Saturday, September 25, 2010

Meet the Hintons: a Modern Revolutionary Family

I had first heard of William Hinton when I was in college, in a class on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. A few years later I would impress my (first, and presumably last) Chinese girlfriend by pulling William Hinton’s “Fanshen” off my bookshelf when she mentioned Carma Hinton, her fellow Beijing 101 High School alumnus. 

William Hinton was one of the first Westerners to participate in land reforms in Modern China. The book “Fanshen: A Documentary of Revolution in a Chinese Village” is probably the most widely read first-hand account of land reforms in a Chinese village. (“Fanshen” 翻身, literally flipping one’s body over, means emancipation or liberation.) The village, Long Bow village (张庄村 or Zhang village), is in Shanxi province. “Long Bow” is a deconstruction of the Chinese family name (Zhang) into its pictorial parts (bow) and (long). In China, William Hinton is known as 韩丁(Han Ding); the family name, , pronounced “han,” presumably was chosen for its H sound. , pronounced “ding,” corresponding to the “ton” in Hinton, is not only simple to write, but also means male person.

Carma Hinton, William Hinton’s daughter, was born in Beijing in 1949 (and therefore, coetaneous with The People's Republic). She stayed in China until 1971 and is most famous for her documentary (co-produced with her husband Richard Gordon) “Gate of Heavenly Peace” of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Carma’s Chinese name is 韩倞; means strong, but is probably more a reference to (and “play on words” of) her Beijing birth: Beijing’s jing with a radical for person , but everyone (including the teachers at Beijing 101) remembers her as 卡玛, pronounced "ka ma," a transliteration of Carma.

But it’s Joan Hinton, the sister of William Hinton, who’s on my mind recently. Joan Hinton passed away in Beijing on June 8th (her NYT obit). She was a Chicago trained nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. After her disenchantment with the Bomb, she came to China in 1948 to participate in Mao’s China. She met and married Erwin Engst, an American (Cornell trained) dairy farmer, and started dairy farms in Xi'an and Beijing.

Erwin (“Sid”) Engst was given 阳早as his Chinese name, , pronounced “yang,” meaning “sun,” and 早, pronounced “zao,” meaning “early” or “morning.” Sid Engst was named Yang Zao to commemorate 羊枣 (also pronounced Yang Zao) a progressive journalist who died in a Chinese Nationalist (i.e.., Kuomingtang) prison. Joan Hinton’s Chinese name was 寒春 (Han Chun). , pronounced “han,” means “cold,” and , pronounced “chun,” means (the season) “spring.” After spending over 50 years in China mechanizing and modernizing Chinese dairy farms, Morning Sun died in Beijing in 2003. And Cold Spring spent the last days of her life on a farm in Changping (昌平), a rural area now administratively a part of Beijing City. 

On Saturday June 20th, a memorial was held for Cold Spring in 东风宾馆 (named aptly the “East Wind Hotel”) in the southwest corner of Beijing. We got there in the middle of Fred Engst’s speech. Fred is the oldest son of Joan Hinton and Sid Engst. Fred Engst, or 阳和平 in Chinese (和平 meaning “peace”), was given his Chinese name by Song Qingling (宋庆龄, Sun Yat-sen's widow) because Fred was born after Joan Hinton gave a speech at the Asia Pacific Regional World Peace Conference in 1952. After leaving China in the mid '70s, Fred has been back in Beijing since 2006 and is now a professor of Economics at the University of International Business and Economics (对外经济贸易大学).

After Fred talked about his mother, various others went up one-by-one and gave memorials of Cold Spring.  Among them were old farmers who worked along side of Morning Sun and Cold Spring. There was one older woman who never met Cold Spring, but had an extensive correspondence with her. And finally, some of the younger generation (including my wife and young men and women who are undergraduate students) went up to pay tribute.

