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.

1 comment:

Asfand said...

Do you know which organization Gina Engst belongs to in Spain?