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Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now

4.03  ·  Rating Details ·  2,778 Ratings  ·  211 Reviews
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 & roll, hau ...more
Paperback, 416 pages
Published May 19th 1997 by Anchor (first published 1996)
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Feb 10, 2008 Martine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in China and unusual memoirs
Memoirs about life in twentieth-century China tend to be profoundly depressing. I remember reading Wild Swans as a student and being so utterly depressed afterwards that I seriously wondered if I really wanted to go on learning Chinese and becoming a sinologist. And then I went to China and realised that no, I most certainly did not want to be a career sinologist. China and I are a bad match, but that doesn't stop me from continuing to be fascinated by the country.

Of all the memoirs of life in t
Feb 20, 2013 Ensiform rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, china
The tale of the Chinese-Canadian author’s long path from a deluded, naïve red-to-the-core Maoist to a cynical reporter who sees just how wrong she was. Wong’s life is enthralling in its sheer unlikeliness, even if Wong herself comes off as an unrepentant spoiled fool in the first half of the book. Wong dismisses the concerns of her wealthy father (born in Canada, the son of an emigrant) to become one of only two Westerners allowed to attend Beijing University in 1972, in the throes of the Cultur ...more
Andrew Milton
Apr 18, 2014 Andrew Milton rated it it was ok
A good book about a most bizarre life…sort of. Well, half of a good book.

A young Canadian national wants to understand her roots, and returns to China…in 1972. At the beginning of the end of the Cultural Revolution she arrives a committed Maoist, and is soon allowed to enroll at Beijing University (one of only two Westerners given such permission, and explicitly by Zhou Enlai). When just about the last of the 700 million Chinese have abandoned any sense that Maoism is a system that could work, s
Jul 15, 2007 NinaCD rated it it was amazing
Such a different perspective on the culture revolution. Written by a Canadian-born Chinese who returned to China as a die-hard Maoist during the heat of Cultural Revolution and direct-enrolled in Beida. She became fluent in Chinese and married a fellow ex-pat, going on to settle in Beijing as a reporter for the foreign press. She witnessed the entire Tiananmen disaster and I've never read an account as detailed as the one in this book, taking up more than a full chapter. Her perspective on the t ...more
Goodreads recommended this book after I read Jung Chang's amazing saga of her family's Chinese history in Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. Jan Wong's book is an account of her journey as a Canadian-raised daughter of Chinese descent, to a young woman who travels to China ready to embrace the Maoist ideal.

Following high school in 1972, Jan Wong was selected by the Chinese government as one of two western international students to attend Beijing University. From the outset, although she thoro
Michael Gerald
Jul 08, 2013 Michael Gerald rated it really liked it
A revealing memoir from one who can be said to have had been to hell and back, Red China Blues chronicles one woman's flirtation with Mao and his thoughts and actions, her immersion in real-life Chinese society under Mao and his successors, and her eventual disillusionment with the system she once held with the highest esteem.

One strength of Wong's memoirs is her access to places and events not available to others, plus her Chinese descent and her knowledge of both Chinese and English. Especiall
Bryan Mitchell
Feb 28, 2015 Bryan Mitchell rated it it was amazing
This was a book I looked forward to after finding her work through CBC's Definitely Not the Opera. That and reports on China fascinated me since I started surfing the web and found BBC's James Reynolds because of the challenges brought on by state censorship.

I will just say this now, Jan Wong does not disappoint. From her own Marxist views that inspired her to travel there, and even study at Beijing University, to her developing career as a reporter covering China, Wong weaves reportage and m
Sep 05, 2010 Jan rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Jan Wong is a Chinese-Canadian journalist who, as a starry-eyed and naive teenager, believed so strongly in the Chinese Communist experience that she found a way to become one of two foreigners admitted to Beijing University during the height of the Cultural Revolution.

In the end, Wong spent the majority of her late teens, twenties, and thirties living in "Red China." Her birds-eye view of the Cultural Revolution, of the "awakening" of Communist China under Deng Xiaoping, and, later, of the Tian
Feb 26, 2012 Ellen rated it it was amazing
Over the years since the book came out, I had tried a few times to read it but just couldn't finish it due to lack of interest. It wasn't until I returned from a recent trip to Beijing and other parts of China that I was able to finish the book. Wong's stories and anecdotes suddenly came alive to me because I had visited Beijing University, Tiananmen Square and other places in person.
I feel like I understand my parents' China during the Communist era more. When I recommended this book to my bro
Mar 03, 2016 Kate added it
Shelves: nonfiction
What a fascinating chronicle of a young Chinese-Canadian woman, enamored of the Maoists, who emigrates to Communist China. She undergoes extreme physical and mental challenge in an effort to become a purist, to change her bourgeois ways--only to witness the country open up to Capitalism after the death of Mao. Then she begins to realize how she'd been duped/brainwashed into believing in a system that wasn't what she'd thought it was.