I had taken many photos of the proceedings, but won't post but one here. After my wife went up to say her bit, one person came to ask for her e-mail and phone number and I grew a little suspicious of people taking photos. So here I will only post a photo of Fred Engst. The banner above Fred said “Memorial of Comrade Cold Spring, International Communist Fighter.

Miscellany and Afterthoughts. My copy of Fanshen is the 1966 (paperback) Vintage edition. Its cover illustration, by Robert Korn, is posted above. After surviving a Chicago apartment fire, a move to Cambridge UK, and then to NY, it now sits in our bookshelf in Beijing. I had purchased it in one of the used bookstores in Harvard Square for $1.95 (probably among the best $1.95 I've ever spent) in 1989. The bottom third of my copy shows severe water soak marks, due to the fire that ruined my last apartment in Chicago.

Before William and Joan Hinton: Their mother, Carmelita Hinton, founded the Putney School, a progressive school in Vermont; Their great aunt, Ethel Lilian Voynich (daughter of the mathematican George Boole of Boolean logic fame), wrote The Gadfly, about the struggles of a revolutionary in Italy, a novel very popular in China and in the former Soviet Union.

Most recently, my wife and I saw Fred Engst at a lecture on August 21st given by his daughter Gina Engst at 乌有之乡(Utopia, a leftist bookstore just south of PKU). Gina, a graduate of the Putney School, is now based in Spain, where, by some estimates, the latest housing bubble left some 8 million housing units (new and old) unoccupied. Gina is part of a group helping older people squat. The group also helped turn one of the mansions in Barcelona into a community center for Latin American immigrant workers.

Fred has not seen this blog yet.

And, finally, this blog wouldn't be complete without a photo of the three Hintons:
The young lady to William Hinton's right is Carma.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hulun Buir Fantasy

In many ways, the highlight of our trip last August to Hulunbuir was not the grasslands or the marshes

or the birch trees

or the cows going home at sunset

or the well-maintained Soviet tractor we found in an out-of-the-way village

or the view of Russia from our B-and-B

Rather it was the time we spent with the kids of the Quinquefoil Children's Choir (“五彩呼伦贝尔”儿童合唱团), first on the set of the movie "37" and then in an Hailar city elementary school (school building financed by 华夏基金会, the Huaxia Foundation).

The movie "37" itself was nothing special, with a storyline reminiscent of singer/star group vehicles, like a Beatles movie or (dare I type it) "Spice World". A Hong Kong businessman came across the first Quinquefoil CD and was willing to finance a movie vehicle for the group. In the movie, the Chinese child actress du jour, Lin Miaoke, had an opportunity to befriend members of an inner Mongolian children's choir, and with the help of various others, managed to keep the choir from going out of business. "37" is the number of children in the choir.

What was most precious was the afternoon we spent with the children at the Hailar city elementary school that served as their base last summer. We listened to the children practice and learn new songs from their music teacher. We helped some of the kids packed up their book bags at the end of the afternoon before they went to the playground to play before dinner and before their summer school lessons in the evening.

So, almost exactly a year later, we jumped at the opportunity of tickets (courtesy of teacher Zhao) to the Quinquefoil concert in Beijing. The children had an appearance at the Expo in Shanghai last week before they came to Beijing for a series of 4 performances at the Century Theatre (世纪剧院).

The official concert webpage is hosted by sina.

The CCTV news segment.

Videos of the children's choir on youku.

And, finally, the page for the choir. But you'll need to scale the Great Fire Wall the other way to be able to download from the google sponsored music download page.

FYI, 五彩,the Chinese name of the choir, means, literally, Five Colors, which stands for the five minority groups from which many of the children came from. The English name of the choir Quinquefoil has been changed to Quintessenso for their latest tour, "My Home on Steppe," with the China Philharmonic. Hailar is the administrative center/city of Hulunbuir, which is a region of Inner Mongolia. The title of this blog, Hulun Buir Fantasy, is the title of the choir's second CD and tour.

Finally, another highlight was the friends (XJ and KS) we made during the trip, but that's a story for another blog...