Hinton and Mao’s China

William H Hinton, who illuminated the gigantic strides of Socialist China secured under Chairman Mao, died 20 years ago on May 15th, 2004, at a nursing home in Concord, Mass. He was 85.

William Hinton was an encyclopaedia of knowledge on the revolutionary transformation of Chinese agriculture. With utmost resilience, in the face of systematic vilification of the Chinese revolution by the Western media and by the present rulers of China themselves, Hinton relentlessly defied reactionaries to give credibility to all the practices of China under Mao.

It was reading Edgar Snow's Red Star over China in 1942 that a transformation took place within him from a pacifist to a Marxist.

He returned to China in 1945 and again in 1947, the last time as a tractor technician with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency. He managed to stay on in Communist-held north China teaching English and seized the opportunity to join as an observer of a land reform work team sent to Long Bow village in Shanxi province. The following six months in Long Bow was the turning point in his life. He took a thousand pages of notes, and participated "directly in the revolutionary transformation of China, the greatest social upheaval of all time, at least in terms of numbers. It has been an experience to savour and renew, again and again.

Upon his return to the US in 1953, his notes and his passport were seized and he was hauled up before the Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security. This did not prevent him from traveling incessantly across the US to narrate to people the truth about the Chinese Revolution. That year alone, at the height of McCarthyism, he delivered 300 such talks.

After recovering his notes in 1958 through a court suit, he wrote Fanshen, on how land reform was carried out at Long Bow.

Hinton was highly disturbed by the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, which he was a first-hand witness to, driving through the suburbs of Beijing to monitor the advance of the army. His daughter by his first marriage, Carmelita Hinton, born and educated in China, later co-produced ‘The Gate of Heavenly Peace ‘(1996)–a challenging film about the massacre.

In 1995 in an interview, he most analytically or logically dissected every element of Mao’s political career. Hinton underlined why the Cultural Revolution as a whole was a great creative departure in history and not a plot, not a purge, but a mass mobilization whereby people were inspired to come to the party and supervise their cadres and form new popular committees to exercise control at the grassroots and higher levels.

During the final years of his life, he felt it was his duty to uphold the Chinese revolution combating the attacks and distortions waged against it. In writings and lectures given around the world, he upheld Mao’s revolutionary approach to land reform and collectivization. He played a major role in countering the West’s ideological offensive against communism.

Head on he battled the slanders directed at the Great Leap Forward and Mao's agricultural policies, and relentlessly refuted vilification of the Cultural Revolution.

In Shenfan (1983) Hinton denotes how the Cultural Revolution quickly degenerated into factionalism and unprincipled contests for power at national, provincial, and local levels. Hinton asserts in Shenfan that Mao was responsible for these leftist excesses because he refused to initiate mass campaigns to erase them and was making use of China’s Confucian and feudal culture to elevate a personality cult.

[Contributed by Harsh Thakor]

Back to Home Page

Vol 56, No. 49, Jun 2 - 8, 2024