Red China Blues (reissue): My Long March From Mao To Now by Jan WongRed China Blues (reissue): My Long March From Mao To Now by Jan Wong

Red China Blues (reissue): My Long March From Mao To Now

byJan Wong

Paperback | August 28, 2007

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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.
Jan Wong was the much-acclaimed Beijing correspondent for The Globe and Mail from 1988 to 1994. She is a graduate of McGill University, Beijing University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is the recipient of a (US) George Polk Award, the New England Women’s Press Association Newswoman of the Year Award, th...
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Title:Red China Blues (reissue): My Long March From Mao To NowFormat:PaperbackDimensions:416 pages, 8.2 × 5.45 × 1.1 inPublished:August 28, 2007Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385665660

ISBN - 13:9780385665667

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from interesting This book allows you to see China during the Cultural Revolution from the inside. It is very interesting.
Date published: 2017-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Red China Blues: My Long March From MAO to Now, by Jan Wong This is a review I wrote last fall and forgot to post. Red China Blues: From MAO to Now, by Canadian journalist Jan Wong (Memoir - Published first in 1996, it has recently been re-issued.) Red China Blues is awesome book! The subject matter, Wong’s talented journalistic style and wicked sense of humour makes for an enthralling read. It captures some of the darkest moments of China’s history, and shines a much needed light on the still badly oppressed majority in the countryside. And yet, it also shows the indomitable spirit of a people that continues to face unimaginable challenges and heartache with tremendous courage and dignity. Whether you have a passion for reading these types of books, or are just a casual observer of China as it slowly leaves behind thousands of years of a feudalistic (Communist government included) society behind and evolves into part of the modern globalization that modern technology enables; this book is a must read. Red China Blues will give you keen insights into the both the distant and recent history of China, its people, the way they think and how they approach life. More importantly, it shines a bright light on the dark side of China's lightening fast entry into the global capitalist, consumer-based economy. A light that starkly illuminates the many millions of peasants who still live much the same as they have for the last three thousand years; dirt poor, with little or no access to basic education or medical care, always at the ragged edge of starvation, and still at the mercy of their local overlords. Oh sure, they go by fancy titles like the Party Secretary XXX to some tiny village in the poorest provinces, such as Gui Zhou, where they then use their position to fleece the peasants of what little is left after the Government's official taxation services gets their share. Planning a trip to China? Read this book before you go. It will help you understand that beneath the shiny new exterior of China's big cities, lies the same very same people who have spent countless generations building kingdoms for various emperors and warlords. (And, one might say, are still doing so for the Communist government so long in power.) Ordinary, common, hardworking people trying to survive in a system specifically designed to keep them down, while using up their life's blood to provide for the smallest portion of China's immense population - the elite, upper crust members of the Party, their families and connection. Yes, a lucky few have beaten the enormous odds and become part of China's nouveau rich. But countless millions are still left behind in a poverty level nearly impossible for even the poorest of many Westerners to grasp, myself included. No matter your taste in non-fiction, I can't recommend this book or the author highly enough. In some parts I wanted to reach in and choke the corrupt officials, at other times I was awed by the inner strength of a people who refused to be conquered or subjugated any longer. Tiananmen Square was just the beginning of their revolt. Slowly but surely, the people of China are regaining their power. From the Publisher 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.
