Peking University Commemorates Birth Centennial of ‘Friendship Ambassador’ Helen Foster Snow

An International Symposium Commemorating the 100th Birth Anniversary of Helen Foster Snow was held by Peking University on September 3, 2007. At the event, Wang Xuezhen, former Secretary of the CPC Committee of Peking University and Honorary Director of China Center for Edgar Snow Studies, said: “The Snows were old friends of the Chinese people. We hope today's commemoration will help promote our understanding of Helen Foster Snow and Edgar Snow. We also hope more research results will be presented to the world.”

At the symposium, more than 50 scholars from Beijing, Xi'an, Wuhan, Xiamen and other cities in China and the United States delivered speeches on journalism s, literature, China-US relations, international cultural exchanges and other perspectives in memory of Helen Foster Snow's outstanding contributions to the liberation of the Chinese people and the mutual understanding and establishment of relationship between China and the United States. Li Yansong, Assistant President of Peking University and Director of China Center for Edgar Snow Studies, presided over the Opening Ceremony.

A scene from the Symposium

“Helen Foster Snow is a faithful friend of the Chinese people. She has been closely connected with China all her life,” Huang Hua, Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress, wrote in his congratulation letter to the Symposium, recalling his experience with the Snow couple. He praised Helen Foster Snow as “the builder of the friendship bridge between the Chinese and American people”.

In his speech, Jin Yongjian, former Head of the Permanent Mission of China to the UN Office at Geneva, former Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and President of the China Society for People’s Friendship Studies, paid tribute to Helen Foster Snow's unswerving efforts to introduce China to the United States and the Western world at large during the Chinese revolution and after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, as well as her friendship with the Chinese people. “No matter where she was - in China or the United States, and no matter whether as a gifted youth or facing a difficult middle or old age, her support and friendship for the Chinese people have never been wavered.”

Sheril Bischoff, Helen Foster Snow's niece, recalled her relationship with her aunt and the deep friendship with the Chinese people when her living and working in China. “The seeds of friendship and mutual understanding between China and the United States planted by the Snow couple have taken root in Peking University,” she said.

Zhang Guoyou, Vice President of Peking University, delivered a welcome speech at the symposium. He recalled what the Snows had done to support the student progressive patriotic movement during their study in Yenching University, introduce China to the outside world during the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, and later the restoration of relations between China and the United States. He quoted Bing Xin in praise of Helen Foster Snow: “Edgar Snow's career is Helen Foster Snow's career. They are inseparable in regard to their career.” He also affirmed the work of China Center for Edgar Snow Studies since its establishment in studying and introducing international friends, promoting mutual understanding between Chinese and American and peoples of other countries, and promoting international exchanges and cooperation of Peking University.

The Governor of Utah sent a congratulatory letter to the Opening Ceremony of the Symposium. Addressing the Opening Ceremony were Ling Qing, Honorary President of the China Society for People’s Friendship Studies and former permanent representative of China to the United Nations; Li Daoyu, former Ambassador of China to the United States; Wang Nai, former Director of the State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs; Wang Xuezhen, former Secretary of the CPC Committee of Peking University and Honorary Director of China Center for Edgar Snow Studies; Hao Ping, President of Beijing Foreign Studies University and former Director of the China Center for Edgar Snow Studies. Other speakers were Yu Jianting, Helen Foster Snow’s translator in Yan’an, former Vice Minister of Light Industry; Zi Zhongyun, Helen Foster Snow’s translator when she returned to China in 1972 and former Director of the Institute of American Studies, CASS, as well as Nancy Wilson, Vice President of the Edgar Snow Memorial Foundation. In the afternoon, the participants exchanged and discussed Helen Foster Snow's journalism and profound friendship with the Chinese people.

The Symposium was hosted by China Center for Edgar Snow Studies, which was founded in March 1993 at Peking University. The Center’s main scope of the work is focused to systematically study and introduce the activities of Edgar Snow and other international friends, collect their works, manuscripts, pictures and all kinds of literature and materials, compile and translate their writings and biographies, and carry out friendly exchanges and academic exchanges with relevant institutions, organizations and people in the United States and other countries. On July 19, 2005, the Center hosted the international symposium on “Understanding China: Centennial Commemoration of Edgar Snow's Birth”.

Helen Foster Snow

Helen Foster Snow, wrote under the pen name Nym Wales, was born in 1907 in Cedar City, Utah, USA, and died in 1997. She arrived in Shanghai from Seattle in August 1931, and worked as a secretary of the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai. She married Edgar Snow in 1932. In the spring of 1933, the Snow couple went to settle in Peiping (Beijing), and lived there until the Double-Seven Incident of 1937(July 7th, 1937). During the period, they supported the December 9th Movement, contributed their home to patriotic young students as a place to meet and discuss politics as well as to progressive as a refuge to take. In 1936, when Edgar Snow returned from a visit to Northern Shaanxi. Helen helped her husband organize manuscripts and photos for the publication of the famous book titled Red Star over China. In April 1937, Helen Foster Snow made a daring trip to Northern Shaanxi, interviewing Mao Zedong and many other CPC leaders in Yan'an and writing two books: Inside Red China and Red Dust; Autobiographies of Chinese Communists. In November 1937, Helen Foster Snow went to Shanghai, together with a group of Chinese and foreign figures including Rewi Alley, a progressive writer of New Zealand, and launched the Gung Ho to support the War of Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression, which was strongly supported by Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Soong May-ling and Soong Ching-ling. She also wrote a book entitled China Builds for Democracy for the Gung Ho, which had a far-reaching influence.

In May 1949, Helen divorced Edgar Snow and never remarried,keeping the surname Snow. After the couple’s divorce, they continued to work tirelessly for the friendship between the Chinese and American people. In 1971, when the People’s Republic of China resumed its seat in the United Nations, Helen went to New York to greet her old friend Huang Hua as he was settling into his new post, and published a congratulatory article in the New York Times. When President Richard Milhous Nixon visited China and opened the door to China-U.S. exchanges in 1972. She managed to collect money by selling her belongings for a visit to China, and made it a reality in early 1973 and 1978. During the two trips, she took thousands of photos, and published two books in succession - Return to China and Mao Country.

In September 1991, Helen Foster Snow was honored the “The Writer’s Prize for contributing to International Understanding and Friendship” by the Chinese Writers Association and the Chinese Literature Foundation. In June 1996, the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries awarded her the honorary title of “Friendship Ambassador”. Helen Foster Snow was a famous American poet, writer, journalist and social activist. She wrote more than 40 books in her life, among them, more than 10 about China. Her main works included: Inside Red China, Notes on the Sian Incident, 1936, My Life in China, Chinese Communists: Sketches and Biographies of Veteran Guerrillas, Red Dust; Autobiographies of Chinese Communists, Foreigners in Areas of China under Communist Jurisdiction before 1949, Women in Modern China, Chronicle of Chinese History, The Chinese Labor Movement, China Builds for Democracy; a Story of Cooperative Industry, and Song of Ariran.