to leave his wife behind. His poetry has definitely progressed over these past few weeks«. Since I knew nothing about Lily Wu at this time, I did not understand Agnes's reference to Mao's poetry.
Lily Wu was the star of the »social dances« that were taking place in the evenings. She also was a leading player in the »contemporary theater« troupe of Yan'an. Her specialty was leading roles in Western plays. From the beginning, Lily seemed a brilliant fairy-tale princess in contrast to the dull women of Yan'an. To the men of Yan'an, who had lived a long time among only peasants, Lily was more than a pretty face. She was comparable to Yang Guifei, the most beautiful woman in Chinese history.
Lily interpreted for most of Smedley's conversations with major leaders. Agnes and Lily were a good combination and became close friends. Often when high officials visited Lily without their wives, Agnes acted as Lily's chaperone.
The Red Army was enjoying a few months' interlude of peace between wars. And it was spring, with young rice plants coloring the red earth with green, and apple blossoms coming into full bloom. Mao, finally freed from battles which had lasted years, read many books and wrote essays on politics and philosophy. What is not well known is that Mao was also writing a large number of poems to instruct and guide Lily Wu. Right after sunset, before he went to work, Mao frequently went with one guard to Agnes's cave, and they talked together while drinking tea or rice wine. He showed a great deal of interest in foreign countries. He and Agnes were the same age, and he questioned her in detail concerning her life, including her love life. Mao had read some Western poems in translation, and he asked Agnes whether she had ever experienced romantic love of the type poets such as Byron, Keats, and Shelley praised.
Agnes discussed her marriage to V. Chattopadhyaya and described how, as lovers and compatriots, they had struggled together for Indian freedom. She stated that Chatto was the one true love of her life. Then Mao wanted to know exactly what »love« meant to Agnes, how she and Chatto had expressed it in their daily lives, and how the two of them could have argued and finally separated if their marriage linked the spiritual with the physical.
Agnes later said to me, »I was surprised at his childish curiosity«. And again, »He said that he wondered whether the type of love that he had read about in Western novels could really exist and he wondered what on earth it was. Among the people he had met, I was the first one who seemed to have experienced this sort of love. He seemed to feel that somehow he had missed out on something«. Lily appeared to be reviving within him youthful fancies about delicate and refined sentiment. She always acted as mediator in conversations between Mao and Agnes, and we may assume that certain questions Mao asked Smedley were directed at Lily. She was fresh and sensitive as well as elegant. Thus, when Agnes discussed romantic love with Mao, she thought the conversation was aimed at Lily Wu. During their discussions, Mao wrote poems. Naturally Lily was able to appreciate them better than Agnes. Lily would respond poetically herself, using the same rhythm as Mao had in his poetry, and this pleased him. They discussed at length man-woman relationships in the new post-revolutionary liberated society where men and women would be equals. These thoughts were woven into their poetry, which was classical in form.
Late one evening after Agnes had already gone to bed there was the sound of cloth shoes outside her cave and she heard the sound of Mao's soft southern accent. The chairman was in Lily's cave next door and the light was still on. Smedley had heard him knock, then the door opening and closing. She tried to go back to sleep and just when she finally was drifting off, she heard the sound of footsteps rushing excitedly up the hill. Then the door of Lily's cave was pushed open and a woman's shrill voice broke the silence: »You idiot! How dare you fool me and sneak into the home of this little bourgeois dance hall strumpet«.
Smedley leapt out of bed, threw on her coat, and ran next door. There was Mao's wife standing beside the seated Mao beating him with a long-handled flashlight. He was sitting on a stool by the table, still wearing his cotton hat and military coat. He did not try to stop his wife. His guard was standing at attention at the door looking perplexed. Mao's wife, crying in anger, kept hitting him and shouting until she was out of breath. Mao finally stood up. He looked tired and his voice was quietly severe: »Be quiet, Zizhen. There's nothing shameful in the relationship between comrade Wu and myself. We were just talking. You are ruining yourself as a communist and are doing something to be ashamed of. Hurry home before other party members learn of this«.
Suddenly Mao's wife turned on Lily, who was standing with her back against the wall like a terrified kitten before a tiger. She railed at Lily, saying, »Dance-hall bitch! You'd probably take up with any man. You've even fooled the Chairman«. Then she drew close to Lily and while brandishing the flashlight she held in one hand, she scratched Lily's face with the other hand and pulled her hair. Blood flowing from her head, Lily ran to Agnes and hid behind her. Mao's wife now directed her anger against Agnes.
»Imperialist!« she shouted. »You're the cause of all this. Get back to your own cave«. Then she struck the »foreign devil« with her flashlight. Not one to turn the other cheek, Smedley flattened Mrs. Mao with a single punch. From the floor, Mao's wife, more humiliated than hurt, shrieked: »What kind of husband are you? Are you any kind of man? Are you really a communist? You remain silent while I'm being struck by this imperialist right before your eyes«.
Mao rebuked his wife, saying »Didn't you strike her even though she had done nothing to you? She has a right to protect herself. You're the one who has shamed us. You're acting like a rich woman in a bad American movie«. Furious but restraining himself, Mao commanded his guard to help his wife up and take her home. But she made a fuss and refused to cooperate, so Mao had to call two more guards, and they finally led Mao's hysterical wife from the room. As they proceeded down the hill, Mao followed in silence, with many surprised faces watching the procession from their caves.
The next morning the whole town was talking of nothing else. It got to the point where Mao had to regard the problem as important, so he assembled the Central Executive Committee, explained his actions, and left the final decision to them. The committee decided to treat the case as a »secret matter« and they issued a command that forbade speaking more about it.
But no one could keep Mao's wife quiet. She got the other women together and asked for their support in banishing Smedley, Lily, and Mao's guard— she believed that he also had a part in this »intrigue"—from Yan'an. And she tried to put a stop to the dancing.
Soon there was animated discussion in the streets of Yan'an about the pros and cons of romantic love versus marriage. The young people began to ask: »If Mao can't control his wife, what sort of order can he impose on other people?« Finally, Mao went to Smedley's cave and said: »We swore that we wouldn't say a word about that embarrassing event. But my wife has broken her promise, and now this town is filled with suspicion and slander. It is an unbearable situation. I am convinced now that it is necessary to act publicly and counterattack the slander. This time I shall break completely with Zizhen. I think everyone will know the truth when I announce my reasons for the separation. Thus you are freed from your vow of silence. You may speak out [and defend yourself] if you wish«.
For a second time Mao discussed this question with the party's Central Executive Committee. He asked for their consent to a divorce in order to clear up the matter once and for all. As they pondered his request, there was heated debate throughout Yan'an. Wives urged their husbands to intervene and save Mao's wife, but many men considered the situation from the opposite point of view. It was possible then [under Party regulations] to obtain a divorce by simply inserting an account of the situation in the official records and signing it. But Mao knew that if he wanted to maintain his authority, the officials would have to study previous cases for moral principles and fundamental guidelines that could serve as precedents for this act. Only then would the politburo be able to come to a systematic conclusion.
At just this point in time [July 7, 1937], the Lugouqiao [Marco Polo Bridge] Incident occurred and war was formally declared [by China], putting Yan'an suddenly on a war footing. The Committee therefore made a quick and simple decision. Mao's divorce was formally granted. Mao's wife was reprimanded for acting inappropriately for a Communist and revolutionary. »Political education« was necessary. He Zizhen promptly left Yan'an, going first to a remote village and later to the Soviet Union for continued »political education«. Wu Guangwei [Lily Wu] was also banished from Yan'an. She was sent to the front lines with [Ding Ling's] theatrical group. Crying softly, Lily Wu burned Mao's poetry before leaving Yan'an. She and Mao probably never met again.
Agnes Smedley was not formally banished. Yet about a month after Lily Wu, Smedley also left, and some women leaders of Yan'an took credit for her departure. The dancing, however, continued. Smedley considered this a significant victory—a step toward removing the vestiges of feudal thinking from Chinese society. Square dancing became popular beyond Yan'an. After adapting a number of steps and rhythms from traditional peasant dances {Yang ko), »popular dancing«, as it was called, eventually spread from the villages to the cities of northern China.
As I try to look back on it all today [1954], the image that springs to mind is that of the wide roads of Yan'an and rats in packs searching for a place to hide. And in the background, I can hear, faintly, an old phonograph playing strains of »She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain When She Comes«.[16]

