Reviewed: February, 2017
This biography is almost an autobiography.
Mark Aylwin Thomas has included extensive letters home from George Aylwin Hogg to his parents, plus extracts from Hogg’s book, I see a new China (1944). This gives an account of life in the China of 1938-45 with an immediacy that would be hard to achieve otherwise.
Both Hogg and Thomas, his nephew and namesake, write in an easy style that holds the reader’s attention throughout. The portrait of Hogg that we gain is of a gifted young man who developed from a recent graduate from Oxford in search of adventure to quickly become a humanitarian committed to put international aid to real practical use in the mounting difficulties faced by Chinese people gradually overrun by the advancing Japanese invasion. He quickly learnt Chinese, well enough to negotiate effectively with local officials and to distinguish regional accents – no small feat in itself.
He became deeply involved in the co-operative movement, seeing it as a practical way to make good use of the many local people displaced by the war. He made a success of a technical school that educated and employed displaced youngsters who soon became technicians and leaders in the co-operative movement. He adopted four orphan boys, and would have adopted more if he’d been paid more. He helped to manage the transfer, in the depths of a hard winter, of the school, its staff and pupils and its heavy machinery from Shuangshipu in central China many hundreds of miles to Shandan in the arid western frontier province of Gansu.
We learn much about the ability, at that stage, of the Chinese Communist Party to gain the confidence of ordinary people, on contrast to the less flexible nationalist ideology of the Kuomintang.
With so much achieved and so much more in prospect, Hogg died tragically of tetanus, aged only 30.
This book is highly recommended reading for humanitarians, historians, Sinophiles, and anyone who enjoys reading a good biography.
EMERITUS PROFESSOR A.H. THOMAS
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