In order to “better tell the story of China and the CCP to the outside world,” the CCP hoped to find a foreigner like the American journalist Edgar Snow to sing the praises of the CCP and improve its deteriorating international image. However, such a Snow will no longer be available, and in his later years Snow himself is no longer able to accept the CCP’s practices.
A new era of Snow? China is looking for a “useful idiot”?
Recently, China Daily, China’s official English-language newspaper, announced the establishment of the “Snow Studio for a New Era”. Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), also recently wrote to foreign students at Peking University, hoping they would learn about China and introduce it.
According to the report, “The New Era Snow Studio will provide more platforms and opportunities for foreign journalists and international friends of China Daily to learn more about China’s development and changes in the new era, record wonderful Chinese stories, and show a colorful, vivid and three-dimensional image of China.”
In addition to the establishment of the “New Era Snow Studio” by China Daily, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi also talked about Snow at a press conference in March this year. He said, “Snow is not a communist, but when he talks about the Chinese Communist Party, he does not have ideological bias, he tells the facts and remains objective.” In April, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng also said in an interview with the Associated Press, “Media friends, I hope you all become the Snow of the new era “.
In an interview with the Voice of America, Perry Link, a leading American sinologist and Distinguished Professor at the University of California, Riverside, said that the Chinese Communist Party is not looking for Snow, but for “useful idiots” in Western society. He said Xi Jinping and the Chinese Communist Party are either too stupid or have other political agendas to expect to find journalists like Snow.
He said, “It’s not the same as Snow’s situation. The CCP is no longer isolated and unknown, hidden away in an isolated place called Yan’an. The Communist Party is now everywhere. People know about the CCP, though not very well, but they are not mystified about who the CCP is today. So to expect that there will be people like Snow now is absurd from a historical point of view. For Xi Jinping to bring it up that way is either stupid or just treating it as a play on words: we want people like Edgar Snow to give people this whitewashed impression.”
“Useful idiots” was used during the Cold War to refer specifically to Western intellectuals who were orchestrated by Moscow to visit the Soviet Union, became enamored of it and later helped put in a good word for the Lenin regime. Later, the term was used generically to refer to people who campaigned for a cause without being fully aware of the goals of that cause.
On July 13, 1936, through the introduction of Song Qingling, Snow became the first foreign journalist to visit the Red Zone of China when he went to Baoan County, then the temporary seat of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, for an interview. There, Snow was treated as a national VIP and successfully interviewed Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Peng Dehuai and other Red Army leaders. Later, Snow’s book Red Star Over China (also known as A Journey to the West), based on these interviews, had a wide impact both within China and internationally. To many, Snow was the first to introduce Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party to the world.
Lin Peirui believes that the reason why Snow’s book had such an international impact was because the Chinese Communist Party was mysterious at that time and the outside world was curious about it. Snow himself was probably infected by this powerful curiosity and did not make any critical comments on Mao and the CCP in the book. The Red Star Shines in China gives the outside world a good, if not wrong, impression of the CCP. Lin Perry said Snow’s book succeeded in turning Western society’s curiosity about the Communist Party into sympathy for it, and these people included the young Lin Perry himself.
Because of the book, many young Chinese students reportedly became attracted to the CCP, yearned for Yan’an, and defected to the CCP from the National Unification Area. Some foreigners, including the Canadian doctor Bai Quyen, who was held in high esteem by the Chinese Communist Party, also came to Yan’an because of the book’s influence and inspiration.
Because of the benefits Snow’s report brought to the CCP, the CCP took every opportunity to invite more Westerners to visit Yan’an, including the leftist American journalists Anna Louise Strong and Agnes Smedley. These two men are also considered important international friends by the CCP.
But Lim argues that there is hardly a second Snow in Western society now, because there are few real sympathizers with the Chinese Communist Party. He says some of those existing sympathizers, including people like Jeffery Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia University, are more hateful to the international capitalist world than they are sympathetic to the Communist Party.
In a recent interview, Sachs criticized his interviewers for ignoring human rights violations in the United States while criticizing human rights in China. Sachs was thus appreciated by Chinese official media and officials. His remarks have been cited time and again by China to accuse the United States of “double standards” on human rights issues.
In an interview with the Voice of America, Kerry Brown, director of the China Institute at King’s College London, agreed that Snow is unlikely to be heard from again.