Date published: 2010-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Firsthand Account of Mao's China JAN WONG, Anchor Canada, pp.395, ill. With pics At 19 years in 1972, as a Canadian born Chinese, Jan Wong became one of two students accepted under a tourist visa. Jan wanted to discover her roots and also observe Maoism in action. Disgruntled with Canadian politics, she totally embraced every written and spoken word of the Revolutionists. She was absolutely convinced that Mao’s revolutionary world was pure, idealistic, for the people, classless and to be a model for the rest of the world. She arrived in Beijing as the Cultural Revolution was in full swing. She wanted to live communism – eat, labour and live as the peasants. To her this life and labour was the purifying process Mao expounded and enforced, sending hundreds of thousands middle-class and educated into the fields to be purified. At the end of summer 1972 she sought and gained entrance into Beijing University. She was not blind to the lack of food, line ups, poverty and lack of human rights but she accepted it all as a necessary process towards the ideal. A slow demoralizing process has her questioning many things she witnesses and experiences. She relates numerous incidents, some frightening and threatening, that would shake most of us to the core. Through these details one starts to form an image of Mao’s China – a picture which reveals that all is not well. “It was the beginning of my real awakening, a long painful process that would take many years more.” (p. 84) She describes the life of a revolutionist; readings from approved books only, propaganda meetings that went on for days or hours cutting into production, boring repetitive work, self-examinations, west bashing, denunciations, and obeying the party secretary. She talks about the cruelty and arbitrariness of the Red Guard, the in-fighting between powerbrokers, and the top party officials. We learn something of the early revolutionary life and ideals of Mao Zedong, the communist leader, who was aging and ill. Deng Xiaoping followed Mao and he throws open China’s door to foreigners, capitalism and western decadence. The Cultural Revolution of the passed ten years seem to have been a total waste of effort though it had caused untold suffering for millions. Wong leaves China in 1980 for North America, attains a degree in journalism, marries, and returns in 1988 as a reporter for the Toronto Globe and Mail. She has already denounced Maoism and is shocked at the change of abundance in the cities. “…China in 1988 wasn’t a bastion of liberal democracy. The police still detained and tortured dissidents. But the atmosphere had relaxed considerably.” (p. 218) Jan considers herself fortunate to have been present during the Tianamen uprising by the university students April 1989. Amidst the ever-present real danger, she observes and sends reports home about developments. Her report, page 226 – 304 is the most comprehensive, complete, unbiased rendition I have ever read. The Party reaction confirmed her denunciation of Maoism and Communist China. Emboldened, she surreptitiously gains access to some of the most notorious prison camps where it is estimated over 20 million languish. Undaunted, she then tackles the social ills of the new society; poverty unbelievable, hunger, mental retardation, trafficking in women, and the disparity between the new rich and very poor. The last few chapters are devoted to the new middle class and quite surprisingly, it sound very close to what we have in North America. Her denunciation of Maoism is now complete. Jan Wong’s Forbidden City is a visual documentary recently available.
Date published: 2008-09-06

