CEDAR CITY — Most Utahns don't know the name Helen Foster Snow, but to people in China, she’s a heroine.

She was a journalist, born in Cedar City, who in the 1930s became a great humanitarian. She built a bridge that young people, generations later, are still crossing. SUU students and professionals from the Hubei Opera and Dance Drama Theatre in China collaborated on a production this summer called "The Dream of Helen."

Snow, born in 1907, originally went to China as a single, 23-year-old woman in the summer of 1931. She wanted to make a name for herself and write the great American novel. She married a well-known journalist and author of "Red Star Over China," Edgar Snow, and began writing about the things she saw, including poverty, starvation and the Japanese attack on Shanghai in 1932.

Snow became a key developer of the Committee for the Promotion of Industrial Cooperatives in China, a program that put refugees and widows in the war-torn country to work by manufacturing small goods in their homes. The program — whose motto "Gung Ho" (work together) became a common American saying — allowed the people to be self-sufficient over time. She is credited with saving more than 1 million Chinese people.

Helen Foster Snow, who passed away in 1997, received two Nobel Peace Prize nominations and the title "Friendship Ambassador." In November of 2009, Chinese dignitaries brought a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of the humanitarian to Cedar City, giving it to the people there as a gesture of goodwill.

On Nov. 18, SUU students and faculty shared their experiences of the production.

"It was the most amazing experience probably of my entire life," said Bethany Hess, who played Helen, “probably the best opportunity that I'll ever have."

The performance was a success, and its message of promoting international friendship may soon go beyond a concert hall.

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"It's very important for our students at SUU to know the concept in the 21st century," said SUU Orchestra music director Xun Sun.

"We were real representatives of the United States in China through this project, so it became something where SUU was representing our national level on an international stage and that was thrilling," said Shauna Mendini, dean of College of Arts at SUU.

Mendini said that because the Chinese hold Helen Foster Snow so highly, SUU has already received invitations to perform in Shanghai and Beijing.

E-mail: cmikita@desnews.com