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A Tale of Two Books

2016-11-10 本文来自:《国际人才交流》2016/11 作者:Mark H. Levine 分享 |

Two years ago I published a book here in China.  It is called Stories from My Chinese Journey and it tells about China through my eyes and experience.
I wrote my book to help foreigners better understand China and I explain in the “Introduction” that it is “for those who are seeking a view of China not clouded by the politically motivated rhetoric” that is most commonly found in western media portrayals.
I am not the first foreigner to attempt to do this and although the times and circumstances are dramatically different, there are two books that most inspired me to write my own and I would like to briefly introduce them to you.
Although being written by two different people and being published nearly 70 years apart both actually have very much in common. It is those many commonalities that most attracted and inspired me to try to help tell China’s story to the world.
The first book I would like to speak about is actually the last book that I read shortly before I left the United States in 2005 to come to China. I first read it in the 1970’s. I read again in the 1980’s and again in the 1990’s.  Furthermore I have read it once more since coming to China. What was this book that I have read 5 times in the last 4 decades?  It is called Red Star Over China and it was written by the American journalist, Edgar Snow.
Since coming to China and learning about many of the old foreign friends of China who came to aid in the founding or the building of the People’s Republic of China in the mid-20th century, I have also learned that it was Red Star Over China that helped to inspire them to come from many different countries and make their contributions to the Chinese struggle.
Snow’s book tells in great detail of his four months in the liberated territory where he interviewed Mao and other communist leaders.  His book was first published in 1937 when at the time there were no reliable reports reaching the West on what was going on here.  Red Star Over China was credited with introducing Mao to foreign readers.  Moreover, it reaffirmed that, despite reports of his death, he was actually alive and well and, more importantly, was leading a most vibrant struggle on behalf of China’s workers and peasants against the Japanese aggression and a government that was more concerned with saving its strength to fight the communists than fighting foreign invaders.
I am beginning my 10th year of teaching at Minzu University of China (Zhong Yang Minzu Daxue).  When I look out in my classroom see my students from many different Chinese ethnic groups working and studying together, it always reminds me of Snow’s book and his descriptions of how the party built alliances with many of the different ethnic groups within China.  For example, he speaks of the historic conflicts between the Han people and some minorities and the bonds that were built at the time by focusing on their common interests in fighting against a common enemy.  It is here that I see the roots of the “unity in diversity” that stands as the motto of my university.
As I said, it inspired so many to come for so many years, and 70 years after its publication, helped motivate me to follow Snow’s lead.
But as I said, there was a second book that I found equally inspiring and its author was actually the first person to write a review of Red Star Over China. Although I knew of Snow 30 years before I arrived here.  I learned of the second author less than 3 months before my arrival in China.
It was on the morning of June 2, 2005.  I was in New York City reading the New York Times when I came across an obituary.  The headline caught my attention.  It read “Israel Epstein, Chinese Communist dies.”  My first thought was “Epstein? Chinese?  My father’s mother was an Epstein.  That was a Jewish name, not a Chinese name.”
I immediately read the obituary and was struck by the extraordinary story of this man.  Three years after coming to China I had a good fortune to get to meet his widow and many of his friends.  I learned so much more about him and eventually read all of his books.  While each is well worth reading, the one I read first, which is the one he wrote last, is the one I place right along Red Star Over China. 
Israel Epstein’s My China Eye: Memoirs of a Jew and a Journalist was published in 2005, the same year of his passing and the same year I first learned of him.  I was given a copy of this a few years later when I first met Eppy’s widow Huang Wanbi.  When she gave it to me, I referred to it as his autobiography and Wanbi quickly pointed out my error.  “It is not about Eppy,” she corrected me, “it’s about China through his eyes.”
Early in my first reading of My China Eye, I could easily see that she was right. While I learned much about Epstein, I learned far more about China through his life here.
Although a work of non-fiction, one gets the feeling of reading an adventure novel as you progress from one extraordinary story to another, which makes it a difficult book to put down.  From becoming a journalist at the age of 15, to helping arrange secret travel for Deng Yingchao to secure medical care at the request of Edgar Snow, to his work with Soong Qing Ling and the China Defense League, to self-inflicting an injury to be able to hide in a Hong Kong hospital to avoid capture by the Japanese army, to a miraculous escape from that hospital, to Eppy’s 1944 trip to Yan’an to interview Mao and Zhou Enlai and other red leaders, to his journey to the United States and his narrow escape from there during the second Red Scare, to his return to China to join Soong Qing Ling in the founding of China Reconstructs (now called China Today) and so much more, we are inspired by his commitment to overcome all obstacles in telling China’s story which is itself the sum of so many other people committing so much to build New China.
So it is these two books, Red Star Over China and My China Eye inspired my own writing and my own commitment to help to tell China’s story to the world and I would encourage everyone, both foreigner and Chinese to read them.
(the article is the author’s speech at  2016 Beijing International Book Fair on August 24)

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