He said, “The Communist Party in 1936 was completely different from the Communist Party today. Edgar Snow was politically sympathetic to the Communist Party, and he was left-wing. I don’t think journalists today feel they have to be politically affiliated. They’re just thinking about how to get their jobs done.”
Not only have they never been treated like Snow, but last March journalists from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post were expelled from China.
In addition to Western journalists, China has tried to attract other foreign elites, including senior experts and even netizens. Jerry Kowal, who has appeared on China Central Television, is one of them. In his videos, Jerry Kowal criticizes American social problems while showing the “good” of China. For example, in his video, he compares Wuhan and New York, saying that a city like Wuhan “shows the boldness of a country” when it closes its doors to control an epidemic.
On June 21, CPC General Secretary Xi Jinping wrote back to the international students at Peking University, encouraging them to “learn more about the real China, introduce their ideas and experiences to more people, and play an active role in promoting people-to-people contact between people from all over the world.
In his later years, Snow was confused and puzzled by the Chinese Communist Party
However, even if Snow is regenerated, I am afraid it is difficult for him to identify with the current CCP’s practice. In his last trip to China in his later years, Snow, who once praised the CCP, already expressed his confusion about the CCP’s practices.
S Bernard Thomas, Snow’s biographer, compiled Snow’s diary of more than 40 years into a book, Season of High Adventure: Edgar Snow in China, in 1996. In this book, Thomas reveals that Snow’s diaries were kept for more than 40 years. In this book, Thomas reveals that Snow came to China for the third time from 1970 to 1971, a year before he passed away. A few days later, after a drab briefing filled with Mao’s ideas, a depressed Snow wrote in his diary, “China is a country with a single, one-size-fits-all scenario.” (China is a country with a single scenario.”)
Of his 1970 trip to Beijing, Snow wrote, “Mao dominated the thinking and activities of the people here to a far greater extent than I could have imagined.” The largest bookstore in Beijing, he said, sold almost nothing but books by Mao and Marx and Lenin, “and had few customers.” All Chinese people, he said, were mechanically reciting Mao’s quotations from the Red Book. The daily political procedure of “asking for instructions in the morning and reporting at night” felt like a religious ritual.
In his diary, Snow wrote that he was particularly disturbed by a documentary about Zhou Enlai’s visit to North Korea in May of that year. In the documentary, Kim Il-sung strides with his head held high, surrounded by an honor guard dressed in black and hats and marching in square steps. Snow commented, “The perfect cyborg, the whole picture is uncomfortable.”
At Security, where he interviewed Mao Zedong in 1936, he visited the “May 7 Cadre School” where intellectuals were rehabilitated during the Cultural Revolution, which he thought was like a prison. He also mentioned the “VIP” treatment he received at Bao’an, which was “a little beyond my liking.
Snow was also puzzled by the Chinese society’s personal worship of Mao at the time. After meeting Mao Zedong, Snow raised this question, and as a result, Mao told him that “the people’s personal worship of the leader is legitimate and essential.
During his trip to Beijing, Snow recorded his grievances and confusions, both large and small: too good a reception, the different treatment of foreign guests and ordinary Chinese people, being forced to listen to the same stories over and over again, the lack of access to political, military and economic information, the ubiquitous quotations and chants.
But it was the son of his old friend Louis Avery, Alan, who irritated him most. Louis Avery fought in the Chinese Revolution and settled in China. After the Cultural Revolution began, Allen was imprisoned in Northwest China, Avery told Snow. In the prison, people around Alan were killed, starved to death, and committed suicide. Alan later managed to escape, and only after Zhou Enlai’s intervention was he able to save his life. After hearing this experience, Snow was deep in thought. What would it take for the CCP to restore the trust of these intellectuals who were sent to the countryside for rehabilitation?
Not only did Snow have a change of heart, but in her later years, Mrs. Snow, Lois Wheeler Snow, went straight from being an ardent advocate of the CCP to a critic. In an interview with TIME Asia, Mrs. Snow once said that in 1989, after the violent suppression of the Tiananmen protesters by the Chinese Communist Party, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, “it sobered me up. For example, you would see people with blood all over their faces being dragged away. I gradually learned that these people’s families were being persecuted in some way.”
In 2000, Mrs. Snow, then 79, made her last trip to Beijing. According to the New York Times, not only was her entire trip to Beijing monitored, but when she hoped to pass a donation to “Tiananmen Mother” Ding Zilin, their meeting was blocked by more than 20 police officers.
