William H. Hinton

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Bill Hinton with his sister Joan at her farm in Beijing (4/3/1993)

William Howard Hinton (February 2, 1919 – May 15, 2004) was an American farmer and prolific writer. A Marxist, he is best known for his book Fanshen, published in 1966, a "documentary of revolution" which chronicled the land reform program of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in the 1940s in Zhangzhuangcun (张庄村, pinyin: Zhāngzhuāngcūn), sometimes translated as Long Bow Village, a village in Shanxi Province in northern China.[1] Sequels followed the experience of the village during the 1950s and Cultural Revolution. Hinton wrote and lectured extensively to explain the Maoist approach and, in later years, to criticize Deng Xiaoping's market reforms.

Background and education[edit]

Hinton was born on February 2, 1919 in Chicago.[1] His father, Sebastian Hinton, was a lawyer who committed suicide. His mother, Carmelita Hinton, was an educator and the founder of The Putney School, an independent progressive school in Vermont. He was a nephew of novelist E. L. Voynich (1864–1960), whose 1897 book The Gadfly sold over a million copies and became the number one American bestseller in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Before graduating from Cornell University,[2] Hinton attended Harvard, where he was captain of the ski team. In 1939 he raced the famous Inferno race from the summit of Mt Washington, skiing behind Toni Matt, who famously schussed the headwall. Hinton commented in 1996 that "he knew Matt did something special, as a huge roar came up from the crowd."

Experiences in China[edit]

Hinton first visited China in 1937. At the time, prevailing U.S. views of the Communist Party of China since the 1920s had alternated between uncertainty and hostility. Most U.S. "experts" on communism were baffled by the appeal of a Marxist-Leninist party to Asian peasants. Some diplomats considered the Communist Party of China "agrarian reformers" who labeled themselves revolutionaries. They were uncertain whether or how closely the Communists were tied to the Soviet Union.

Given the attention lavished on the Kuomintang (KMT) by both U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the media, especially Henry Luce's Time Magazine, the U.S. public was slow to take notice of the Communists' rise in importance in China. When the U.S. joined China and the other Allied Powers of the Second World War in the War against Japan, there had been little contact between U.S. diplomats and the CPC, even though the KMT-led United Front against Japan made the Communists an implicit ally.

At the time of Hinton's first visit to China in the mid-1930s, a handful of U.S journalists, such as Edgar Snow, Helen Foster Snow, and Owen Lattimore, had sneaked through the KMT blockade into communist territory. All praised the high morale, social reform, and commitment to fighting Japan that they observed.

Along with academic colleagues, Hinton made similar observations when he served from 1945-1953 during his subsequent visit to China. Hinton was a staff member of the U.S. Office of War Information and was present at the Chongqing peace talks between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China, where he met Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong. Hinton later accepted a post as an English teacher at the Northern University in Southeast Shanxi province, near Changzhi City, in a liberated district.

Hinton then worked for the United Nations as a tractor-technician, providing training in modern agricultural methods in rural China. When the communist party liberated the province in which he was working in 1948, he asked to join the university-staffed land reform work team in the village of Long Bow on the outskirts of Changzhi. By 1948, his then-wife Bertha Sneck had also joined him in China.

Hinton spent eight months working in the fields in the day and attending land reform meetings both day and night, and during this time he took careful notes on the land reform process. He assisted in the development of mechanized agriculture and education, and mainly stayed in the CPC-ruled northern Chinese village of Long Bow, forging close bonds with the inhabitants. Hinton aided the locals with complicated CPC initiatives, especially literacy projects, the breaking up of the feudal estates, ensuring the equality of women, and the replacement of the imperial-era magistrates that governed the village with councils in a symbiotic relationship with the landed gentry class. Hinton took more than one thousand pages of notes during his time in China.

In the 1980s, Hinton's daughter Carma Hinton, returned to Long Bow to make a series of documentary films, including Small Happiness and To Taste 100 Herbs.

Return to the United States[edit]

On his return to the United States after the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953, Hinton wanted to chronicle his observations of the revolutionary process in Long Bow. But on his return, at the height of McCarthyism, customs officials seized his papers, and turned them over to the Senate Committee on Internal Security (chaired by Senator James Eastland). Hinton was subjected to continual harassment by the FBI, his passport was confiscated, and he was barred from all teaching jobs. At first permitted to work as a truck mechanic, he was later blacklisted and denied all employment. He then took up farming on some land inherited from his mother, and farmed for a living for some fifteen years. During this period Hinton continued to speak out about the successes of the Chinese Revolution and waged a long (and eventually successful) legal battle to recover his notes and papers from the Eastland Committee.

After the government returned his notes and papers, Hinton set to writing Fanshen, a documentary account of the land reform in Long Bow village in which he had been both observer and participant. After many mainstream U.S. publishers had turned it down, it was published in 1966 by Monthly Review Press and was a success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, with translations in ten languages. In the book, Hinton examines the revolutionary experience of the Long Bow village, painting a complex picture of conflict, contradiction and cooperation in rural China.

After the death of Edgar Snow, Hinton became the most famous American sympathetic to the People's Republic of China, and he served as the first national chairman of the US China Peoples Friendship Association from 1974-1976. The association published his controversial interviews with Chinese premier Zhou Enlai. Hinton cooled toward official policy as market reforms under Deng Xiaoping moved away from the type of socialism originally associated with Mao Zedong. Eventually he wrote Shenfan (read as the opposite of Fanshen) and The Great Reversal, and became an outspoken opponent of the socialist market economy ("socialism with Chinese characteristics") and Chinese economic reform that the CPC continues today.

Works[edit]

Literature[edit]

  • Juliet de Lima-Sison (ed.), Dao-yuan Chou: Silage Choppers & Snake Spirits. The Lives & Struggles of Two Americans in Modern China. Ibon Books, Quezon 2009, ISBN 971-0483-37-2.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "New York Times Obituary". Retrieved 2014-10-07. 
  2. ^ Cornell Alumni New. January 29, 1942. Vol. 44, No. 16. http://dspace.library.cornell.edu/bitstream/1813/3585/20/044_16.pdf

External links[edit]