Portraits of Chinese Women in Revolution
Agnes Smedley, author of Daughter of Earth, worked in and wrote about China from 1928 to 1941. These 18 pieces—all out of print and most unavailable even in public libraries—are based on interviews with revolutionary women. They include descriptions of the massacre of feminists in the Canton commune, of the silk workers of Canton whose solidarity earns them the charge of lesbianism, and of Mother Tsai, a 60-year-old peasant who leads village women in smashing an opium den.
"Smedley was not primarily a facts-and-figures journalist. Her instincts were those of a storyteller and a moralist, but at the same time she resisted the bland mechanisms of Socialist realism. Character, not ideology, was her touchstone, and many of these vignettes have a folk-tale quality, with heroines stepping forth to tell their own stories in the first person. . . . Along with Daughter of Earth, Portraits remains the only readily available introduction to the work of this most remarkable woman."
"The pieces in Portraits were all written in the 1930s . . . by a working journalist who wanted passionately to make her fellow Westerners 'see' the harsh meaning of Chinese lives, and the promise the revolution held out for those lives. What the pieces as a whole accomplish is exactly that: through these women's lives we see vividly the flux and turmoil, the despair and exaltation of China. Above all, what Smedley has captured brilliantly—and this is most important—are the forces of the old and new China struggling in each person she describes."
“A record of experience so authentic, so intense, that it burns itself into the mind of the reader, leaving him/her with a sense of wonder at the enduring quality of the human fabric, and with a deep resentment at human cruelty and injustice.”