Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another Oysters Update

A while back, I came across the name of John Caldwell in reference to Vern Sneider's A Pail of Oysters. As I wrote then, Caldwell, who was a former State Department official, had testified to a US Senate subcommittee in 1954 about the effects of Communism on the US publishing industry in regards to Asia.

Yesterday Caldwell's name popped up again in a search I did about Vern Sneider. I've been looking for information on the possible effects of publishing Oysters on Sneider's writing career. I haven't found anything yet. But I did see a reference to Sneider in a book that Caldwell wrote. In 1955, Caldwell published a book entitled Still the Rice Grows Green that's available online.  The first sentence of the book gives a sense of where Caldwell is going to go with this:
IF THE DAY be bright and clear, the pilot flying the lonely skies from Formosa westward to the China Coast sees the mainland of Enslaved China even before the lofty peaks of Free China recede into the haze.

In his book, he makes brief reference to Sneider in one of the two chapters about Taiwan.
I had just read parts of a new book, had read a number of rave reviews about the book. Written by Vern Sneider and called A Pail of Oysters, the book took some pretty terrific swipes at Free China's government and particularly at the military. Mr. Sneider had, I knew, spent several weeks on Formosa before completing his book. It was fiction, to be sure, but surely no American writer would completely falsify, even in a novel!

As Caldwell finds, of course, things are different that Sneider depicts them:
The Chinese GI is kept very busy. When not working or maneuvering, he studies. Literacy among the rank and file is now 94 per cent* He has no time off, has no chance to go to towns and cities and get in trouble. He is well fed, well clothed, and the temptation to steal has been removed. Above all he has a self-respect he never had before. He knows that he will be paid what little he is due regularly. He knows he will have reasonable medical attention when ill. Certainly his life is hard, but he knows that he is as well off as most of the civilian population. He has learned to work with the civilian population, to respect its rights.

On this score Nationalist China has gone a long, long way indeed, Mr. Vern Sneider and his A Pail of Oysters to the contrary notwithstanding.
Chen Yi gets a mention, and Caldwell does have criticism for the way the Nationalists ran things in China:
The mainland was lost in part because there were so many generals who were corrupt, so many other high officials with greedy hands. In my home province of Fukien I saw the Nationalist government at its worst, saw Governor Chen Yi and his henchmen milk the province dry.

Was Chen Yi dismissed? No, as was so often the case, he was promoted! Generalissimo Chiang Kai Shek made him Formosa's first governor at the end of World War II. And the exploitation of the island that took place under Chen Yi has left scars among the native Taiwanese that will require a generation to erase.

If Free China is to remain strong there must be no more Chen Yi's. Too often in the past Chiang Kai Shek has trusted old friends too much, has been so blinded by personal loyalty that he could not see their incompetence and corruption. But most of these old cronies are gone. Some, like Chen Yi, have been executed. Others stayed on under the Communists. Some have been kicked "upstairs" and are not in positions of influence and power.

Caldwell manages to leave out Chiang's role in creating the "scars" that are easily blamed on Chen Yi. He also argues,
The Nationalist Government does not run a police state. The very fact that the people to whom I talked were willing freely and openly to answer my questions should be an indication that people feel free. There is more and more freedom of the press, even vigorous criticism of government actions. For instance when a Communist plane flew over Formosa in September of 1954, the press vigorously criticized the government and the Chinese air force for not shooting it down.
Hmmm... I'll let you draw your own conclusions...