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A diamond hewn out of the snow

Updated: 2021-08-21 10:38 ( China Daily )
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[Photo/THE DIASTOLE SCHOLARS' CENTER]

"Snow was saying: You guys thinking in your Western-versus-Soviet communist way leaves out one fourth of the population on Earth. There's this whole other population that is neither Soviet nor Western, who are suffering through the remnants of imperialism, who want more freedom and revolution in some cases, and who don't want to be told by you guys that they should preserve what they have through your legal traditions.

"This provided Dr. Dimond with his 'light bulb' moment."

Then came Dimond's China trip in 1971, during which he was joined by his wife Mary and three of his fellow doctors, including his 85-year-old teacher Paul Dudley White (1886-1973), a cardiologist who had served as president Dwight D. Eisenhower's physician. No other American doctor had visited China since 1949.

The trip was only possible because of Snow, who wrote directly to the then Chinese premier Zhou Enlai on behalf of the prospective visitors. In 1936, upon Snow's arrival at the Communist base in Bao'an, Shaanxi province, Zhou surprised him by talking to him in English. In his 1968 documentary The China Story: One-Fourth of Humanity, Snow narrated rare footage of his meeting with Zhou, atop a horse with a "pre-Castro beard", a style Snow himself soon took up during his stay there. (Dimond's father-in-law, to whom Snow dedicated his 1968 edition, the final one, of Red Star Over China, funded the film.)

Edgar Snow at the Communist base in Bao'an in 1936. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Dimond died in 2013, having made about 40 trips to China and enabling two-way exchanges from academia to the arts, from culture to commerce. Somewhere among those trips he visited the caves carved out of the vertical faces of the yellow-earth plateau in Bao'an. There Snow sat down for days in 1936 with the young Mao Zedong who was virtually unknown in the West, before leaving to write the world's first detailed portrait of a man who later became the founding chairman of the People's Republic of China.

"By dedicating the rest of their lives to the country Snow had introduced to them, the Dimonds were able to develop a deeper connection with the journalist long after his death," Hill said.

In fact, en route to Hong Kong during their 1971 trip, the Dimonds stopped over to see Snow at his home in Eysins, Switzerland, and to go through his multiday "intensive course on modern China", accompanied on its last night by Moutai, a Chinese drink "to be respected" thanks to its high level of alcohol.

"I … said to Edgar that I did not understand what he meant by Marxist principles, and I didn't understand what he meant by Mao Tsetung (Mao Zedong) Thought,"Dimond later wrote in his book. "Edgar laughed, raised his thimble of Moutai, and said,"Here's to your China education. Ganbei! (Bottoms up)"

In Beijing in 1971 the Dimonds visited historical sites, ate Peking duck and struggled to develop further appreciation for the reputed Moutai. But a particularly meaningful moment came when Dimond observed his Chinese counterparts performing surgery under acupuncture anesthesia.

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