In a shorter version of this story told by Nym Wales (Snow's first wife), it was said that He Zizhen threatened to kill Smedley.[17] Certainly the conflict was a deep one, pitting Yan'an's veteran women revolutionaries against Smedley and the few Chinese women who had just arrived from the cities and knew little about life in the countryside. Although both sides agreed that in the new society women should be economically independent, each had a radically different assessment of marriage as a social institution. Smedley had long believed that marriage was an oppressive institution for all women. The women veterans, however, considered monogamous marriage a great victory for Chinese women — a cultural advance to be protected and strengthened. They were not ready to tolerate the introduction of a »free-love« system; this had been tried earlier in the Jiangxi soviet and had victimized many women.[18] Needless to say, the ease with which Mao was being granted a divorce also upset them. In retrospect, it seems clear that Smedley's position in this controversy and the resentment aroused by her »liberated« Western behavior gave party leaders ample reason to deliberately ease her out of Yan'an.
The rejection of her application for membership in the Chinese Communist Party in the spring and then the Lily Wu affair in July were heavy blows to Smedley's spirit.[19] During her last two months in Yan'an, she tried to compensate by keeping as busy as possible. Defiantly, she continued the dance classes. But she also turned to gardening and acting as a foster parent. In letters that have survived, she tried to hide her disappointment by painting her life in idyllic terms. On July 21 she wrote to Randall Gould:

