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Rodney Gilbert Papers

A description of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 25 Apr 2010

Biographical History

Rodney Gilbert (1889-1968) was an American conservative editorial writer and newspaper columnist.

Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Gilbert graduated from Franklin and Marshall College. In 1912 Gilbert went to China to travel the country; he began as a salesman for Dr. Williams' Pink Pills for Pale People but ended up spending 17 years there, becoming fluent in Chinese and eventually working as a correspondent for the North China Daily News. In 1926 his series of columns on traveling in Chinese Turkestan were compiled into his first book, What's Wrong With China. He was a strong supporter of Chinese nationalism and of Chiang Kai-Shek, and firmly anti-Communist.

In 1929 he joined the staff of the Herald Tribune as an editorial writer and returned to the United States. His editorials, which were largely conservative and anti-Communist in nature and which were published under the pseudonym "Heptisax," appeared regularly for 15 years, until 1944. From 1944 to 1946 Gilbert served as Dean of the Post-Graduate School of Journalism of the Central Political Institute of Chungking, organized and established under the auspices of Columbia University. Later, he collaborated with Columbia University to bring Chinese journalism students to the United States to study.

In addition to his Heptisax column, articles and book reviews under his own byline frequently appeared in the Herald Tribune and, later, in conservative-leaning magazines such American Legion and National Review.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Rodney Gilbert Papers consists of biographical material, correspondence, memorabilia, photographs, propaganda and writings.

Biographical material consists of a semi-humorous curriculum vitae by Gilbert of his activities to 1953.

Correspondence spans more than fifty years, and includes both incoming and outgoing items. The earliest correspondence is to his friend Francis Lyman Windolph, and consists of numerous long letters detailing his experiences during his first years in China (1912-1916). Notable correspondents include Madame Chiang Kai-Shek, OSS director William J. "Wild Bill" Donovan, Chinese ambassador Hollington Tong, Nancy Yu (Yu Meng-Yen), founder and editor of Taiwan's English-language newspaper The China Post, Commissioner of Narcotics H. J. Anslinger, and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), for whom Gilbert engaged in anti-Japanese propaganda work. There is also correspondence with various publishers and editors, including Alfred Knopf, E. P. Dutton & Co., Ray Henle (Three Star Extra), Eugene Lyons (Readers Digest), and Frederic Nelson (Saturday Evening Post). Several folders of material relate to Gilbert's work with Columbia University: as lecturer, as Dean of the Post-Graduate School of Journalism of the Central Political Institute of Chungking (a Columbia University project), and with regards to a project to bring Chinese journalism students to the United States to study.

Memorabilia is a mixture of personal items and items collected by Gilbert as souvenirs. Personal items include a date book, clippings about Gilbert, a flag signed with Chinese characters (possibly by his students in Chungking), and various legal documents (alien registration card, military cards, press card, etc.). Of particular interest is a sheet of paper in an unidentified script which, according to an accompanying note, is a tribal safe-conduct letter for Gilbert during his travels in Mongolia. Souvenirs include maps, a Chungking city directory, clippings and typescripts of articles by other journalists such as Dorothy Thompson, and a dozen or so very nice examples of black-and-white block-printed Chinese paper, some with highly detailed designs.

The collection contains a large number of Photographs, some in albums and others loose. Many of the photographs in albums have captions, and a few of the loose photographs are captioned on the back. Photographs include people, places, buildings, landscapes and so on from China, Taiwan and Mongolia. The vast majority are candid shots, presumably taken by Gilbert, but there are also some official photographs from the Chinese Ministry of Information. In some cases, the photographs were in a labeled or addressed envelope; these items have been kept together so as to retain the original organization.

Propaganda consists of both printed/published items as well as "messages" designed (and in some cases illustrated) by Gilbert, with sketches and typed drafts. The majority is anti-Japanese in nature, having been done during World War II, but there is also some anti-Communist propaganda from the 1950s.

Writings contains a wide range of pieces by Gilbert, the majority of which center around his expertise in Asia generally and China specifically; two prevalent topics are the threat of Communism and the danger of narcotics. This series consists of articles for various newspapers and magazines; book reviews written for the Herald Tribune; a book manuscript; more than 15 years of weekly editorials written for the Herald Tribune; columns written for the same paper under the pseudonym "Heptisax"; Gilbert's personal journals from China; letters to the editor, both as himself and as "Heptisax"; speeches; and assorted miscellaneous notes and drafts.

Arrangement of the Collection

Correspondence is arranged alphabetically by sender and, within that, chronologically. Other material is arranged alphabetically by type or title, where possible. Editorials and Heptisax columns are arranged chronologically.


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

Several of Gilbert's books have been transferred to Rare Books for cataloging. Please refer to the Classic Catalog to locate these titles. A list of these titles is provided in the collection (see Writings : Books : Miscellaneous below).

Subject Headings


Browder, Earl, 1891-1973.
Chennault, Claire Lee, 1893-1958.
Chiang, May-ling Soong, 1897-2003.
Donovan, William J. (William Joseph), 1883-1959.
Elliston, Herbert Berridge.
FitzGerald, Desmond, 1888-1947.
Gilbert, Rodney, 1889-
Hornbeck, Stanley Kuhl, 1883-1966.
Kao, George, 1912-2008.
Tong, Hollington Kong, 1887-1971.
Windolph, F. Lyman (Francis Lyman), 1889-1978.

Corporate Bodies

New York herald tribune.
United States. -- Office of Strategic Services.


Journalism -- China -- History.
Journalism -- China.
Journalism -- Taiwan.
Journalists -- United States.
Psychological warfare -- China.
Psychological warfare -- Japan.
World War, 1939-1945 -- Propaganda.


China -- Foreign relations.
China -- Politics and government -- 1912-1949.
China -- Travel and description.

Genres and Forms

Clippings (information artifacts)
Manuscripts for publication.



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Rodney Gilbert Papers,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Mrs. H. M. Gilbert, 1968.

Table of Contents

Biographical material