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Israel Epstein: Witness to the Chinese Revolution

By Huang Hua

On April 20, our esteemed Editor-in-Chief Emeritus, Israel Epstein, celebrates his 90th birthday. All of us here at China Today extend our sincere best wishes to the eldest member of our family, who helped Soong Ching Ling set up our magazine. Happy Birthday, Eppy!"


Epstein is a distinguished veteran journalist and a member of the CPPCC Standing Committee. There will be all kinds of celebrations to mark his 90th year, including a birthday party attended by State leaders, Chinese and foreign friends. What's more, an exhibition will be held, displaying his personal achievements and indicating his devotion to introducing China to the outside world. A photo album will be also published, illustrating his 90 years' of life and experience in China.


The Chinese have a deep-rooted tradition of respecting the elderly. Within Chinese households, the greatest celebrations occur on the birthday of a senior family member. Chinese people have held such celebrations for Rewi Alley, George Hatem, Hans Mueller and many other foreign experts who have left an indelible mark on China and its progress as a nation. The Chinese people also appreciate friendship, and friends from afar who have made long-term contributions to China's revolution and development will never be forgotten. Israel Epstein epitomizes their spirit and character, and we wish him and his family all the best for his 90th year.


Israel Epstein was born in Poland in 1915. In 1917, his parents moved to China where Epstein studied, worked, married, and eventually took Chinese citizenship. He started working as a journalist at the age of 15, and from this standpoint was able to observe, analyze and make in-depth reports on the course of China's historic development. His achievements in China throughout the turbulent 20th century, when so many dramatic changes took place, are unparalleled.


Epstein's parents were staunch Marxists, a formative discipline that has had deep influence on his outlook on life and the world. Diligent study put into active practice brought him early into adulthood.


For nearly 100 years, the Chinese people had suffered and resisted foreign aggression. Sympathetic to their cause, Epstein supported the Chinese revolution. Fired by strong anti-Japanese feeling among students and the masses, he decided to devote himself to this great task, and make whatever contributions he could to it.


Epstein went to front-line revolutionary bases and wrote eye witness accounts of the bravery of the Chinese people as they fought for national independence and liberation. In autumn of 1938, he joined the China Defense League that Soong Ching Ling had established for the purpose of publicizing and enlisting international support for the Chinese cause. At the end of China's War of Resistance Against Japan, Epstein went to the USA with his late second wife, Elsie Fairfax-Cholmeley, and worked for the Allied Labor News. He and other progressive thinkers united in urging the US government not to interfere in China's internal affairs. He also made creative and pioneering efforts to strengthen friendship between the two peoples. One example is his help in translating the Yellow River Cantata into English and in getting it performed in the US Shortly after the founding of the PRC in 1949, Epstein and his wife returned to China to help Soong Ching Ling set up China Reconstructs (now China Today) magazine in Beijing. Its aim was to report to the outside world on the building of socialist China, and on changes that were taking place in the lives of the Chinese people. It has helped to enhance world understanding of China, and promote friendship between its peoples. During the past half-century Israel Epstein has closely monitored and made great contributions to the development of China's international public relations.


A accomplished journalist and writer, Epstein has traveled throughout China. He has devoted himself to the study of Chinese history and society, and written many influential works, including The People's War; Unfinished Revolution; From Opium War to Liberation; Tibet Transformed; and Woman in World History – Soong Ching Ling. In order to write Tibet Transformed, Epstein visited “the roof of the world” four times over a 30-year period, interviewing local inhabitants and amassing information, regardless of all hardships and difficulties. After ten years of painstaking labor, and sustained by his unwavering resolve and meticulous approach, Epstein finished his remarkable Biography of Soong Ching Ling. This great woman lives again in his vivid portrayal of her and her great accomplishments. His latest work, A Memoir of More than 80 Years in China, bears witness to China's highs and lows over the past century from his own unique angle. He says, "In the place and time in which history placed me, I can think of nothing better and more meaningful than to have witnessed and linked myself with the revolution of the Chinese people, one-fifth of all humanity, with their weight in the fortunes of the entire world." He has said, "I took the road from Internationalism to Patriotism."


At age 92, I generally do little more than skim the books I read, but the moment I opened Eppy's intelligent and informative memoir, I couldn't put it down. China's revolution was hard-won -- a bitter and arduous road for all concerned. During the chaotic "cultural revolution (1966-1976)," Israel Epstein and his wife Elsie Fairfax-Cholmeley were imprisoned for five years. Upon their release, Eppy quickly resumed his work and never wavered, despite the suffering he experienced.


I sincerely suggest to friends of all ages who like Eppy's photo album but have not yet read his memoir to spare some time to browse through it. You'll be glad you did.


It gives me immeasurable pleasure to write the preface to this photo album celebrating Israel Epstein's 90th birthday.


I first met Eppy in Yan'an in 1944. We both knew Edgar Snow very well. Since the revolution, we have maintained our long-term friendship and cooperation. I sincerely hope he will write an epilogue for this album as he did in his memoir.


Huang Hua once held the posts of Chinese ambassador to the UN, vice-premier of the State Council and minister of foreign affairs, vice-Chairman of the 6th NPC Standing Committee, and Chairman of the China Welfare Institute, the Soong Ching Ling Foundation and the China Society for People's Friendship Studies.


(China Today April 2005)