Sunday, May 24, 2009

New details of China's socialist years told in book

While the socialist period of China is commonly portrayed in history as a time of great poverty and hardship, a newly released biography reveals details of what actually happened during and after the country’s Cultural Revolution.

The book ‘Silage Choppers and Snake Spirits’ tells the story of American couple Joan Hinton and Erwin Sid Engst, who left their comfortable lives and promising careers in the US and made China their home. Both participated in building Chinese socialist society and later witnessed its capitalist restoration in the 1970s.

Written by Chinese American author Dao-yuan Chou, the book follows Hinton’s and Engst’s concrete, day-to-day struggle in agricultural production among their Chinese counterparts while raising a family in the socialist construction from the time of the Great Leap Forward to the Great Cultural Revolution. They continued their revolutionary work in the BethuneYanan Rebel Regiment made up of hundreds of foreign comrades who had come to China to help build socialism.

By the end of the Cultural Revolution, Hinton and Engst were back to production and agriculture at the Red Star Commune south of Beijing where they helped design and build machines and instruments to mechanize China’s dairy industry. While at the Red Star, they saw the response to the death of Mao and Zhou, and the subsequent rise to power of Deng Xiao Ping.

The book showed how Hinton, a nuclear physicist, and Engst, who came from a poor farming family in the US, evolved into internationalists and revolutionaries, committing their lives to building socialism and the continuing struggle for liberation. Following Engst’s death in 2003, Hinton, now 87, still lives in China in a State-owned mechanized dairy farm north of Beijing. Many individuals in the revolutionary movements around the world have been calling for their story to be told as a testament to the notion that people can and have changed the world.

The book shows how socialism was built in China in a way history has never told before: while much of the account was moving and inspiring, the period also had its ugly aspects. The way the biography is written, though, attempts to put the effects the Party’s costly mistakes into a larger context to understand more deeply the Socialist period in China.

‘Silage Choppers and Snake Spirits’, published by IBON Books, is more than a reference on China’s socialist years. It is for readers looking for a different perspective from existing narratives of Chinese history, as well as for activists engaged in the anti-globalization and antiwar advocacy. More importantly, the book illustrates a viable alternative vision, especially in the face of the current crisis of the global capitalist system.

Progressive academics would also likely find value in an accessible telling of modern Chinese history in a perspective from the ground. East Asian studies, History, Political Science, and Cultural Anthropology courses may likewise use this book as a primary or supplemental reading.

Ms. Dao-yuan Chou will be in Manila for a series of book launching and signing events:

May 26, 2009 at 2:00 - 4:00pm
IBON Books in cooperation with Development Studies Program Alumni Conference Rm, Rizal Hall College of Arts and Sciences, UP Manila, Padre Faura, Manila.

May 29, 2009 at 4:00 - 6:00pm
IBON Bookshop
IBON Center #114 Timog Ave., Quezon City

June 1, 2009 at 5:00 - 7:00pm
IBON Books in cooperation with the Educators’ Forum for Development National BookstoreBestseller
4th Floor Robinson’s Galleria, Ortigas, Mandaluyong City

June 2 or 3, 2009 (final date, time and venue to be announced)
IBON Books in cooperation with CONTEND (Concerned Teachers and Educators for National Democracy

Cocktails will be served. For confirmation, please call trunkline (632) 9277060 Menggay (301), Arnel (101) and Mario (311) or email

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