Red China Blues

Overview

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 ...
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Overview

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 un-happy 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385254908
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada Limited
  • Publication date: 4/1/1996
  • Pages: 336

Read an Excerpt

Chairman Mao's grandson was the fattest Chinese person I had ever met. At twenty-three years old, Mao Xinyu (New World Mao) had the same moon-shaped face, the same jowls, the same Buddha-like bulk as his famous grandfather. But his features were coarser, and he lacked Mao's elongated Mona Lisa eyes and inscrutably pursed lips. And instead of slicking back his hair, he had a bristling brush cut. In 1993, the one-hundredth anniversary of Mao Zedong's birthday was just seven weeks away when I slipped into a military hospital in Beijing to see New World Mao. I had tried for months, without success, to interview someone from Mao's family. Then I heard that New World was here. Brandishing a bouquet of yellow roses, I talked my way past an armed sentry and three checkpoints. New World was watching television in his private room. I introduced myself as a reporter for Canada's Globe and Mail. "Come in," he said, with a cheery smile, as if we had known each other for years. "lt's a Chinese opera. Mind if I keep watching?" His hospital room reeked of unwashed socks. Rumpled and unshaven, he sat, his belly bulging, in a striped hospital-issue pajama top, which he wore like a jacket over a full set of street clothes. His fly was half unzipped. His brown nylon socks, visible under blue plastic shower flip-flops, had gaping holes. New World had inherited the family disdain for bourgeois hygiene. His grandfather Mao Zedong had been a crotch-scratcher, once dropping his pants during an interview in the 1930s with the American reporter Edgar Snow to search for lice. After Mao took supreme power and moved into a golden-roofed imperial palace in Beijing, he never bathed; attendants rubbedhim down nightly with hot towels. New World was born in 1970, at the height of Mao's personality cult. He grew up thinking it perfectly normal that people sang ditties glorifying his grandfather as "the red, red sun in our hearts." Or that everyone wore a Mao badge, and that some of the more fervent believers even pinned them to the flesh of their bare chests. Although Mao was no model grandfather, he had taken time out from the revolution to choose a name for the only son of his only surviving son. The Great Helmsman understood the Orwellian importance of names. The choice of "New World" was a reminder to all that Mao was creating a Brave New World. There were three other grandchildren, but they were the offspring of Mao's daughters and by Chinese tradition didnt count. New World was the only grandson with the magic surname. He grew up in a hillside villa on the western edge of Beijing, with a dozen nannies, chauffeurs, cooks, maids, private secretaries and aides catering to his every whim. No adult or playmate dared cross him. That world fell apart in 1976, when his grandfather died. New World was still a little boy when Deng Xiaoping began dismantling Mao's personality cult. New World's father, already mentally incapacitated, sank into depression. His mother quickly toed the new Party line. When New World was a toddler, his mother both indulged and disciplined him. She sometimes hit him so hard she broke sticks on his back. At other times, she stuffed him with sugar, pork and fried foods, hoping he would gain weight. Still fretting that New World was too thin, his mother ordered compliant doctors to dose him with hormones. Mao Zedong never cuddled him, never held him, never played with him. Instead, New World worshipped his god-like grandfather from afar and tried his best to emulate him in the only way he knew how. New World's favorite dish became the one the Great Helmsman loved best--Red-Cooked Pork, chunks of glistening pork fat, gelatinous skin still attached, stewed in a lip-smacking sauce of soy, anise, rice wine and brown sugar. Over the years, New World ballooned to three hundred pounds. To lose weight, he tried everything from diet teas to herbal medicines to slimming creams. By the time I met him, thirty-seven days in Military Hospital Number 307 in the western suburbs of Beijing--the only place that could enforce a crash diet--had cut his weight to 250 pounds. At five foot nine inches tall, he wasn't off the scale by Western standards of obesity. But in a land where his grandfather's utopian policies had sparked widespread hunger and even famine, New World's ham-like thighs stuck out in China like Roseanne's at the Boston Marathon. He lived in his own dream world. When a college classmate once asked what he'd like to be one day, New World replied, "A leader," as if that were a job category, like electrician. He harbored secret hopes that someone, someday, might see fit to anoint him general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1989, he had been a student at People's University. When the Tiananmen protests started and his classmates hooded the square, his mother had her chauffeur drive her to the campus. She bundled her son home for safety until everything was over. The tragedy hadn't touched him at all. He seemed scarcely aware that the People's Liberation Army had shot thousands of ordinary Chinese in cold blood. New World had graduated, just barely, and was now studying for a master's degree in Mao Zedong Thought at Beijing's Communist Party School. He dreamed of going abroad. "My mom wants me to go to the United States because they do a lot of research into Mao Zedong Thought there. I've heard that in the U.S. Chairman Mao is held in higher regard than George Washington. Is that right?" "Not exactly." I said. New World didn't seem to notice. He sighed, his belly heaving. A school in Mississippi--he couldn't remember the name--had offered him a scholarship, but the Central Committee had nixed it. "The government won't let New World Mao out of the country," he said. "They're afraid I'll go out and my thinking will change. Or I won't come back." He turned back to the cacophonous opera on TV. I asked him how long he planned to stay in the hospitals. "I don't want to go home," he confessed. "I don't want Mama to tell me what to do. I'm afraid of her. The time passes quickly in here. I can watch television day and night." Mao's grandson a couch potato? Mao's grandson dreaming of studying Maoism in the States? Mao's grandson a prisoner of communism? My head was reeling. So the dynasty of Mao Zedong had come to this. And to think that I originally came to China as a Maoist.
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