This debut book tells the story of the author’s uncle, George Aylwin Hogg (1915-1945), an English journalist who spent the last seven years of his life in China.
Thomas frames his biography with his 1988 visit to Shandan, where Hogg died. The author participated in memorial events for New Zealander Rewi Alley, Hogg’s colleague in the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives; connected with the headmaster of the Bailie School that the journalist helped found; and met the Chinese brothers Hogg temporarily adopted. Hogg certainly packed plenty into 30 years. Born in Harpenden, England, he attended Montessori-style schools and studied philosophy, politics, and economics at Oxford. Early adventures included hitchhiking around Europe and spending time on a Mississippi cooperative farm. After graduation, he joined his Aunt Muriel, who worked for the Fellowship of Reconciliation, in the Far East. He started in Japan in 1937, sending home letters full of keen observations about war propaganda and Korean slums. In 1938, he proceeded to China and became a journalist for the American United Press Agency. “It is quite exhilarating in a way, being packed with seething humanity,” he declared, but sobering too: he encountered dead soldiers, refugees on evacuation trains, cholera and dysentery victims, flooding, and famine. Hogg’s lively letters and journalism thus serve as a rare witness to the Sino-Japanese War. He entered guerrilla territory as a cooperative inspector and CIC publicist before becoming dean of the technical school in 1942. Tragically, he died of tetanus after a foot injury; medical help didn’t arrive soon enough. Hogg is a captivating figure, but Thomas, who played his uncle in a Chinese TV miniseries, offers little in the way of commentary. Many chapters are composed almost entirely of extracts from Hogg’s articles and correspondence. Apart from Hogg’s early years and death, and some war context and black-and-white photographs, the book doesn’t convey much that a volume of the journalist’s collected writings (to supplement his published work, 1944’s I See a New China) wouldn’t. Though frequently lacking the external interpretation most biographies provide, the work is still a fitting homage to “a wise and noble friend to the people of China.”
A meticulous and congenial, if uneven, tribute to an enterprising reporter in Asia.