“Socialism is Great” is a coming-of-age tale to be sure, but also a good example of memoir writing from an exceptional person living through some extraordinary times. “Socialism is Great” tells of things great and small: a girl becoming a woman and China shedding its socialist shell. It opens doors on a frugal family and its persistence in life, and the gates of the state-owned factory class as it plods to extinction. Along the way are lovable and despicable characters, all drawn to–or repelled by–our heroine Lijia as she careens through her own mind, trying as she must to keep her ambitions and lust contained behind “the strangest pair [of glasses she] could find in town.”
“Socialism is Great” is a fast read, is passionate and hopeful. Happily, unlike many other memoirs from China it doesn’t end with an escape abroad. In this sense, it captures the spirit of the 80s, as the heroine’s forward momentum brings readers to new depths and acts of bravery, she brings to life a whole new side of China, all without wallowing in self-pity. As she matures, she comes into mature experiences that make this book inappropriate for young audiences, but which definitely left me surprised at the depth of emotion of factory workers and “simple” laborers all.
All in all, this is a new voice to enrich the canon of memoirs from China, it marks the advancement away from the reminiscing over the cultural revolution, and represents one among China’s newest generation of international, accomplished writers.
Book Talk: “Socialism Is Great!” by Zhang LijiaWed June 18, 19:30-21:00
Venue: CCC Learning Centre, Chinese Culture Club, Anjialou, No.29, Liangmaqiao Road, Chaoyang District.
Price: RMB 20 (symbolic charge for drinks and snack)Press Release for Zhang Lijia’s talk at the CCC :::
Emerging from politically generated obscurity of a different kind was Lijia Zhang, a former Nanjing rocket-factory worker who spent 10 years among 10,000 comrades effectively incarcerated in the “iron rice bowl” of the state employee. The effusive Zhang, now following the literary festival circuit in support of her memoir Socialism is Great! brought several houses down with rollicking tales of how having wavy hair betrayed a pretend communist’s bourgeois affinities, and of the indispensability of Jane Eyre in diluting the insanity of her plant’s endless, obligatory political meetings. Few in her audiences would have guessed these were her first public appearances of any “performing” kind.
Above is South China Morning Post’s round-up of HK literature festival in March.Now after much practice – Lijia has just returned from a successful book tour to US, she has no doubt become even a better ‘performer’.We are keenly anticipating her speech at our club on Wednesday June 18. She’ll talk about her new memoir Socialism is Great about her decade-long experience working at a missile factory in Nanjing in the 80’s. Few memoirs are set in that fascinating era when China began to experience sea-changes and became what it is today. Since its publication two months ago, her book has been enjoying raving review, including the one in New York Times Book Review. This is not an opportunity to be missed!
Lijia is an established journalist based in Beijing. Her works have appeared in many international publications such as Far Eastern Economic Review, South China Morning Post, Japan Times, Washington Times, The Independent, The Observer and Newsweek. She is a regular speaker on the BBC and NPR.