UMKC University Archives | Edgar Parks Snow Papers
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Scope and Content of Collection
The main body of the Edgar Snow Papers was donated by his widow, Lois Wheeler Snow, to the University of Missouri in 1986. Ownership of the collection passed to the University Archives in increments over several years with the last installment transferred in 1989. Additional materials from Mrs. Snow have been received as recently as 1994.
The Edgar Snow Papers are divided into seven sections which reflect Edgar Snow's contribution to American journalism and Sino-American relations. In general, the papers are straightforward in their contents and are arranged to follow the course of Snow's life work: personal and business correspondence; diaries and notebooks; notes related to manuscripts and interviews; various drafts and revisions of both article and book manuscripts; clippings of published articles and book reviews; research materials; photographs; audio tape and film material, the majority of which were compiled for his documentary, One Fourth of Humanity. The sections concerning book-related correspondence, book reviews, articles about Edgar Snow, and his research materials, also contain items written by others after Snow's death. 1928-1982.
The University Archives also holds other collections of special interest related to Edgar Snow, including the papers of his sister, Mildred Mackey; his brother, Howard Snow; and his nephew, John Snow.
Edgar Parks Snow was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 19, 1905. He received his education locally and briefly attended the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. At 19, he left college and moved to New York City to embark on a career in advertising. In 1928, after making a little money in the stock market, he left to travel and write of his journeys around the world.
He arrived in Shanghai July 6, 1928, and was to remain in China for the next thirteen years. His first job was with The China Weekly Review in Shanghai. Working as a foreign correspondent, he wrote numerous articles for many leading American and English newspapers and periodicals. In 1932, he married Helen (Peg) Foster, (also known as Nym Wales). The following year, the couple settled in Beijing where Snow taught at Yenching University.
Edgar Snow spent part of the early 1930s traveling over much of China on assignment for the Ministry of Railways of the National Government. These experiences led to the first of his books, Far Eastern Front (1934). In 1936, he compiled a volume of modern Chinese short stories, Living China. That same year he became the first western journalist to visit the revolutionary army’s stronghold in the western hills of Shaanxi Province. In the town of Baoan and the caves of Yanan, Snow spent five months interviewing Mao Tse-tung and other Chinese Communist leaders, while he observed the Red Army in action and saw how guerrilla forces lived among the people. His classic work, Red Star Over China (RSOC), published in 1937, made him world famous. Many journalists followed him and gave independent reports, but RSOC remains a standard introduction to the revolutionary movement that eventually succeeded in founding the People’s Republic of China.
In the late 1930s, Edgar Snow, Nym Wales, and Rewi Alley established the Chinese Industrial Cooperative organization, Indusco. Created to develop a new economic foundation in China based on democratic principles, Indusco sought to provide work, education, consumer and industrial goods, and a chance for Chinese workers to manage their own organizations. Snow’s primary responsibility as chair of the Membership and Propaganda Subcommittee was to build public and financial support for Indusco.
Edgar Snow published his second major book, Battle for Asia, in 1941. In 1942, the Saturday Evening Post appointed him a roving war correspondent covering Europe, India, the Middle East, and Russia. He published three short books, People on Our Side (1944), The Pattern of Soviet Power (1945), and Stalin Must Have Peace (1947), about Russia’s role in the war and world affairs. In 1949, Snow divorced Helen Foster and later that year married Lois Wheeler.
After World War II, Snow’s association with the Chinese Communist movement made him an object of suspicion. During the McCarthy period, he was questioned by the FBI and asked to disclose the extent of his Communist activities. Later in the 1950s, he published two more books about China: Random Notes on Red China (1957), a research aid for scholars containing previously unused China material; and Journey to the Beginning (1958), an autobiographical account of events prior to 1949. Yet, he found it increasingly difficult to make a living through his writing in the United States. Thus, in 1959, he moved his family to Geneva, Switzerland, but retained his American citizenship and passport. Beginning in 1959, he served as a faculty member for two years at the International School of America, traveling with his students to such places as India, Europe, and Japan.
In 1960, classified as a “writer” rather than an unwelcome journalist, he became the first American correspondent to re-enter China for an extended visit. He subsequently published The Other Side of the River--Red China Today in 1961. He made another visit to China in 1964 that resulted in several articles and the television documentary, “One Fourth of Humanity.” During these visits, the Chinese government invited him to exclusively interview both Mao Tse-tung and Chou En-lai.
Edgar Snow made a final trip to China in 1970. During this cordial visit, he received word that President Richard M. Nixon would be welcomed in China, either as a tourist or in an official capacity. Two articles published in Life magazine made that invitation known. On February 15, 1972, the week that President Nixon was traveling to China, Edgar Snow died of cancer. As he wished, his ashes were buried at Sneden’s Landing, New York, and on the grounds of Beijing University. The Long Revolution, his final book, was published posthumously by Lois Wheeler Snow.