Jan Wong has returned to Beijing. Her quest: to find someone she
encountered briefly in 1973, and whose life she was certain she had
In the early 70s, Jan Wong travelled from Canada to become one of
only two Westerners permitted to study at Beijing University. One
day a young stranger, Yin Luoyi, asked for help in getting to the
United States. Wong, then a starry-eyed Maoist, immediately
reported Yin to the authorities. Thirty-three years on, and more
than a decade after the publication of her bestselling Red China
Blues, Jan Wong revisits the Chinese capital to begin her search
for the person who has haunted her conscience. She wants to
apologize, to somehow make amends. At the very least, she wants to
discover whether Yin survived.
As Jan Wong hunts through the city, she finds herself travelling
back through the decades, back to her experiences in the Cultural
Revolution, to places that were once of huge importance to her. She
has changed, of course, but not as much as Beijing. One of the
world's most ancient cities is now one of its most modern. The neon
signs no longer say "Long Live Chairman Mao" but instead tout Mary
Kay cosmetics and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Places she once knew have
vanished, bulldozed into oblivion and replaced by avant-garde
architecture, trendy bars, and sleek condos. The people she once
knew have changed, too, for better or for worse. Memories are
everywhere. By searching out old friends and acquaintances, Jan
Wong uncovers tantalizing clues about the woman she wronged. She
realizes her deepest fears and regrets were justified. But Yin
herself remains elusive-until the day she phones Jan Wong.
Emotionally powerful and rich with detail, Beijing
Confidential weaves together three distinct stories-Wong's
journey from remorse to redemption, Yin's journey from disgrace to
respectability, and Beijing's stunning journey from communism to
1. Jan Wong uses details such as a shoe polishing machine or the
prevalence of walls to give us an insight into the psyche and
society of Beijing. What artefacts or features would you choose to
exemplify your own culture?
2. How do you feel about Chinese city-dwellers' current
obsession with status symbols? Does it suggest a healthy
3. By using nicknames ("Fu the Enforcer"), colourful
translations of names ("Fat Paycheck") and emphasis of personal
characteristics (Cadre Huang's giggle, Alfred Peng's "Write that
down!"), the author populates the book with an almost Dickensian
cast of characters. Does this help you through the narrative?
4. Does it seem natural to you that people such as Scarlet who
were formerly the most ardent Maoists, are now the most ferociously
5. This book is written from an immensely complex perspective.
Do you think there is any danger that Jan Wong's previous
experience of China might distort her understanding of modern
Beijing as well as enhance it?
6. When Yin (Lu Yi) is promoted to the publicity department of
the oil field where she has been sent as a punishment, she
describes it as "stepping into heaven." What does this tell you
about the human ability to cope with hardship?
7. Do you think that pretending the Cultural Revolution never
happened might be useful for the generations who lived through it?
Or is "truth and reconciliation" necessary? The comments about the
"solace of silence" (pages 291-292) can be borne in mind.
8. Does the book give you an impression of a culture reinventing
itself, or one that has survived despite revolution?
9. In China the Internet is censored; people in the West are
told the web is impossible to regulate. What does this suggest to
10. What does the book gain from the presence of Jan Wong's