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China treasures from BYU

Published: Sunday, July 17 2011 11:28 p.m. MDT

The Foster home in Cedar City, Utah. Helen Foster Snow made her home in Utah and her love for the study of China and it's people know world wide. (Brigham Young University, Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University

Forty years ago this past week, Richard M. Nixon announced he would travel to China to open talks with a government that had been in conflict with the United States since before the Korean War.

Before Nixon's remarks and historic trip of 1972, few would know of a Utahan named Helen Foster, later Snow, who was born in Cedar City, Utah, in 1907. Her life was dedicated to writing and journalism. At 23, the University of Utah graduate went to China. Soon after arriving she met, and later married, a well-known correspondent living in China named Edgar Snow.

During her time in China she witnessed, participated in and later wrote about the Chinese student movement and the invasion of the Japanese into China. She got to know Mao Tes-tung, was one of only eight journalists in the country and one of only two women to chronicle the period.

Helen's husband Edgar wrote the book "Red Star over China" which chronicled the life of Tes-tung. The book was read by President Roosevelt and other world leaders to get better insight into what was going on within China. Helen wrote her own book titled "Inside Red China" which gave further insight on the happenings within China at the time.

This past week, Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library shared with U.S. Governors and officials from China a glimpse into the more than 60-year collection of her works. The donated collection, which if stood on end would be over 60-plus feet high, contains more than 3000 photographs taken in the 1930's.

The photographs in the collection where spread on the dining room table of the Governor's Mansion for all to see. They included photographs from 1930 to 1939, writing from Mao, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mrs. Roosevelt and Sen. Reed Smoot. It also contained a collection of artifacts, which included blankets and a hat that were made in cooperative factories in the beginnings of the Peoples Republic of China. Only a few in China have seen these items. The Chinese guests were very taken by the collection and have begun a discussion with BYU in order to share the collection.

From 1949, when China became closed to the west, Helen lived in Connecticut. She spent many of her later years writing her family history and was involved in genealogy projects. At her passing in 1997, she was honored for her early work by a memorial service held in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, an honor few foreigners have ever received. A hospital wing was also named after her as a well as a school.

Email: UtahHistoryPhotos@gmail.com

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