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Leftist Americans in China grieve shift to capitalism

engsts October 1, 1996
Web posted at: 5:30 p.m. EDT (2130 GMT)

From Correspondent Andrea Koppel

BEIJING (CNN) -- Dairy farmers Joan Hinton and Sid Engst have always been at home on a farm. Sid, in fact, hails from a family of dairy farmers in upstate New York.

But for close to 50 years now, the couple have made their home a world away from their native United States. Hinton said they never intended to stay in China so long, but were too caught up to leave. (4 sec./43K AIFF or WAV sound) icon


Nearly a half century ago, China's socialist revolution inspired American leftists such as Engst and Hinton to move to China. They dreamed of building a new society, a place where capitalism would be abolished for good.

Now, capitalism is back in, and radical leftist politics are out. But Hinton and Engst still live and work outside Beijing, and still hang on to their old dreams.

In 1949, the same year of the Chinese revolution and the founding of the People's Republic of China, the couple married in a mountainous Chinese community and joined the cause to which they've been devoted ever since.


"The change in China in those 30 years was really fantastic, and we lived through it," Engst recalled. "It was inspiring to be part of it."

But their story doesn't begin and end there. Before joining Engst in China, Hinton had been a young nuclear physicist who was involved in research that helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II.

Her move to China happened as the so-called "red scare" in the United States was growing, and convinced some Americans that pretty, young Joan Hinton had become a spy for Red China.


What the people back home didn't realize, according to Hinton, was that she was living with her husband and their children on a tiny commune in a remote part of China.

"There was just nothing," Hinton said. "There was no doctors, there was no electricity, there was no radios, there was no roads, and here you are supposed to be making atomic bombs. I mean it was ridiculous, completely ridiculous."

While it may be easy to laugh about the past, the couple worries about China's future. Since reform began in the late 1970s, Engst and Hinton say they have watched their socialist dream fall apart as millions of Chinese embraced Western-style capitalism.


Still, since the early 1980s, the two have continued to devote their time and energy to a state-owned dairy farm on the outskirts of Beijing.

There, at least, the outside world feels far away. Once considered radical leftists by their native countrymen, Hinton and Engst are now too radical for most of China's countrymen.


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