Saturday, February 28, 2009

Update on A Pail of Oysters

This has been quiet for a while, and will probably continue to be quiet for the foreseeable future. But I wanted to mention that after finishing an article a while back on A Pail of Oysters (Vern Sneider's 1953 novel about martial-law Taiwan), I came across a new/old reference to the book. In a 1954 report of a US Senate subcommittee on "Strategy and Tactics of World Communism", former Director of the USIS in China John Caldwell had the following to say about the effects of Communism on the US publishing industry:
The Communists have made use of American naivete to so poison the minds of editors, writers, and publishers and Foreign Service personnel that it is difficult to make an honest decision today on either Nationalist China or Korea. The Department of State, like our courts, operates on a body of precedent. When it is necessary to draft a cable of instructions, an officer goes into the files to see what has been done, what has been reported and advised previously. The files are stacked today with anti-Chiang, anti-Nationalist material. The same situation prevails with respect to Syngman Rhee. Until several years have passed during which we have objective, anti-Communist reporting it will be difficult to expect decisions and actions favorable to our friends in Asia.

Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers suffer in a similar manner. For years Edgar Snow was a prominent editor of the Saturday Evening Post. His pro-Chinese Communist bias is well known. But what has not been recognized is the influence he left behind. The "body of precedent" he bequeathed has undoubtedly had a profound effect upon the Post's selection of articles. As far as I know there has never been a best selling or even moderately well selling book on the Far East basically favorable to our logical allies. There have been numerous books on the other side. These titles have been vigorously promoted and have sold well. This has been the pattern since Thunder Out of China by White and Jacoby became a best seller and a Book-of-the-Month Club selection in 1945 until the most recent effort to smear Chiang bookwise appeared in the form of a book titled "A Pail of Oysters" by Vern Sneider. Published last fall this thoroughly dishonest book received rave reviews. In the Saturday Review of Literature it was reviewed by one Pat Frank who stated that the book cast a bright light thrust into the infected peritoneum of Formosa * * * it is a true light." Mr. Frank says that the Nationalists are rightly described as "swine" and concludes his review with the statement that anyone who reads A Pail of Oysters will understand "why all of our money and all our men can't put Chiang Kai-shek together again." Also published last fall, Formosa Beachhead by Geraldine Fitch is a factual, honest account of the tremendous progress made on Formosa, of the promise this progress holds for the mainland of China. Mrs. Fitch's book has been ignored by the reviewers, has sold less than 3,000 copies. (p. 99)
I haven't seen "rave reviews" for Oysters--they seem to have been pretty mixed, in fact. (I'm not surprised the more left-leaning Saturday Review of Literature would have had a positive review of the novel, though.)

Source: Strategy and Tactics of World Communism: Hearing before the Subcommittee To Investigate the Administration of the Internal Security Act and Other Internal Security Laws of the US Senate Judiciary Committee, 83rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 95 (1954) (testimony of John C. Caldwell). (Available online.)

Update, 3/6/09: More on Caldwell--a brief biographical sketch from another part of the source cited above:
Mr. Caldwell, author of the Korea Story and China Coast Family, is a former State Department official. He was born on the China coast, son of missionary, speaks the Chinese dialects spoken on Formosa. He also speaks Korean. His present reports from the Far East have special value because he can communicate with locals in their language. His China Coast Family is a major book club selection for December. (105)