“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

How Richard Sorge Met Agnes Smedley…

Posted: June 5th, 2019 | No Comments »

As I mentioned yesterday I was looking through German WW2 diplomat Hans-Otto Meissner’s biography of the Soviet spy Richard Sorge – The Man With Three Faces (1955). Meissner is not completely reliable on every detail and gets some basic things wrong but this is his account of how Richard Sorge, newly arrived in Shanghai to establish secret radio links between north and south China met Agnes Smedley…except it was a pre-arranged meeting…Sorge took the name Johnson…

‘The evening he arrived Johnson (Sorge) drove by taxi to a small restaurant on the Nanking Road. He ordered champagne and started reading the New York Times. A few minutes later a woman left the bar and went over to his table.


“You must be American,” she said. It was a statement rather than a question. “Mind if I join you?” Johnson smiled. “Of course not. Sit down. You were right first time. I am an American. Got in this afternoon and came right up here. A friend of mine in the States warned me about food in China and told me this little place would educate my stomach in easy stages. Have some champagne?”

The woman laughed. “No, thanks. I’ll have a gin sling, if I may. And if you want to keep expenses down you had better drink the same while you are here. Champagne is expensive stuff, you know. Incidentally, my name is Smedley.”


It was a code drawn up in Moscow – Sorge would visit that Nanking Road restaurant and order champagne which he would offer a woman who encountered him – the contact sign. The woman would decline and ask for a gin sling – the counter sign. Sorge and Smedley had met and recognised each other as fellow spies.

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