Leftist Americans in China grieve shift to capitalism
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)
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
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
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
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