Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Now by Jan Wong

Red China Blues : My Long March from Mao to Now
Jan Wong
(Doubleday Canada, Toronto: 1998)

READ: December 2007

For those of you who, like me, always thought Jan Wong was just a writer of fluffy, though amusing, columns in the Globe & Mail (lunch with Jan Wong, anyone?), this will set you straight.

I stumbled across this book in a second-hand shop in Ottawa, when I'd walked in intending to get something nice and light-hearted to read over lunch one day. Remembering how fascinated and curious I'd been to learn more after reading Ian Johnson's Wild Grass, I decided to pick this up. And - WOW! It's an amazing book. It's eye-opening, elucidating, and entertaining. Or to put it more bluntly, it will knock your socks off.

I don't think I can hook you any better than by posting here the publisher's blurb (from the Chapters website):

Jan Wong, a Canadian of Chinese descent, went to China as a starry-eyed Maoist in 1972 at the height of the Cultural Revolution. A true believer -- and one of only two Westerners permitted to enroll at Beijing University -- her education included wielding a pneumatic drill at the Number One Machine Tool Factory. In the name of the Revolution, she renounced rock and roll, hauled pig manure in the paddy fields, and turned in a fellow student who sought her help in getting to the United States. She also met and married the only American draft dodger from the Vietnam War to seek asylum in China.

Red China Blues begins as Wong's startling -- and ironic -- memoir of her rocky six-year romance with Maoism that began to sour as she became aware of the harsh realities of Chinese communism and led to her eventual repatriation to the West. Returning to China in the late eighties as a journalist, she covered both the brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown and the tumultuous era of capitalist reforms under Deng Xiaoping. In a wry, absorbing, and often surreal narrative, she relates the horrors that led to her disillusionment with the "worker's paradise." And through the stories of the people -- an unhappy young woman who was sold into marriage, China's most famous dissident, a doctor who lengthens penises -- Wong creates an extraordinary portrait of the world's most populous nation. In setting out to show readers in the Western world what life is like in China, and why we should care, Wong reacquaints herself with the old friends -- and enemies -- of her radical past, and comes to terms with the legacies of her ancestral homeland.

Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Go to your nearest bookstore or library and read this book. You won't be sorry.

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