The Clare Spark Blog

June 30, 2011

Ernest Hemingway and Gellhorn in China, 1941 (2)

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Gellhorn and spouse on honeymoon

[Added 6-10-12: Hemingway was recruited to the KGB in October 1940 (his control was Jacob Golos); it is not yet known if he gave them anything; I think that he was more populist than Red, and would be amazed if he ever submitted to Moscow. Keep that in mind as you read these segments and see part one for details. Also, if you don’t read the introduction (part one), you might not have a clue as to what you are reading in other segments. Added 6-15-12: for my views of Gellhorn’s achievements see Her views were strongly progressive.  No wonder the British Leftists took her up in her old age, while rejecting her partisanship on behalf of Israel. (See For another blog on celebrated primitivists, see For my review of the HBO movie on her life with Hemingway see  For all my blogs on Gellhorn and/or Hemingway, see]

Martha Gellhorn gets the same rough treatment. In contrast to some recent feminist publications on behalf of Gellhorn’s daredevil achievements as one of the premier war correspondents of the twentieth century,[1] Moreira depicts Gellhorn’s political naiveté and opportunism in “toadying” to the “fascist dictatorship” of Chiang Kai-shek and his besotted generals, the latter indifferent to suffering soldiers (pp. xvii, 75-76, 99). Hemingway’s reportorial objectivity is lauded as a result of stoic adjustment to filth, vermin, and the repulsive effluents of lower-class Chinese bodies: the manly, modern Hemingway appreciates cultural differences (p.98). Though her heart bleeds for the impoverished Chinese, as for underdogs in general (pp.9, 43, 62, 66), Martha is graceless under pressure, indulging a “fetish”  or “cleanliness addiction” that Moreira  attributes to irreligion, a tendency that Hemingway was forced to “keep…in check”: “Despite her adventures in backward places, Gellhorn was obsessed with cleanliness. Being an atheist, she placed it well above godliness” (pp. 74, 196). Repeating an anecdote from Carlos Baker, Moreira is particularly brutal when he writes about Gellhorn’s shocked response to conditions in Hong Kong among the poor: “Gellhorn…had a fit when she caught up with Hemingway again….Hemingway responded calmly, ‘The trouble with you, M., is you think everyone is exactly like you….If it was as bad as you think, they’d kill themselves instead of having more babies and setting off firecrackers’” (p.62). Nonetheless, the author relies heavily upon neo-missionary Gellhorn’s published articles for Collier’s (mid-1941), and Travels With Myself And Another (1978) to fill out his book, almost to the point of plagiarism.

Moreira says he is telling the story of a botched “honeymoon” that presaged the doom of Hemingway’s third marriage (pp. 34, 197). The relentlessly gross details of the newlyweds’ adventures and mishaps in a war-torn region should not be dismissed simply as voyeurism irrelevant to cold war studies, for the relatively jolly early chapters build toward a tendentious political argument, shared with other “progressive” internationalists:  The political Right (i.e., the Chiang gang) is heartless. Moreira drives home the contrast between selfish Chinese Nationalists and his compassionate egalitarian visitors from America: “…Hemingway’s patience with standing in the cold winter rain and paying tribute to these boys [at “the Canton front”]…showed a side of his character that is often overlooked. Though brash and self-centered, Hemingway was frequently touched by the plight of the common people, whether they were his Cuban fishing buddies, refugees from the Spanish Civil War, or the American Indians he knew as a boy in Michigan.” (p.86)

For Moreira, antifascist democracy is a quality of the heart, though, oddly, one guided by statist reforms that necessarily precede political democracy. After listing Gellhorn’s recommendation for improved material conditions in The Face of War (1959), Moreira writes, “It might have reassured her that less than fifty years after she had laid out this plan, rather than the century she envisaged, virtually all of these measures [public health, education, government-issued birth control pills, increased rice production] had been implemented in China” (p.197). Remarkably, Moreira does not mention the cost in human lives imposed by Mao’s “Great Leap Forward” and the Cultural Revolution, where it is estimated that thirty to fifty million lives were lost, directly attributable to those policies. Moreover, he is not amazed that Gellhorn was silent in the updated Face of War (1986) regarding intellectual censorship and material conditions in China under the Communist regime. [2]

