The Posthumous Life of Agnes Smedley, a Cosmopolitan “Spy”: China’s Cultural Memory and Amnesia


Known as a principal member of the Sorge Spy Ring who introduced Ozaki Hotsumi, a Japanese journalist, to Richard Sorge, Agnes Smedley, an American journalist and writer, was typically regarded as a “traitor” to the American nation in the early Cold War period. After her untimely death in 1950, Smedley’s ashes were buried in China according her last will. She thus subverted her own national belonging and became, if posthumously, a Chinese. But this does not mean the Chinese people have remembered Smedley more than the Japanese or the Americans have. In fact, despite her enduring supports of the Chinese Communist Party before and after World War II, Smedley had virtually been forgotten. She disappeared from the cultural scene in China—at least until the Chinese movie, Zhu De and Smedley, was released in 1985 by August First Film Studio. In the film, she was portrayed as a “Chinese patriot”—though an American by nationality—fighting for the Communist Party and against the American government who played a dastard role. In the 1980s, Smedley was thus resurrected from historical oblivion. But why in the 1980s? Why was she buried by cultural amnesia in China for almost 30 years after her death? What kind of cultural role was the posthumous Smedley made to play in China’s cultural scene? Comparing the modern representations of Smedley in the films in China and Japan, I will discuss China’s cultural memory and amnesia involving Smedley, a cosmopolitan whose life complicated the concepts of national belonging.

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Xiaoqing Zhang, University of Tsukuba, Japan

Paper Information
Conference: ACCS2013
Stream: Cultural Studies

This paper is part of the ACCS2013 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Zhang X. (2013) The Posthumous Life of Agnes Smedley, a Cosmopolitan “Spy”: China’s Cultural Memory and Amnesia ISSN: 2187-4751 – The Asian Conference on Cultural Studies 2013 – Official Conference Proceedings
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