China Books

Carl Crow's The Long Road Back to China

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Carl Crow’s war diaries, edited by Paul French (whose blog is at China Rhyming), has been published by Earnshaw Books.

For more on Crow, see Danwei's posts from Crow's books, 400 Million Customers and Foreigners in a Flowery Kingdom.

The introduction to The Long Road Back to China below is by the book's editor.

In 1939 Carl Crow – an American journalist, advertising executive and author who had lived in Shanghai for 25 years until forced out by the Japanese – travelled up the Burma Road from Rangoon to Chongqing on assignment for Liberty magazine - ‘the most interesting assignment I have ever been given’. The Burma Road (‘the road of a thousand thrills and a thousand dangers’) was China’s vital but perilous 717-mile lifeline to the outside world. In China’s wartime capital Crow found himself in the most heavily bombed city on earth in 1939 witnessing the daily struggle of the Chinese people under Japanese bombardment and interviewing the most senior Chinese figures in the government.

Crow’s diaries of his time on the Burma Road and in Chongqing lay mouldering in his archive for 65 years unpublished. They contained previously unavailable interviews with Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chiang, Zhou En-lai, the leading KMT generals and both the British and American ambassadors in Chongqing as well as the British Governor of Burma. However, perhaps the most important part of the diaries are Crow’s observations on the struggle of everyday folk in Chongqing in the face of nightly Japanese bombing raids as the government learned how to survive the air raids (lessons that would be crucial to cities such as London and Coventry only a year or two later under the Blitz).

Crow admired the strength and determination of the ordinary Chinese man, woman and child in Chongqing. He was a partisan journalist – his aim was to build support for China’s cause in the struggle against Japan but what emerges is a remarkable account of daily life along the Burma Road and in Chongqing in the crucial year of 1939. The Long Road Back to China is Crow’s typically observant and sympathetic first hand memoir of China’s darkest hour published for the first time from his archived diaries and notes.

Here's an extract:


The Long Road Back to China: Chungking, Wednesday, June 7th 1939

by Carl Crow; edited by Paul French

I was too tired to stay up even for an air raid and soon went to sleep, but I was awoken frequently. I think it must have been too many cigarettes rather than worry over the raid. The house boy told me this morning that the planes passed close, “but have go other place.” The Chinese tell me it takes three and a half hours for the bombers to fly from Hankow to Chungking. They have a gas supply for 12 hours so that on the round trip they have a leeway of five hours in which to lay their exploding eggs, escape the pursuit planes and return. It’s very foggy this morning but the sun is breaking through so it may be clear this afternoon. I am full of aches, which I suppose is on account of my cold. More gossip flows in – Mrs. Wang told me that General Feng speaks with a salty humor that can’t be translated; American born Geraldine Skinner Wong has married a Chinese; our military spokesman today will be General Chang Jo-ping; a useful man from the Ministry of Economics is Dr. Lin Chi-yin; the cotton mill we visited the other day is called Tu Feng.

There is much talk of the financial collapse of both China and Japan. Certainly if the war continues it is only a question of which one will collapse first. But if the current quotations of the two currencies are any indication, then China is standing the strain better than Japan. The yen has been constantly slipping and is now worth only about 90% of the Chinese dollar. At 10 o’clock I called on the Secretary of the Women’s Committee of the New Life Movement. It was not a very satisfactory meeting and she displayed the usual indifference to figures and no one would even guess how many orphans are being cared for. This organization has a quota of 20,000, which it will soon reach. It is probably the charitable thing to say that they are all so busy that they haven’t had time to co-ordinate their reports. When I told her about visiting an orphanage she immediately asked whether or not they had been told that we were coming?

Chungking is a city of hills laid out with no regard for anything but pedestrian traffic. The skyline was so overcast at 4 o’clock that it looked like dusk and I felt sure that we were free from air raids for another day. Then at 5:45 the whistle blew. Holly Tong had been insistent that at the next raid I go to the Foreign Minister’s dugout so I asked where it was, thinking that if it were in the neighborhood I might walk around to it. They all insisted that it was too far to walk and before I knew what they were doing they had telephoned the Minister’s house and a car was on its way.

I walked down the street to meet it. As on the occasion of the other raid there was no apparent confusion. Everyone hurried but everyone knew where he was going. I passed the entrance to the public dugouts and they did not appear crowded. At the Minister’s house servants were covering the parked cars with cloth and matting. Some little girl next door was doing finger exercises on the piano and having some difficulty doing them. A boy brought me a tin of cigarettes and a cup of tea. Mr. and Mrs. Wu arrived. She looked even prettier than she had last Sunday. She went into the dugout with some other Chinese ladies while Mr. Wu and I stood outside to watch. He told me stories about Hitler and Mussolini. A half dozen other Chinese officials came in, including the Chinese Minister of Communications whom I had last seen on the Burma Road out of Chifon.

Chinese pursuit planes could be heard overhead and finally we saw three, six and finally 18. I couldn’t be sure because of the clouds. It has now been almost an hour since the alarm was given. Someone said that the first lot of Japanese planes had turned back but that a second lot was on the way. With all these pursuit planes in the air it appeared that there might be some thrilling fights and I had about made my mind up to stay outside and see the fun when we all got a thrill that was not on the program. A plane zoomed down past us and I wondered why anyone would be stunting in a power dive at a time like this. I saw the plane disappear over the edge of a hill and then it didn’t appear again. It looked like something was wrong. Then an American Governess said, “Is that a balloon?” It was just a speck but after a time we saw it was a parachute and could finally distinguish the man hanging from the ropes. It didn’t seem to me to be coming from the direction of the last plane and then I remembered seeing another plane that had apparently left the squadron on an independent flight of its own. So two Chinese planes may have been lost. Just then the all-clear signal was sounded. Apparently the show of force had frightened the Japanese away and the loss of two planes may have been a cheap price to pay for it. I walked back to the Guest House in less than ten minutes. The raid had lasted until 7 o’clock.

There are currently 3 Comments for Carl Crow's The Long Road Back to China.

Comments on Carl Crow's The Long Road Back to China

Is the Burma Road still in use? If not, when and why was it abandoned?

During the famine of 1958 -1962, the Chinese people were so hungry that they ate it, as it looked like a noodle.

Actually it's coming back as the route of the new oil and gas pipeline into Yunnan, or as the Indian government might see it, China's route to dip their toes in the Indian Ocean. Burma gets sandwiched once again.

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