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Times Past | Talks with Zhou Enlai

Edgar Snow's first conversation with Zhou Enlai took place in a bomb-proof hut (half cave) in a village three-days' journey by foot or broken-down horse to Pao An. In 1936 Pao An or Defended Peace was the temporary capital of what was then known as the Chinese Workers' and Peasants' Soviet Republic. In December of that year, a United Front against the Japanese was established and the government that moved to Henan was renamed the Chinese People's Soviet Republic. In Red Star Over China Snow wrote:

Before the quarters of Zhou Enlai, for whose head Chiang Kaishek had offered $ 80,000 there was one sentry. . . . 'I have a report that you are reliable journalist, friendly to the Chinese people, and that you can be trusted to tell the truth,' said Zhou. 'We will welcome any journalist who comes to see the soviet districts.

So a suggested trip of 92 days in Northwest China was worked out then and there. It was the beginning of an amazing road that Edgar Snow is still travelling as he studies, talks and writes of the China that began 50 years ago. He was the first American journalist to return in 1960 and 1965; and he stood by Mao's side last year as he reviewed the October Day parade. Together with his wife, Lois Wheeler, he spent six months seeing old friends and making new ones, in Bao An, Yanan and many other places.

The following article, reprinted with the author's permission, first appeared in Epoca (Italy) and The New Republic (USA) in March 1971. It was written in Beijing.

Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai
Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai 1945

The open door

In two long dialogues Premier Zhou Enlai discussed with me some of China's foreign and domestic policies and achievements, and released for publication the most detailed interview he has given for some years. One session brought forth the first concrete figures on China's industrial and agricultural output made available in Beijing for nearly a decade.

We sat in a spacious, vaulted, noiseless reception chamber in the Great Hall of the People. The premier was, as usual, urbane, relaxed and alert. A stranger would hardly guess that he is 72 and in his twenty-first year as premier of the Republic, the last five years of which saw him at the centre of stability, holding an administration together during the second or cultural revolution.

Behind China's current achievements in broadening international diplomatic and trade ties there is a recovered rhythm of agricultural and industrial production following her emergence from a valley of discord. Considering the depth of that radical upheaval and the still uncompleted reconstitution of a new state superstructure it was striking to learn from the premier that the basic economy suffered relatively mild damage. 'As a result of some struggles in factories, disruption of traffic, and lost labour hours, industrial production in 1967 and 1968 did decline somewhat,' he frankly conceded. Without minimising past difficulties he asserted: 'We can still say that what we gained' in purification of the leadership and revolutionary growth - 'was far, far more than we lost.'

The premier said that despite the 1967-68 decline the goals set for the 1966-70 five-year plan had been basically attained and some had even been greatly exceeded. I asked for an estimate of total value of industrial production in 1970. 'Approximately ninety billion US dollars,' he answered. 'That only includes industry and transportation and does not include commerce and the service trades.' As for agriculture, the premier said that 'as a result of Liu Shaoqi's interference' mistakes were made in the late fifties and other mistakes were made in measures of correction during the 'hardship years' of 1960-62. 'Now for nine years our agriculture has had a steady growth.' He continued:

Edgar Snow

© Copyright Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) 2001, reprinted from SACU's magazine China Now, Issue 15, September 1971

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of SACU.
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