Read from the Book

Ten days after my reprieve, Cadre Huang surprised us by announcing we were going to the Beijing Number One Machine Tool Factory for fifty days of labor. Erica and I let out a cheer. We had been lobbying for months for a chance at thought reform. For foreign students like us, hard labor was an honor. In my case in particular, it meant I was no longer persona non grata.According to Mao, everyone needed physical labor. For class enemies, it was a punishment. For ordinary people, it was an inoculation against bourgeois thinking. For intellectuals, sweating with the proletariat was both a punishment and a prophylactic. In one year, Scarlet’s class had already been through mandatory stints of kaimen banxue, or open-door schooling, at a farm, a factory, a seaport and a military base. The Number One Machine Tool Factory, which made lathes, was one of six model factories directly under the political control of Mao and his radical wife. In 1950, Mao had sent his eldest son there to work incognito as deputy Party secretary. In 1966, Number One was the factory considered politically reliable enough to send Workers Propaganda Teams into Beijing University.Erica, our teachers and I shared one small room in a dingy workers’ dormitory. The toilet stalls down the hall were so disgusting I learned to breathe through my mouth. Each morning, we ignored the first, ear-splitting 5 a.m. bell and got up with the 6 a.m. one. We washed in groggy silence, then donned coarse work suits, stiff denim caps and canvas work gloves with seams so thick they gave me blisters. It was still dark when we stumbled outside to board a city bus for the fifteen-minute ride to the factory.Number One, a sprawling collection of low-lying ugly brick buildings in southeast Beijing, was originally a munitions factory. The Chinese government saw to it that the proletariat lived better than intellectuals. As “workers,” we now could shower every day, instead of just twice a week. And unlike the slop served at the Big Canteen, the factory dining halls provided a wide selection of dumplings, noodles, breads and stir-fried dishes.I was “apprenticed” to Master Liu, a fortyish man with a perpetually anxious look on his face, probably because he was supposed to teach me how to use a lathe. According to socialist etiquette, I called him Master Liu and he called me Little Wong. He had typical class-enemy looks — sallow skin, shifty eyes and a scrawny build — but in fact he was a kindly man with a mania for playing basketball. Under his influence, I joined the women’s team, where my towering five-foot, three-inch height was an asset.In the middle of the first afternoon, Master Liu told me to start tidying up to get ready for a political meeting. Wiping the gunk off my hands with oily rags, I was beside myself with excitement; Beijing University had always barred me from political study. I joined about a dozen workers sitting in a circle on little folding stools. A middle-aged worker cleared his throat. “Today we are going to discuss with what attitude we should receive the opening of Beijing’s Sixth Labor Union Congress. Please, everyone actively speak out.”I looked around expectantly. Granted, it wasn’t the world’s sexiest topic, but what would the proletariat have to say? Nothing, it turned out. There was an awkward silence. Finally, a young worker in stained denim spoke up.“Uh, uh, the proletariat, uh, um, the dictatorship of the proletariat, er, the proletariat is the leading class. It must lead everything.” He stopped, unsure of what to say next. He reddened slightly.“Speak out,” said the middle-aged worker, nodding encouragingly.“Uh, well, I think the way we should receive the opening of Beijing’s Sixth Labor Union Congress is to, ah, um, study Marxism! Study Marxism-Leninism! Yes, to correctly receive the opening we must study Marxism-Leninism,” he said. He sat back, looking relieved. Others, all men, began to talk in monotones. Many stared at the patch of concrete floor in front of them. The first worker had set the tone. Each speaker exhorted everyone else to study Marxism-Leninism. Even I felt my eyes glazing over. When the discussion leader finally announced the meeting was over, people bolted for the door.That first night, waiting in line in the canteen, I spotted a commotion ahead of me. Two young men had faced off, their noses inches apart.“You turtle’s egg!” one of them screamed, using the ancient Chinese word for bastard.“I fuck your mother’s cunt!” the other yelled back, using a more contemporary phrase.At that, the motherfucker slapped the turtle’s egg, who responded by heaving a bowl of steaming dumplings in the other’s face. Someone threw a punch, and they began fighting in earnest until bystanders pulled them apart. I had a feeling my Chinese was going to take a great leap forward at the factory.

Bookclub Guide

1. Jan Wong tells us that all existing dictionaries and language textbooks were destroyed at the time of the Cultural Revolution. Why was this necessary? How effectively could a political system be shaped or controlled by such a measure?2. When the author realises, early on, that she is not allowed the freedom to think, she says this is “only the beginning of my real awakening, a painful process that would take several years more.” Why was her awakening such a slow process?3. If the author had grown up in China, do you think her doubts and questions would not have arisen in her student years? Or do you think her classmates went through similar “awakenings”?4. In theory at least, the workers had better living conditions than intellectuals in China in the early 1970s. Does this strike you as any more unfair than the opposite situation?5. Having completed the book, what are your feelings about Jan Wong’s informing on Yin (the girl who wanted help getting to the West) while she was still an unquestioning Maoist?6. Could you characterize the four sections of the book? Do they differ in tone as well as content?7. Broadly speaking, the first half of the book avoids overviews or hindsight, but in the second half the author adopts a more knowing perspective. What effect does this have for the reader?8. What fresh insights have you obtained from Jan Wong’s analysis of the Tiananmen Square demonstration and the detailed description of the subsequent massacre?9. The author says that the Tiananmen massacre could have been avoided: “An experienced mediator could have solved things so easily.” How different do you think life in China might have been after the demonstration if there had been no violence?10. At the beginning of the book the author is writing largely about herself and her reactions to the political system. The last part of the book is more concerned with the stories of individuals living in post-Tiananmen Square China. What can you deduce from this? How much do you think she has changed, and how much has China changed?

Editorial Reviews

"With her unique perspective, Jan Wong has given us front row seats at Mao's theater of the absurd. It is hard not to laugh and cry...this book will become a classic, a must-read for anyone interested in China."—Fox Butterfield, The New York Times"This superb memoir is like no other account of life in China under both Mao and Deng...Her description of the events at Tiananmen Square, which occurred on her watch, is, like the rest of the book, unique, powerful and moving."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)