sometimes witty book reviews
Jan Wong was once a fervent Maoist. During the 1970s she travelled from her homeland of Canada to live and learn the Mao way of life. A decade later she had rejected Maoism and became the Globe Mail‘s China correspondent from 1988 to 1996.
Her first book Red China Blues (1996) recounts her experiences as a fervent idealist, one of the first Western students to enroll in Beijing University right up to her counter-Party reporting on the Tiananmen Square Incident for Western news in 1989. This, her second book, recounts her secret return to China in 1999 to survey the results of the first 50 years of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rule.
Her grandfather first settled in Canada before the rise of the CCP. Three generations later, Wong has unqiue perspective of being Chinese in the West and Western in China. Jan Wong’s China (1999) is a frank, open discussion of facts from an expert journalist. She is at a once-was Maoist and (at the time of writing) a rogue Western journalist who, thanks to her ethnicity, could avoid surveillance or suspicion – at least for a little while.
For a former Maoist, Wong certainly doesn’t hold back. Chapters topics include slipping undetected in and out of Tibet, the loss of CCP control on information flow as the Chinese discovered the internet, where all the Chinese gays were, the ongoing tide of drugs use and trafficking and the rise of the Little Emperors – the often obese, ill disciplined and socially isolated children spawned from the one child policy. Though the facts are now 16 years old and the statistics probably just as wildly varying as they are today, Wong weaves an account of China at the turn of the 21st century that is gripping, humorous and exceptionally well written.
If you missed the start of the Asian Century, here is a good place to begin catching up.