Memory of Agnes Smedley's “Residence” in China
Art Exchange VOL.01/2013|Zhang Yameng

   

Agnes Smedley, as a correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung, stepped on the ancient oriental land of China for the first time in 1929. She experienced, witnessed, interviewed and recorded the significant historical events and social outlook in the 1930s in China. Her publications were Daughter of the Earth, Chinese Destinies, China’s Red Army Marches, and The Great Road. She devoted all her life to Chinese people’s revolutionary cause until she passed away in 1950.

In 1949, the new born Chinese government invited Smedley to be back to China again. In May 1950, she had an operation of stomach removal in a hospital in Oxford when she headed for China by the way of UK. “The operation was on May 5, but she passed away the next day. Her death was diagnosed as pneumonia and exhaustion of circulatory system.” said Tong Wei, advisor of China Calligraphers Association then working in CFLAC. Smedley once wrote in her last will: My soul will return to China and my ash will be buried into Babaoshan Revolutionary Cemetery. In the autumn of 1950, her family sent her ashes and remains to the Zhu De’s office in Beijing because Smedley was a close friend of Zhu De among leaders of New China. Then Zhu De ordered that CFLAC be in charge of Smedley’s remains and funeral affairs. Sha Kefu, then secretary general of CFLAC, appointed Tong Wei and other colleagues to deal with inventory.

According to Tong Wei, it was in the office building of CFLAC in Dongzongbu Hutong that they began an inventory of Smedley’s remains. Besides her ashes, her remains included her clothing, a Leica camera and an old-fashioned but exquisite typewriter. Later all these items were transferred to Chinese Revolutionary Museum. “We had planned to bury her ashes in 1951, one year after her death. However, the authority in Babaoshan Cemetery considered the inscription and construction style proposed by CFLAC too big and demand for revision. Therefore, everything must be re-designed and re-constructed, and it failed to be completed by May 6th. On May 6th, 1951, CFLAC organized a memorial meeting attended by over 700 people from the circles of art and news press, at which Mao Dun and Ding Ling addressed.” said Tong Wei.

Ten days later, on May 16th, the gravestone with the inscription “Tomb of Agnes Smedley, A Friend of Chinese People and A Writer of American Revolution” written by Zhu De himself was complete and erected before Smedley’s tomb in the name of CFLAC who also hosted the burial ceremony. “In the car that moving from Dongzongbu Hutong all way westward, I held the cinerary casket in my hands to guard Smedley. In front of the grave in Babaoshan, I softly handed the cinerary casket to Mao Dun who bowed down and located the casket quietly into the grave. All masters in the Chinese art circles bowed their heads in silent tribute. We were then seeing her off and welcoming her as well because only by that time had she settled down in China.” Tong Wei recalled.

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