When we first met with Thomas R.Conlon, an American who has taken the Chinese name Kang Deming, he was just wrapping up a meeting with his general manager and his chief technical inspector, key employees in his company. So when we began our interview, Kang was still preoccupied with thoughts of his work. It was clear that he was not accustomed to interviews about his life and work in China, and he at first seemed a bit too serious. However, he began to smile when he took out a small model windmill to demonstrate his love for his work - and perhaps his affinity for visiting a windmill on a sunny afternoon.
A Bond with China
At the age of 15, Kang for the first time saw a windmill-driven pump and began to develop his interest in the elegant machines. At the age of 20, he established a company which manufactured electricity-generating windmills. At the age of 23, he began to manufacture and sell windmill generators and water pumps, becoming one of the youngest experts in the application of windmill technology in the US.
Kang's bond with China began to take shape in 2001. On January 1, 2001, he came to Beijing to assist in installation and testing programs at the Institute of High Energy Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Completing his work ahead of schedule, Kang decided to take a short trip around China. During that tour, he discovered that there were very few places using windmills. But he knew that windmill use would yield a huge savings in manpower in the countryside, and especially benefit those regions with a serious shortage of water.
After returning to the US, Kang was consumed with thoughts of popularizing the use of windmills in China. He told his friends and family of his experience in China, and they fully supported his ambition. Soon, with a great deal of enthusiasm, Kang returned to China.
However, he would learn that establishing a specialized company here was not always an easy proposition. He investigated many factories, from the northern to the southern provinces, but no suitable enterprise would agree to establish cooperation with him. Just when Kang was about to give up, one of his friends, Zhou Xiao, a professor at the University of Hawaii, suggested that Kang try his luck in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. It was good advice.
On March 2002, the Wuhan Municipal People's Government set up a special investigation team for Kang, and Kang himself was received by the deputy mayor Li Tao. At last, with assistance from the Foreign Affairs Office of the Wuhan Municipal Government, Kang moved to establish his wind pump manufacturing base of China in Wuhan, with the cooperation of another company based in Xinzhou, Wuhan.
In September 2002, Kang officially commenced operation and his firm became the first and only such company specializing in wind pump manufacturing on the Chinese mainland. Christmas of that year, Kang spent his time working at his new office. For a time he used a room next to his office as his bedroom, so that he could immediately throw himself into work first thing every morning,
To his Chinese colleagues he is known as an expert technician, a superior machinist - and a workaholic. Kang has not sought financing to lower his investment risk or appealed to banks for loans. In just over two years, he has invested more than two million yuan into his China-based company, with money earned from his work with US companies.
Bringing Windmills to the Countryside
Kang believes that windmill technology will provide a solution for people living in areas with water shortage problems. Using windmills, farmers can pump water from wells, lakes, ponds or reservoirs - a low-cost and efficient method for sourcing water. Thus, Kang often visits urban areas to generate publicity and promote the advantage of using windmills.
On one occasion a windmill installation ran into problems. Upon hearing of this, Kang and several of his technicians hurried to the site, a village near Xi'an City, Shaanxi Province. Upon arrival he threw himself into the work and quickly found the cause of the problem. However, due to the remote location of the village and the lack of facilities, the repair process was slow-going. For five hours, Kang stayed at the site, working without a break even for water. After repairing the windmill, Kang again provided a detailed introduction to the machine for those villagers that had come to watch the scene. He tells us that each time he sees the farmers smile at the benefits derived from using the windmill, he feels that all his efforts are worthwhile.
An American in Love with China
In his spare time, Kang likes to visit every corner of Wuhan, riding his military-style motorbike. Not long after settling there, he had already acquainted himself with almost every nearby big street and small lane. A lover of China and Wuhan, Kang even wrote an article describing Wuhan's allure. "The charms of the cities in China lie with their looks and the feelings they convey to people. China has a brilliant and significant civilization," he said. Kang is also an amateur photographer. In his two years in China, he has shot nearly 5,000 pictures recording his discoveries and happy surprises. Some of his photos have even won awards in photography competitions.
Kang's wife, of Japanese descent, at first thought that his idea of popularizing the use of windmills in China was crazy. But when she came to China and saw her husband's efforts and the praise his work had earned, she came to appreciate his ambitions. With the passage of the time, she also came to love their life in China. The couple enjoys Chinese food, especially bean curd. In his visits with Chinese friends, Kang has picked up a much of the Wuhan dialect, and he has begun to study Chinese calligraphy. His 14-year-old son now attends the Wuhan Foreign Languages School, and Kang looks forward to the young man becoming something of a "Chinese expert."
Upon our departure, Kang tells us that he hopes more farmers will install windmill technology. Thus by the blessing of the wind, they can convey water to where it is needed.
China has long history of using windmills, and the coastal areas in Southeast China have long relied on windmills to pump water. In the Han Tomb, which was unearthed in Liaoyang City, Liaoning Province, there are images of windmills on mural paintings dating to the late Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), evidencing the use of windmills in China for at least 1,700 years. Since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Chinese people have used windmills to pump water, and there even appeared wind-driven machines that processed industrial and agricultural byproducts. In 1959, Jiangsu Province already had more than 200,000 working windmills.
Today the Chinese government is committed to increasing the use of renewable and clean resources, including wind power. The Dabancheng wind power generation project, near Urumqi City in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is the largest wind power plant in Asia. By the end of July 2005, the facility's total wind power capacity had reached 125, 000 kilowatts.
Kang is familiar with all components of a windmill.
In his spare time Kang amuses himself with his model windmill.
In 2004, Kang installed windmills to provide water to the residents, agriculture and livestock of Dachishan Village, Weihui City of Henan Province.
Kang and his windmill.
(China Pictorial December 12, 2005)