This book is a bit overwritten at times, but I'm glad I read it
May 13, 2007 Loz rated it really liked it
I read this book and at times it made my jaw drop. This woman leaves a cushy life in Canada and heads to communist China. Why? Well she is an idealistic fool. She eventually finds villages where the entire population is inbred with amazing disabilities, she also ends up working in a factory and sleeping on the floor of it with her comrades. An amazing tale and I guarantee that by the end of the book you will want o just slap the author to wake her up. I really liked this book.
Oct 16, 2008 Julie rated it it was ok
I liked this book (or maybe I like it) but I can't say for sure because I CANNOT FINISH IT. You know how sometimes your mind is finished reading something before it's actually done? Yeah. I'm there.
Mu Yang
Jan 25, 2017 Mu Yang rated it liked it
Found this book at the discarded section of my school library, but when I tried to read it at school next day the detector buzzed. Apparently it wasn't discarded.

Anyway, the book is informative and insightful. The narrator, Jan Wong, a former Maoist who was devoted to Communist China of the 1980s, is quirky and interesting to read. Her tale of being a stupid teenager to a matured adult was eye-opening. I knew China was pretty big fucking bad, but this book had taught me a lot of other things tha
Amanda R
Sep 27, 2014 Amanda R rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was excellent for so many reasons. Firstly, I know very little about China, either its history or its present situation, so this was extremely informative for me.

She spends several chapters describing the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 and the events that led up to it, which was incredible. I learned about it in a world history class in about 1993, but I think we were still missing a lot of the details at that time and I don't much remember it anyway. I knew about the Tank Man, but beyo
Apr 24, 2016 Steve rated it really liked it
In her autobiographical “Red China Blues,” author Jane Wong does what the much more vaunted Jung Chang and her similar “Wild Swans” did not. Specifically, she injects much-needed humor and self-effacement along with the obligatory tale of hardship during China’s Cultural Revolution. To be fair, Wong also plays things almost problematically middle-of-the-road, never fully condemning Mao’s edicts nor providing readers, especially bewildered Westerners or seething Chinese the kind of good vs. evil ...more
Zi Xin Lee
Jan 10, 2015 Zi Xin Lee rated it liked it
Jan has an amazing story to tell. But she doesn't do it in the best way possible, at least in my opinion.

Jan's memoir covers her very bizzare and interesting tale of transformation from an idealistic Maoist to a journalist who looks at China with eyes of chipped granite. Her ethnicity, Chinese, and her nationality, Canadian, makes the story all the more interesting. She had done open-schooling, eaten cornmeal balls, talked to dissidents, eyewitnessed the Tiananmen Square crackdown and had a show
Jul 08, 2015 HelenJ rated it liked it
Recommended to HelenJ by: Book group
I found it unbelievably mesmerizing how people could be treated so badly by people they were close to, and yet how people would help others out if they could do so without being reported [snitched on] To have a non-fiction book be so close to the many fiction books about China that I'd read by Lisa See, Diane Bestwick, Xinran [Sky Burial], Yiyun Li [Kinder than Solitude], Jenny Bowen [Wishing You Happy Forever], Jung Chang [Wild Swans], Pearl S. Buck, Denise Chong [The Concubine's Children] was ...more
May 10, 2012 Karen rated it it was amazing
"A month after my worker-peasant-soldier class graduated, the Chinese Communist Party formally declared an end to the Cultural Revolution.... I felt betrayed, like the victim of a massive practical joke.... But from here on in, I promised myself, I would question everything. I wouldn't just listen to what people said, I would observe what they did and their body language while they did it." pg. 185 "For generations, Chinese society had emphasized the family, the clan, the collective over the ind ...more
Feb 14, 2016 Emily rated it did not like it
Shelves: memoir, china
If you want to read a compelling memoir about the modern history of China, forget this trash and pick up "Life and Death in Shanghai" by Nien Cheng, or "Wild Swans" by Jung Chang. Don't waste your time with"Red China Blues."

At first glance, one might peg "Red China Blues" as a story about growth---the bildungsroman of a Chinese-Canadian girl searching for identity and her dearly beloved, the fledgling communist Chinese government. What a lovely idea!

