Book Review: 50 Years in China Wrapped in One Book


Silage Choppers & Snake Spirits
By Dao-yuan Chou
Edited by Juliet de Lima-Sison
Published by IBON Foundation Inc.
466 pages

MANILA — China used to be the center of world socialism. That record has been shattered by revisionists and enemies of socialism who turned China into a market economy. Unlike in socialism, China is no longer insulated from the debilitating shocks of monopoly capitalism that is now facing an economic recession unparalleled since the 1930s.

Socialism, under the revolutionary leadership of Mao Zedong, freed millions of Chinese peasants from colonialism, feudal exploitation and oppression. Socialist China faced up to U.S.-led capitalist aggression in a vain attempt to bring down the country to its past while the CCP was waging an intense ideological struggle with Soviet social imperialism. Although the road to socialism has been waylaid by Chinese “capitalist roaders” led by Deng Xiaoping, the vision remains strong in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people today.

The bright star of socialism illumines the new book, Silage Choppers & Snake Spirits, written by Dao-yuan Chou and edited by Juliet de Lima-Sison. Dao-yuan Chou is a Chinese American based in Philadelphia, USA, while De Lima-Sison is a Marxist writer and educator forced into exile by the Philippine government in The Netherlands since the late 1980s.

The book chronicles the lives and struggles of two American intellectuals who lived and worked in China for more than 50 years. Joan Hinton, an atomic physicist who was involved in the development of the atomic bomb, met Sid Engst, a New York dairy farmer, in the U.S. and both married in China. Along with other nuclear physicists led by the socialist Albert Einstein, Joan would later campaign for civilian control of the atomic energy.

The victory of the Chinese revolution in 1949 and the socialist construction that followed was the backdrop for the reunion of Joan and Sid. The mobilization of the Chinese people for the farm collectivization and construction of industrial factories drew the two Americans deep into China’s socialist construction amidst the hardships imposed by U.S.-led economic sabotage and sanctions. Sid’s agriculture background and Joan’s physics expertise came handy as their contribution to the technological engines of growth. But it was their undying belief in the socialist cause and in the Chinese masses that sustained their spirit of internationalism as they waded through the turbulent ideological and class struggles of the Cultural Revolution in the mid-1960s, the rapprochement between China and the U.S., and the takeover of the Deng clique that overturned decades of socialist growth – along with the sacrifices of millions of Chinese people.

In Silage Choppers & Snake Spirits, Dao-yuan Chou bows to Joan and Sid in chronicling their story through threads of anecdotes and well-reconstructed thoughts extending from the academic institutions of the U.S. to the battlefields, rural communes, urban factories, and cultural marches of China. As a result, their story unfolds a tableau of the Chinese people and their revolutionary leaders where their struggles all the way from revolution to socialism are painted vividly. The book is a story, documentary, and an interactive medium rolled into one.

The value of the book, however, rests not so much on the well-researched experiences of Joan and Sid that dramatize momentous events but on its coming out at a time when China is crying for a renewal. The most severe crisis of world capitalism and the social and economic deterioration of China in the midst of a market-driven economy that finds people more destitute summon forth the rekindling of socialism that remains etched among the Chinese masses. Socialism may not find its rebirth in this once great country now but it finds renewed expression among many people and socialist-inspired movements and struggles throughout the world. Rest assured, Joan and Sid, that your lives and struggles are affirmed and vindicated.

The book is an outstanding contribution toward understanding China’s socialist epoch that in turn serves as a lens for dissecting its present and future developments. Definitely, the historian, journalist, social activist, and almost anybody will find this book truly inspiring and a must-read.

Bobby Tuazon is presently the director for policy study of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG). Also a journalist, Tuazon was the founding editor of, editor-in-chief of Philippine News & Features, and an investigative journalist and editor of a number of news dailies. He has co-authored and edited eight books covering human rights, environment, elections and political parties, corruption and governance, as well as foreign policy.

Share This Post