Reporting the Chinese Revolution

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Eds: Baruch Hirson and Arthur J Knodel, Pluto, £19.99

The Chinese Revolution of 1927 was a critical turning point in the history of the 20th century, and yet surprisingly little has been written about it. This new book gives an intriguing perspective on some of the major actors.

Rayna Prohme was a young American who went to China in 1925, and became a journalist and newspaper editor for Guomindang, the nationalist party. In 1926 she moved to Wuhan where she worked in particular with Mikhail Borodin, Stalin's main envoy to China.

The editors have done a good job of putting these letters in a political context that explains the revolution and its betrayal by the nationalists, but in the end it was a frustrating read.

The revolution itself never quite comes into focus. Prohme's work was with the leading nationalist figures rather than the mass movement. So while she has some interesting things to say about individuals, the dynamics of the revolution are absent. This gives her work a rather impressionistic quality.

Also her politics rarely come to the fore. She clearly moved rapidly to the left, but political ideas aren't best expressed in personal letters. Despite that, anyone who's interested in the first Chinese Revolution will find this a valuable read. While it doesn't contain any great new insights, the first-hand accounts here help us look at a tragic defeat from a fresh angle.