The problem is, Jan Wong never seems to "come
Apr 26, 2014 Diana rated it it was amazing
Jan Wong’s grandparents immigrated to Canada from China. Her father was a successful restaurant owner in Montreal. When Jan graduated from high school at the age of seventeen, she was looking for another way of life other than democracy partly because of the Vietnam War and the Kent State confrontation in the United States. She was enchanted with Maoism and Communist China where all people were purported to be seen as equals. She travelled to China where she, along with a young Chinese American ...more
Jan Wong has written a fascinating memoir about her experiences in China. She visited first in 1972 as the Maoist Cultural Revolution was in full swing. She had become an adherent to Maoism after seeing corruption and discrimination in the West. While in China, she was one of two westerners to attend Beijing University while it was under the control of Madame Mao. After living in China for several years Wong became disillusioned with Mao philosophy and sought to become a reporter.
As a reporter
Sarah Wiley
Aug 14, 2014 Sarah Wiley rated it really liked it
Jan Wong is both a journalist and a storyteller, thus this book manages to provide a factual history of China in the late 20th century while also weaving together an extraordinary memoir of Wong's experiences in China during this period. I think that this is the perfect book for a Western audience, in particular an audience that is trying to understand the allure of Maoism. Wong explains to the reader, in a very human way, the hopes and dreams of Maoists and how that dream fell apart for so many ...more
Jan 27, 2008 Richard rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
An interesting and quick read in which a Canadian-Chinese decides to go to China in the early 70s to join the revolution.

While in China, the author insist that she perform manual labor (haul pig manure) like the rest of the Chinese people in order to cleanse her of her western thoughts. As the years slip by her she begins to realize that the Communist Government is not what she thought it was, or should be. She was in essence young, naive and idealistic about Communist China.

I found the last 1/3
Becky Lai
Mar 15, 2013 Becky Lai rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I've ever read. It was long (I read it on Kindle and didn't realize what I was getting myself into until partway in) but that's partly why it's so good.

For one, the author is a great storyteller. The descriptions are not overly dramatic -- even in moments that would warrant it. There's always a hint of an amused smirk behind much of the writing as well as moments of heart wrenching anger, frustration and disappointment. It's hard to do both of those things well.

On a perso
Jill Campbell-Miller
Aug 30, 2012 Jill Campbell-Miller rated it really liked it
The best part of the book was definitely the first half, which explored Jan Wong's completely unique experience of being a foreign student during the death throws of the Cultural Revolution. A Westerner at heart, Wong desperately wants to be part of the Chinese proletariat, and only the fervour of teenage radicalism can explain how she managed to keep hold of her idealism for so long in the midst of truly bizarre circumstances. This is an insight into the Cultural Revolution as told by a Canadia ...more
Apr 03, 2013 Jully rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Such an amazing book! It has a lot of action in it and takes you through some really gruesome times in China. It's not usually my type of book at all.. but Wong keeps you interested by giving very vivid imageries and at the beginning of every chapter she would include two photographs of the people she might cover in the chapter. I've learned a lot through this book.. she's a great journalist that doesn't make you feel like she's pushing an ideology on you (unlike so many journalists today). This ...more
Jan 22, 2012 Verma rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in history experienced first hand.
Recommended to Verma by: I read of it on "Good Reads"
This is an amazing book. A Canadian girl of Chinese descent becomes enamored with China under communism. Starry eyed, she goes there in the 1970s to finish her schooling. She lives there for six years, becomes fluent in Chinese, participates in the Cultural Revolution, all the while unable until very late to see what she is witnessing is not the perfect society of her youthful vision. She willingly undergoes much hardship as students are sent for long stints of hard, disagreable farm work, are t ...more
Jan 25, 2010 Katies_Faves rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club, china
What a fascinating book. Jane Wong tells her story as a radical who leaves Canada (the evil West) to China to live under Mao's influence and power. If you don't know much about China - this is a great entry into its history. She goes into great detail but in a way that is not textbook-y, but interesting. I wanted to keep reading; I wanted to hear more of her story.

I am, however, deeply disturbed that she turned people in (people who trusted her!!!!) for not believing in Mao's manifesto. I mean i
May 05, 2015 Steven rated it really liked it
Shelves: big-people-books
A young Canadian of Chinese descent, full of scorn for the problems of Western culture, travels to China in the 70's to join the Workers Paradise and study Mao Zedong Thought. The author, Jan Wong, begins as a true believer. She enrolls in Beijing University, reforms her thought through labor, and turns in Western sympathizers to the authorities. An idealist, prone to black and white thinking, it takes her a while to figure out that things in Mao's China don't make sense.

Once she understands tha
In 1972, the author goes to China from Canada as one of only two foreigners a Beijing University. The first part of the book is about her life as a young, an avid Maoist in the new China. Wong does a good job of presenting her fanaticism and also reflecting on the events that eventually led to disillusionment. I particularly liked her fanatic engagement that helped me see better why Maoist China worked at all.

Wong never gives up on China. After returning to Canada and earning a journalism degre
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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, the (Canadian) National Newspaper Award and a Lowell Thomas Trave ...more
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“Living in China has made me appreciate my own country, with its tiny, ethnically diverse population of unassuming donut-eaters.” 4 likes
“During the Cultural Revolution, Chinese lived and died by their class backgrounds. They boasted about ancestors who had starved to death. But if a banker or landowner lurked in their background, they dropped their voices low and disclosed the shameful fact as if they came from a long line of pedophiles.” 0 likes
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