In the midst of wars and rumors of wars, I've an American flower garden here. A friend outside sent me seeds; all kinds, including vines, nasturtiums; also some vegetables — eggplants, beans, squash, cucumber. I've shovelled and hoed for months until now my flowers are just starting to blossom — beautiful things that draw admirers. When they go to seed, I'll distribute [them] to many peasants so we will have a few new kinds of flowers up here.
I walk on the hills and through the valleys early mornings and pick wild flowers—larkspurs, a big orange-red lily, iris, and a few other kinds. Up here they are gorgeous. Then I ride like the wind through valleys and over hills on my beloved »Yunnan"—a pony captured by He Long in Yunnan and given me by Zhu De.
I work also — writing the life of Zhu De, and I keep chickens and ducks for food and do my own cooking. I'm a nurse also to one of my bodyguards.
He's been sick for three months, first with pneumonia and then weak lungs. He's a Sichuan peasant boy about twenty who lies in bed week after week, reading aloud in a sing-song voice. And now that he is better, [he is] singing dozens of peasant and Red Army songs. I'm also »attached to« a xiaogui [little devil] about eleven. He is the smartest thing in this part of the world. He lives in my house/cave, does small chores, and goes to school. I want [to bring] another xiaogui here also, because he has T.B. and needs a mother's care. He is one of the child prisoners of war formerly in Xi'an prison but released during the Xi'an event. He's a Sichuan peasant child about eleven also.
My present xiaogui is a character. Until I made him build a chicken house, he kept the chickens and ducks under his bed at night. Over his bed is a swallow's nest with four young just learning to fly. The peasants who share our compound have pups and kittens and my xiaogui had established a protectorate over them. Each day he carries our two ducks down to the river and the three of them go swimming together. He collects tin cans, nails, string, boxes, and pictures galore from magazines I throw away. And just like little American boys he has made himself a telephone with tin cans to which long strings are attached. He is a xiaogui in reality, and will fight any lad twice his size who tries to impose on him. My sick guard sort of fathers him and helps him study each day. I like his belligerency.
In other words, I've a calmer, more marvelous life than I have ever dreamed of. Never in Shanghai or America could I live so freely or so happily.

In late August Smedley fell off her horse and injured her back, thus delaying her departure. Her mood as she prepared to leave was bittersweet. She had often been genuinely happy in Yan'an. She knew that Zhu De and Zhou Enlai, among others, still had much affection for her; Zhu De had even given her his horse, Yunnan, in a gesture of friendship. But she had grown bitter toward Mao Zedong, perhaps seeing him as the cause of her rejection. In her future characterizations of Chairman Mao, whom she never saw again, she would be cutting, as in this example from the 1940s:

I saw Mao Zedong on many occasions in Yan'an, either in the cave where he worked or elsewhere. I found him at first physically repulsive. It was difficult to meet his eye and he would answer my questions in a roundabout, impersonal way. There were times when he would not answer them at all and [thus] give me the impression that he had not heard them. He seemed somehow unsure of himself, even though his popularity and authority were not to be questioned. I attended several public meetings at which he spoke. They took place in the open air and the audience was enormous. His elocution was not good. He spoke as if his mouth were full of hot congee and his voice did not carry well. He was certainly aware of this and expressed himself in short, clipped, simple sentences, but slowly and with many pauses, during which those listeners in the front rows relayed his words to those further back who had not been able to catch them. A general murmur of approval then went through the crowd and Mao waited for this to die down before proceeding. He would begin his speeches very quietly, keeping his hands still. Then, gradually, he would start gesticulating and his elocution then grew worse. It didn't matter much because that was precisely when those close to him began to clap their hands and of course the clapping was taken up by everyone present. It was rather impressive because it gave one the feeling that no matter what Mao said, he was the spokesman of his every audience.[20]

Smedley finally left for Xi'an in September of 1937, bruised but unbroken, already planning a way to rejoin Zhu De and Zhou Enlai in the field with the new Eighth Route Army. She was determined to fight on for the Chinese revolution. But her mission would remain only a self-appointed one.