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Chapter 6 of Mr. Tucker novel 2065, now in its fourth week of serialization, on America and China after the latter’s seizure of Pearl Harbor.
Huang Chien had never really thought of becoming a nuclear engineer. In secondary school, his interests had been more toward music. He had started playing the electric keyboard very young and by the time he reached adolescence had become good enough to play for money in some of the small drinking establishments that were beginning to attract construction workers who came to their small city on the Yellow River to build the new chip manufacturing plant. His mother had been horrified at the possibility of her son associating with such peasants, but his father knew the owner of the establishment, who assured him there would be no bad influences. And they did need the money.
His mother’s main concern was that he study hard enough to go to engineering school. That was the route to success. Chien was good at math — that came easily — and if his grades kept up, he had a good chance of being admitted. His father had long worked at the old automobile factory that had been the mainstay of the city, but now his health was getting bad and the factory was closing anyway. Chien’s father had developed emphysema and now coughed constantly so it was questionable whether he would be able to work at all. It was imperative that Chien get a scholarship if he was to progress.
“You must work hard to keep the honor of the family,” she told him. “Your father would be shamed if you did not become a success. You must save money and perhaps we will be able to find you a good wife.”
Chien had never thought in these terms before. He was not handsome but not unattractive either. He had known a few girls in secondary and found they were impressed with his music. He had asked one young woman, Wei-lee Hu, to accompany him to the club where he was performing but her parents had found out and objected. They took it as a sign of Chien’s poor prospects and she had never spoken to him again. The women that he saw at the club, on the other hand, were not the kind with whom he would want to be associated. They smoked cigarettes and drank beer and did not seem to care what their parents thought of them. He found that offensive.
At engineering school Chien found it harder to meet women. All of his classmates were men and any young woman who appeared on the campus was quickly swept off by the dashing sons of public officials who drove flashy cars and paid little attention to their studies. Often these fancy dressers would throw over these women after a few evenings and move quickly on to another. It offended Chien when he saw young men act like that and he felt sorry for the young women, but there was never any chance of offering his condolences. In a trice, they were on to the next flashy dresser.
“Don’t worry, we will find you a wife,” his mother consoled when he came home for the holidays. “You have several cousins who will make a good match. You will be provided for. Just finish your studies.”
At first he was drawn to chemistry but nuclear energy quickly captured his interest. China was engaged in rebuilding its entire electrical system, putting a small reactor in the basement of every village hall to provide for the entire community. There were jobs everywhere. In the old days, studying nuclear would have meant going to the United States but now that China was leading the world in the technology there was no reason to go abroad. Besides, he very much feared encountering the decadent culture of the West. In the movies, he had seen American cities that were endlessly dirty, its streets filled with prostitutes and drug addicts, its criminals fearsome and arrogant. He had seen pictures of black men holding knives to the throats of women in broad daylight. It was no place where a Chinese student would want to be and those who went and came back said they never wanted to go again.
Chien found nuclear technology fascinating. The idea of assembling a cross-section of molecules in the effort to capture neutrons to set off a chain reaction that would build to a steady hum of disintegrating atoms fascinated him. That he could design something that would manipulate matter at the subatomic level, far smaller than anything he could see in an electron microscope seemed uncanny and thrilling. He was proud of the role China had played in developing nuclear technology. The West had led in the 1900s, but since the turn of the 21st century China had sprinted ahead so that now it was European and American students who were flocking to Chinese universities instead of the other way around.
The most extraordinary development had been the Traveling Wave, a type of reactor invented in the United States but brought to China by the computer genius Bill Gates when he found that no one in the U.S. wanted to develop it. Gates had probably expected China would build him a reactor so he could take it back home again, but instead his countrymen had seized upon the technology and perfected it for mass production. In the Traveling Wave, the nuclear fuel burned slowly from end to end like a long cigar, cycling uranium into plutonium and burning up both so that after 50 years the 20-foot fuel assembly had completely consume itself while leaving no nuclear waste. It was a miracle of engineering. Five of such reactors in non-descript buildings were enough to power a city of 20 million. Now the job was to carry this technology into the smallest hamlets so the last of the coal and wood-burning boilers could be retired and the purification of China’s air would be complete.
But that was what troubled Chien. As his graduation approached, he realized he was very likely to be assigned to installing Traveling Waves in the remotest provinces of the Far West. Most of the work in the major cities was now completed. He was 23 years of age and did not relish the thought of spending the next two or three years traveling from one farm village to another before he could work his way back into the cities where there were positions of greater responsibility. In particular, it was unlikely he would ever find a wife in such remote areas suitable for his stature.
He mentioned this to his mother on his last trip home before graduation. “What happened to those cousins among whom you said you were going to arrange a marriage,” he asked as they stood in their small kitchen while his father coughed constantly in the bedroom. His mother turned and gazed into the small yard. He could remember running barefoot on that patch of ground as a boy, his mother warning him not to step in chicken droppings for fear of getting ringworm. Now there were no more chickens and an old Jinhua stood next to the house, their first car.
“I am sorry my son, it has not worked out as I expected,” his mother said, refusing to meet his eye.
“What happened?” he asked.
“One of your cousins was claimed by the son of a high party leader,” she said dutifully. “She was very beautiful and he paid a very high bride price. The other has taken Buddhist orders and says she does not want to marry.”
“Wasn’t there a third cousin you spoke of?” he asked his mother.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?