Two kinds of useful idiots
According to Professor Perry Lin of the University of California, there are two types of “useful idiots” for the Chinese Communist Party in modern Western society. One is the Romantic Left. Theories of communism and socialism still appeal to them. They hate Western capitalism and neo-nihilism, and they are politically sympathetic to the Communist Party. These people are now few in number, but still exist in Western societies, according to Lampery. Their blind faith, he believes, prevents them from seeing the truth.
Another type of “useful idiot,” according to Lampery, is more accurately called “moral idiocy. The other kind, and there are a lot of them now, is people who want money,” he says. They are willing to lie in public, even though they know better in private what the Communist Party is. They are willing to lie about what the Communist Party is doing because thereby they can gain favor with the Communist Party and have access to big markets.”
Patricia Adams, an economist, is the executive director of International Investigations, an independent environmental advocacy organization in Canada. She told Voice of America that some U.S. and Canadian environmental agencies and others have become “useful idiots” for China, serving as mouthpieces for the Communist Party on environmental issues because of their desire for Chinese funding.
They’re all saying that China’s word can be trusted, even though most people don’t believe it anymore,” she said. Its promises about climate change are true, that they will get rid of fossil fuels. That’s not true. It’s nonsense, and it’s not going to happen. In my opinion, they are just helping to grease the skids of China. And of course, it’s good for them, it helps them raise money and get funding.”
Adams wrote an article in late December last year, “Red and Green, China’s Useful Idiots,” specifically about how environmental groups have been reduced to China’s “useful idiots. In the article, she said that through funding and personnel arrangements, the Chinese government not only oversees the activities of these environmental organizations to ensure they comply with Chinese policies, but also dominates their agendas.
Such a phenomenon is not limited to environmental groups, she says. People and institutions and scholars who want to do business with China sometimes have to make deals with China in order to get Chinese funding, such as backing off on human rights issues in China. These “useful idiots,” she said, have helped legitimize the Communist Party’s rule.
But, she said, it is encouraging that such groups are getting smaller and that more and more people are refusing to make deals with China.
China’s Favorite “Useful Idiots”
In addition to Sachs, the Columbia University economics professor mentioned above, and Jerry Guo, the Internet celebrity, others are being courted as stars in China because of their appreciation of China or because they share the Chinese government’s views on important issues that the Communist Party sees as core interests.
French author Maxime Vivas published his book “The End of Uyghur Fake News” in late 2020. Vivas has been invited twice to Xinjiang to give “guided tours” of the region. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi recommended Vivas’ book at a press conference at the two sessions in March. He said, “The book tells the real story of a prosperous and stable Xinjiang with the personal experience of two trips to Xinjiang. Vivas makes it clear in the book that it is people who have never been to Xinjiang who are creating fake news and spreading falsehoods in fabrications and plagiarism.”
Max Blumenthal, founder of the independent American news site Grayzone, is also a new favorite of the Chinese media. In his reports, Blumenthal has claimed that human rights persecution in Xinjiang is wildly exaggerated and lacking in credible evidence, and he has taken a lot of shots at research done by Adrian Zenz, a German expert on Xinjiang and a senior researcher at the U.S. human rights organization, the Communist Victims Foundation. Blumenthal’s report on the Xinjiang allegations was picked up by China’s official propaganda website, Xinjiang.com.
The “Gray Zone” news site reportedly has close ties to the Kremlin. Blumenthal has visited Moscow and is funded by Moscow. He is also regularly interviewed by Russia Today (RT) and China Global Television Network (CGTN).
Daniel Dumbrill, a Canadian and YouTube blogger, is also one of the Westerners who is widely followed in China. Dumbrill uses YouTube videos to promote China’s policies, such as his claim that Hong Kong is much freer after its return to China. In March, he posted on YouTube a speech he gave at a seminar on “Truth Hunting in Xinjiang – A Canadian Symposium. In the video, he said that the U.S. sanctioned products made in Xinjiang without any real evidence, and that taking away the livelihoods of Uighurs is the path to terrorism by making ordinary people suffer.
Raz Gal-Or, an Israeli, is another Internet sensation who is eagerly sought after in China. His popularity in China can be seen in the fact that his experience delivering masks to China during the New Crown epidemic was edited into a book by a domestic Chinese publisher within eight days. Standing Behind You! 384 Hours from Tel Aviv to Huanggang,” took only 182 hours from project initiation to book publication.