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Thread Of The Silkworm Paperback – 15 Nov 1996

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About the Author

Iris Chang lived and worked in California. She was a journalism graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana and worked briefly as a reporter in Chicago before winning a graduate fellowship to the writing seminars program at The Johns Hopkins University. Her first book, Thread of the Silkworm (the story of Tsien Hsue-shen, father of the People's Republic of China's missile program) received world-wide critical acclaim. She is the recipient of the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation's Program on Peace and International Cooperation award, as well as major grants from the National Science Foundation, the Pacific Cultural Foundation, and the Harry Truman Library. She passed away in 2004.

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50 of 55 people found the following review helpful
shines a light on a murky time in history 17 Jun. 2001
By Mary Tsien - Published on
Format: Paperback
I must admit a bias - HS Tsien is my grandfather's cousin. As such, this book is for me the family history that noone would tell me. For other readers, I would say that most history books concentrate on the rise of the USSR as a power, and then *poof!* there's did that happen? Chang's book reveals how China's emergence on the world stage as a military power resulted from the US's own stupidity and xenophobia. My one real complaint about the book is that Chang's writing seems to drive the book to a climax at the point of Tsien's return to China, and then peeters out while she recounts China's race to the ICBM. This inconsistancy makes one feel that Chang herself had lost interest in the story, which is unfortunate. This story is fascinating enough (for anyone interested in history, not just me) to wish that the entire book had been treated with the care that Chang shows Tsien's US phase. Anyways, one leaves the story with feelings of respect and regret for what could have been. Please note that HS Tsien is still a bogeyman for the US intelligence community - he was mentioned, as Qian Xuesen, in the 1999 Cox report during the Los Alamos spy scandal. As far as I know, HS Tsien is still alive.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
Meticulously researched and superbly written... 14 Aug. 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is another book written by Iris Chang, author of bestseller "The Rape of Nanking". "Thread of Silkworm" told a fascinating story of a Chinese scientist, Tsien Hsue-Shen, educated in U. S. with great contribution in U. S. rocketry, was falsely accused as a communist and deported back to China in 1950's. Upon return to China, he became the father of Chinese missile program. The book was meticulously researched and superbly written. Iris Chang is a very talented writer; this is evident by this book.
41 of 51 people found the following review helpful
Saga of a rocket scientist worthy of Hollywood 26 Jan. 2000
By yio - Published on
Format: Paperback
Am I inclined to believe that all foreign born or educated defense scientists (e.g., Tsien and J.R. Oppenheimer) should be presumed "seriously suspect until proven innocent"? If so, to me Chang's book would no doubt leave open the issue whether Tsien had had a Communist leaning, while he was an immigrant in the US from a Nationalist China -- before and during a 'sky rocketting' career which culminated in his roles as JPL Director/Co-Founder; MIT/CalTech full professors; American aerospace pioneer; and a top Pentagon consultant, who grilled Werner von Braun in Germany to write for the US government its report on German aeronautics/rochetry state of the art.
To answer my own question, fortunately, I am not -- at least not consciously. So, let me justify my rating.
Poignantly told with facts organized like an epic novel, Chang's story is the saga of a gifted and industrious "orphan" from endless wars and feudal corruption in China who came to Uncle Sam's neighborhood for schooling, then contributed greatly to Sam's household, but was spurned from it by house stewards for allegedly associating with "people who condone thievery"; who then continued to work hard to be useful to people who appreciated him (as his ambition had always been) in a new career which he again excelled in, after, in the only remaining option he saw, being taken in by a delighted relative Uncle Mao.
As aristocratically brilliant, and yet democratically helpful to students/colleagues he saw as diligent, "why did he embrace the wicked Uncle -- of the proletariat masses of his kins?" you might ask.
'Cuz back in Uncle Sam's household, someone made him learn the lesson "You can't fight City Hall and expect to win." How about a harder question, from someone who has actually lived under a Fascist or Communist government?
One minor warning, though: Perhaps due to her bilingual upbringing, Chang's sentences are sometimes a bit long and not as colloquial as an impatient American reader might expect of a good novel. I won't throw rocks in my own glass house; so, to me, this quirk does not detract from the book in the slightest. Bear with her through limited technical discussions, and enjoy!
Remember Pygmalion in Greek mythology? A king could love the statue of a female figure so much that she came to life, to fall in love with him? If Tsien was innocent of the charge against him in the 50's America (you be the judge after reading Chang's book), isn't Tsien's "second life" as the leader of the successful Chinese ICBM project a modern-day antithesis of Pygmalion. Only this is not a mythical story, but real events which someday (with a chance however remote) may end disastrously for people on both shores of the Northern Pacific!
As Chang told us, the decent and kind, President Carter in the 80's by executive decree rescinded the INS order of the 50's for deporting Tsien (in essence saying, "Oops, we made a mistake.") Tsien however is still waiting for someone in the US government to give a forthright official apology for having ungraciously kicked him out while he was a guest in Uncle Sam's house, as he said so essentially (leaving it for others to remember his extraordinary contributions). Before then, he would not accept CalTech's invitation to come to California for awards of "Distinguished Teacher" and "Distinguished Alumnus."
Do most Americans who have read this book think the Communist charge against Tsien unwarranted (as President Carter must have, by his rescission decree)? If so, is it consistent with America's ideal of decency for some interested/concerned Americans to seek to make peace for their country with an aging ex-friend whom it turned enemy, and is it consistent with the US interest, in so doing, to disarm or merely soften whatever hostility toward USA his work may have bequeathed to his students and associates in China?
Whether these issues can be resolved positively with effective actions, before Tsien's death (in the challenging backdrop of the Cox Report) will determine if the American and Chinese saga of Tsien Shue-sen will come to a happier ending, or will forever remain a most poignant tragedy in the modern history of Science and Politics.
Many thanks, Iris, for helping us understand.
18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Interesting Biography about a Chinese Scientist 17 Dec. 2004
By R. DelParto - Published on
Format: Paperback
Thread of the Silkworm was not quite what I expected in terms of a biography about Tsien Hsue-shen. It is a simple and attractive narrative that may have been targeted toward readers that like their reading without overstocked footnotes. It appears that Chang took her research from Tsien's surviving friends, colleagues, and Tsien himself. In addition, her style of writing is somewhat intimate and personal, and she appears to write in a way where she really put much effort in getting to know her subject. Througout the book she made Tsien looked like a hard-nosed and self-centered professor that could careless about his students. But at other times, there are passages in the book where his work overtook him. In addition, it appeared like Chang empathized with what Tsien was going through when he was forced to abandon his research and duties at CalTech.

