Thursday, June 17, 2010

Joan Hinton: an American in China

I frequently browse the online edition of the New York Times, and am generally stunned when I find mention of someone I know or, in this case, met briefly many years ago. The article in question was the obituary of Joan Hinton who died recently in China.

I was working as a foreign expert copy editor for China Daily in Beijing at the time. The paper's first foreign expert had just died, and a couple of us went to the memorial service China Daily hosted for him. I never met this man, but mainly went out of respect to the person who paved the way for my job there a couple of decades later.

China Daily had set up a large square table in a conference room. Everyone sat around it, and people at the head section talked about the expert. Ms. Hinton was one of the speakers. She and her husband wee introduced as long-time China residents who had done a lot for the dairy industry in China. Without them, the nation's dairy industry would not have made such rapid advances. She appeared a pleasant woman and a good public speaker. All the foreigners who spoke were long-time residents of China, as was the deceased, another American.

Based on comments made, I envisioned Ms. Hinton coming from a farming background. Was I surprised to learn that wasn't the case. The NYT article notes Ms. Hinton worked as a physicist on the Manhattan Project, which created the atom bombs the United States dropped on Japan to end World War II in Asia. She became disillusioned with the United States after that, and in 1948 left for China where she became an avowed Maoist. During the McCarthy era she was accused of being a spy and giving nuclear secrets to the Chinese, but the article notes this was never proved.

During my time in China I met several people -- mostly Americans -- who had spent most of their lives in China. While I enjoyed my two years in Beijing and have fond memories of China, I don't think I could spend my whole life living there. What I got most out of my time there was how fortunate I am to be an American.

China travel

If you're planning a trip to China, please see my website for some great information about things to see and do, especially in Beijing. Questions? Please email me. If you're interested in seeing the world from a different perspective, you might be interested in a Cheryl's Guide.

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