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Helen Foster Snow writings and correspondence from Beijing, 1931-1949

Identifier: MSS 2219 Series 2 Sub-Series 2

Scope and Contents

Contains research materials, correspondence (with family and friends, readers, and between other individuals), drafts of Beijing-related articles, translations, and writings on the Chinese Revolution, fascism, and student organizations. Written by Helen Foster Snow while working in Beijing. Dated 1931 to 1949.


  • 1931-1949


Conditions Governing Access

Open for public research.

Conditions Governing Use

It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearances. Permission to use material from this collection must be obtained from the Reference Services at

Biographical History

From the Collection:

Helen Foster Snow (1907-1997) was an American journalist, photojournalist, and activist in China.

Helen Foster Snow was born on September 21, 1907 in Cedar City, Utah. She attended West High School and, after graduating, attended the University of Utah. She took the civil service exam, gained a position in China, and moved to Shanghai in August of 1931. After arriving in China, Helen met Edgar Snow, a reporter also from the U.S. The two were married on December 25, 1933 in Tokyo, Japan. After moving to Peking where Helen Foster Snow attended and Edgar taught at Yanjing University, they began publishing information regarding the Manchurian incident. Helen Foster and Edgar Snow sympathized with the students who protested the government and its complacency toward Japanese invasion. They helped plan the December movements, and covered events censored in Chinese papers.

Helen published an interview with Zhang Xueliang, a general, who expressed support for communists, contradicting Chiang Kai Shek. In 1937, Edgar and Helen published the magazine Democracy. She worked on the editorial board of the magazine and later as the editor while Edgar wrote Red Star over China.

Snow entered the Communist camp in April of 1937, where she interviewed leaders, women, and children of the camp. She would publish her findings in her book Inside Red China in 1938. Helen later toured the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives and wrote to raise support of the initiatives. She later returned to the United States, living in Madison, Connecticut. Helen and Edgar divorced in 1949. Helen continued to write about her experiences in China, became a genealogy research on her New England family, and traveled the world, including two return trips to China in the 1970s. Helen died on January 11, 1997.

Biographical History

From the Collection:

Edgar Snow (1905-1972) was a journalist and foreign correspondent in China.

Edgar Snow was born on July 10, 1905 in Kansas City, Missouri. Snow moved to China as a correspondent for the Consolidated Press Association. Edgar met Helen Foster Snow when she came to China. The two were married on December 25, 1933 in Tokyo, Japan. They moved to Peking, where Edgar taught at Yanjing University. At the University, Edgar and Helen sympathized with the students protesting the government’s allowance of Japanese invasion. The two helped organize movements like the December 9th movement of 1935, and provided press coverage of events censored by Chinese papers.

In June of 1936, Edgar left Peking for Xian, and into the communist camp as the first foreign journalist in that territory. He composed the first biographical account of Mao during this time. Mao asked Ed to set peace terms between the Nationalists and the Chinese Government. An interview with Mao published in Life magazine in 1936 gained a great amount of attention. Edgar Snow became the editor to his new magazine Democracy. Red Star Over China, Edgar's book on his time with the communists, was published in 1938. Helen and Edgar divorced in 1949. Edgar Snow died on February 15, 1972 in Eysins, Switzerland.


1 box

5 folders

Language of Materials


Other Finding Aids

Item- and file-level inventory available online.


When the nationalist capital was established in Nanking (Nanjing, the southern capital), Peking (Beijing, the northern capital), was renamed Beiping (Peiping).


Box 213 Folder 9 contains Helen's Shanghai curfew pass, dated 1932. Exhibit label read: "Edgar Snow assisted Helen in obtaining this curfew pass as a reporter for the New York Sun. During the Shanghai War, curfew passes were requried for night time travel anywhere in the city. "I could pass the gates of the citty wwith this as a foreign correspondent or any assignment for the Consulate, etc."


Box 213 folder 2 contains three issues of the magazine Democracy. Exhibit label read: "In 1937, Helen and Edgar edited and published a magazine, democracy. Its goal was to ensure that Christian ethics could reach the youth of China. Although Edgar was approached initially to do this, writing commitments compelled him to turn over the majority of the work to Helen. He was, at that time, heavily involved in writing Red Star Over China. Helen convinced Ed to go along with the idea because she would "do all the work if he'd just put his name on as editor and let us publish chapters from the book." The last issue of democracy was seized while on the presses by the Japanese when they invaded Beijing (Peking) on July 7, 1937. "I was an immediate, sensational success, taking China's intellectual world by storm. Many of its articles were translated and published in Chinese periodicals... The Kuomintang rook notice and protested against its pro-Communist leaning... Even the archenemy off China, Matsuoka, then Japan's Director of the South Manchurian Railways, for purposes best known to himself, bought up 4000 copies of the first issue of democracy to be sent back to Japan." (Letter from Huber Liang, who was a prominent teacher in the Journalism department at Yanjing (Yenching) University. He was a close friend of the Snow's and assisted in both the creation of democracy and the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives).


Box 213 folder 5 exhibit label read: "A letter from Edgar Snow to Helen written on Aug. 3, 1936. He sent the letter and news with a friend. (He writes in semi-code about collecting botanical specimens. The specimens he talks about are more than likely photographs and the young scientists and colleagues are probably the Communists). He also asks Helen to send him specific reading materials, chocolate and coffee."

Repository Details

Part of the L. Tom Perry Special Collections Repository

1130 HBLL
Brigham Young University
Provo Utah 84602 United States