Nevertheless, Chang does a good job at capturing the period in which Tsien studied, worked, and lived. She attempts to provide detail during World War II, and how Tsien contributed to US rocket technology. However, it appears disturbing of how his life took a turn during the Communist-feared 1950s, and how he became blacklisted and excluded from a society that welcomed his knowledge and participation in the world of science and technology. Indeed, he became a US citizen, but because of unfortunate circumstances at time when ideology knew no boundaries, his talents were transfered overseas.

Thread of the Silkworm was an easy read that will enhance your knowledge about immigration and what occurred during the 1950s. I recommend this book for those interested in biographies, a dab of science, and as Chinese/Asian-American history as well.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Tsien's story is a perfect example of the ludicrous happening of McCarthyism in the ... 7 Oct. 2014
By Spencer Palmer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
What an American blunder this turned out to be. Iris Chang, for her first book, did a tremendous job of bringing the story of Tsien Hsue-shen to life in this book. Tsien's story is a perfect example of the ludicrous happening of McCarthyism in the 1950's, another Red Scare, where people where were accused of having Communist ties. In Tsien's case, he was unjustly accused, and then deported to Communist China. That was the thanks Tsien got for helping pioneer the American space program. American Communist hysteria of the 1950's helped deliver a valuable asset to American national defense to Communist China. Tsien's silkworm missle soon would become a powerful armament to not only China's military, but also several middle eastern nation's that are now enemies of the United States. Tsien was a brillian man, a possible genius, who's treatment by the American Government is a dark chapter in our history. Iris Chang will enlighten any reader of this book.
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