I never thought I’d be grateful to George Bush and Tony Blair for anything. But there is just one thing I could thank them for. It was the struggle against their illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003 that brought me together with some of the extraordinary people who were my friends in Beijing, without whom my life would have been much poorer. One of these people was Joan Hinton, who died at the age of 88 earlier this week. She will be greatly missed.
I’ll leave it to others to write about Joan’s life as a nuclear physicist, revolutionary and farmer, and confine myself to one short anecdote from the book Silage Choppers and Snake Spirits that neatly illustrates her fearlessness and almost total lack of respect for authority:
Perhaps the person who appreciated her the least, even less so than Fengfeng, was the guy in charge of security in the village, Wang Yuwen, the chief of police. Standing obliviously on a hill with the family, explaining seriously that there were certain things that women just couldn’t do, he suddenly found himself grabbed by the ankles and thrown to the ground.
The enormity of the loss of face that Joan caused the chief of police with her Shady Hill style wrestling technique is difficult to measure. Suffice to say that some 20 years later, when Joan and Sid returned to Dazhai to visit old friends, Wang Yuwen was still completely stone faced when the story was recounted to the amusement of everyone else in the room.
Here’s one article, mostly in her own words, that gives a sense of her spirit: