Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Thoughts as pure as the driven Snow

By Chen Xiuxia (China Daily) Updated: 2012-02-01 08:01

Edgar Snow is one of the most widely read and influential American journalists in modern China, but few people (including Chinese) know that he also made a unique contribution to facilitate former US president Richard Nixon's historic visit to China in 1972.

In 1970, Snow visited China for the third and last time since 1960, and became the harbinger of the thaw in Sino-US relations by reporting his interviews with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai who gave him the official word "to transmit to the United States the message that US President Richard Nixon would be welcome to visit China, either as a tourist or in an official capacity". Life Magazine published two of Snow's articles to make that invitation known.

Snow received a message from Nixon in early February 1972, saying his "distinguished career is widely respected and appreciated". Snow was to have come to China again to cover Nixon's visit, which began the process of normalizing US-China relations. That would have been a fitting finale to Snow's work of promoting understanding and better ties between China and the US. But illness held him back and he died on Feb 15, in the very week that Nixon was to travel to China.

The Chinese and US governments established diplomatic relations in 1979 on the condition that the US should sever "diplomatic relations" and abrogate the "mutual defense treaty" with Taiwan authorities and withdraw American forces from the island province. The US government recognizes the People's Republic of China government as the sole legal government of China and the Chinese position that there is but one China, and Taiwan is part of China. In 1982, another joint communiqu on the issue of US arms sales to Taiwan was signed. These developments seemed to match what Snow had predicted and aspired and worked for.

Though many years have passed since then, people in both countries still believe that in view of the strategic interests of both countries, the Chinese and US governments should develop a much healthier and better relationship. On the part of China, it would be appropriate to quote the message Chairman Mao gave Snow in 1960.

Chairman Mao said that as long as he was alive, China would never resort to war to settle a dispute, but China would always oppose the export of counterrevolution. "We on our part will shoulder the responsibility of world peace", Chairman Mao said. He told Snow that he hoped American people would understand "whether or not the United States recognizes China, or whether or not we get into the United Nations We will not defy laws, human and divine, like the Monkey King who stormed the Palace of Heaven. We want to maintain world peace. We do not want war. We hold that war should not be used as a means to settle disputes between nations. However, not only China but the United States as well has the responsibility to maintain peace".

He told Snow one other thing: "For as long as I am alive, Taiwan is China's affair. We will insist on this."

In this respect, Snow made the following reflections in his last book, The Long Revolution: "A world of relative peace between states is as necessary to China as to America." And he wrote in the last chapter of his book, The Other Side of the River: "We must have faith that the American nation also has a better sense of the general direction of history and in the end will have more to say about the future than some of the strategists of the moment. Whether we shall eventually carry (America) onto the higher ground of a victory shared with all men depends on the ability of our 'alert and knowledgeable citizenry' to see beyond immediate selfish interests, and act far more objectively than they have ever been required to do before."

Edgar Snow died 40 years ago, but people in China will always remember and cherish the memory of this simple and yet great American journalist-author from Missouri who made a unique and outstanding contribution to further Sino-American understanding and friendship in the 20th century. As this year marks the 40th anniversary of Nixon's visit to China, we hope more American people and politicians will cherish and follow what Snow said.

The author is vice-president of China Society of People's Friendship Studies.

(China Daily 02/01/2012 page9)

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