Moreira is frustrated that he could only partly recruit Hemingway and Gellhorn to his own mission: “Though Hemingway was greatly impressed by Chou the man, he accepted little of what the diplomat told him. He kept Chou’s notes [on the New Fourth Army incident] but was swayed more—and history has proven this was an error in judgment—by the Kuomintang officials he met (pp.130-131).” Moreira clearly believes that the Roosevelt administration and its meddling Department of the Treasury were, in 1941, backing the wrong horse. (Morgenthau had annexed State Department turf to fight European fascism, perhaps because he is “a Jew” p.17.) Chinese Nationalists are presented as fascists and thugs throughout, echoing the CCP line and White and Jacoby’s Thunder Out of China (1946). By contrast, Chinese Communists are portrayed solely as victims of “the Kuomintang pogrom” of 1926-27 and other atrocities (pp. 129-130) including the New Fourth Route Army incident of January 7-13, 1941, in which the Nationalists “ambushed” mostly compliant Communist allies.[3]  Moreira sets the scene leading to the Hemingway-Gellhorn interview with Chou En-Lai to further this martyrology.[4] Notwithstanding the presence of a few “window-dressing” Communists permitted to surface so that journalists would transmit the impression of a working anti-Japanese united front, Chou was underground, hiding from the Nationalists in the hills of Chungking (chapter 10, p.135). The reader may infer that such leaders as Chou, the dazzling object of non-communist Gellhorn’s secret admiration and even lust (p.129), were amenable to friendly relations with the West—had the democracies lived up to their vaunted antifascism. Opposing the Kuomintang line that the CCP were “allies” of the Soviet Union (p.136), Moreira writes, “Hemingway and most other western observers were unaware of the tensions between the Soviets and Chinese Communists that would persist for decades” (pp.120-121).  The author ignores both CCP resistance and acquiescence to orders from Moscow to maintain the united front, while preparing the reader to recognize the relative independence of the CCP from Soviet direction.[5] Thousands of viewers have seen this blog by now, but it is incomprehensible without reading the links and other segments, but especially this one:


[1] See Sandra Whipple Spanier, “Rivalry, Romance, and War Reporters: Martha Gellhorn’s Love Goes to Press and the Collier’s Files,” in Hemingway and Women; Female Critics and the Female Voice, ed. Lawrence R. Broer and Gloria Holland (Tuscaloosa: U. of Alabama P., 2002): 256-275. In an email to me, 3/24/07,  Professor Spanier writes, “…Martha Gellhorn was one of the most dedicated, observant, perceptive, and articulate war correspondents of the 20th century.  She was irrepressibly passionate about telling the truth as she saw it, considering it her solemn moral obligation to bear truthful witness to history, even if only for the integrity of ‘the record.’ ”

[2] See Martha Gellhorn, The Face of War (London: Virago Press, 1986): 73-74. In the introduction to her republished article in Colliers, March 1941, Gellhorn blames herself for falling victim to the “hampering hospitality” of the Chiangs, then outlines the material preconditions for “democracy,” which she did not expect to see in her lifetime.

[3] Compare to Michael M. Sheng, Battling Western Imperialism, pp. 48-49. Mao saw no value in the united front, and was defying Moscow. Moreira cites Edward L. Dreyer and Jonathan D. Spence for this example of Nationalist duplicity and willingness to violate the united front. But Spence’s account suggests that the New Fourth Army command might have been “dilatory in carrying out their orders [to move North]—and possibly not intending to do so….” In The Search for Modern China (N.Y.: Norton, second edition 1999):440. In his China at War, 1901-1949 (N.Y.: Longman, 1995), Dreyer does imply an “ambush” (256) but he also notes, “…it needs to be repeated that much of the agitation for a United Front against Japan after 1931 was orchestrated by Chiang’s enemies for their own political purposes, and that Chiang had succeeded in his campaigns against the rival warlords and was on the verge of destroying the Chinese communists when Chang Husueh-laing betrayed him at Sian in 1936 (365).” Compare to Theodore H. White’s unattributed source “a university professor, not a Communist,” revealing the New Fourth Army incident as a horrendous atrocity committed by the KMT in Thunder Out of China, p.76.

[4] For terror and repression in the CCP faction see Jean-Louis Margolin, “China: A Long March into Night,” in The Black Book of Communism, transl. Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999): esp. 470-476.

[5] Compare to Spence in his review of The Unknown Mao, noting “the Comintern-ordered United Front,” and “the dawning of the Sino-Soviet rift after 1956,” in “Portrait of a Monster,” New York Review of Books, Vol.52, #17, Nov.3, 2005. Citing Spence, Search for Modern China, (first ed.), Moreira does mention on p.8 the U.S. and the Soviet “insistence” that the factions “cooperate in driving out the Japanese” and “sporadic fighting” between them but does not chronicle shifts in the (here unnamed) united front, nor refer the reader to the abundant recent scholarship.Rather than describing “tensions,” Michael M. Sheng describes “Maoist dualism,” elaborating this “double-sided identity” in his introduction, pp11-12, and throughout his book.


  1. […] and poor alike. We should tell the children about it. (For more on Gellhorn’s populism see Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. Comments […]

    Pingback by The social history racket « YDS: The Clare Spark Blog — June 16, 2012 @ 11:13 pm | Reply

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