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"Socialism Is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China

3.36  ·  Rating Details ·  328 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
With a great charm and spirit, “Socialism Is Great!” recounts Lijia Zhang's rebellious journey from disillusioned factory worker to organizer in support of the Tiananmen Square demonstrators, to eventually become the writer and journalist she always determined to be. Her memoir is like a brilliant miniature illuminating the sweeping historical forces at work in China after ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 5th 2009 by Anchor (first published January 1st 2008)
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Amy Young
In an effort to be objective in my assessment I have to put three things out there:

1. The book turned from memoir to harlequin romance and I don't like HR's so that raised my annoyance at the end. It smacked of 'I'm so cool but I couldn't tell my mom so this is how she'll find out about what I was up to.'

2. I got to hear the author speak in Beijing and I am a sucker for seeing authors live which irrationally raises my opinion of any book -- yes, I am groupie!

3. Zhang Lijia is fairly close in ag
Stephanie Kratzmann
Really dissapointing ending - I felt it just stopped. I can't say that I loved this book, but I found it interesting and readable all the same.

The synopsis reads "A spirited memoir by a former Chinese factory worker who grew up in Nanjing, participated in the Tiananmen Square protest, and ended up an international journalist".

Spirited: a little naive maybe.
Participated in Tianamen Square: from a distance.
Ended up an international jounralist: this is the story I really wanted to hear. Not about
Howard Olsen
Mar 17, 2010 Howard Olsen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A "worker's memoir" from a woman who started life as a pressure gauge mechanic in a Chinese munitions plant, but who managed to learn English and become a journalist and best-selling author. Zhang mixes the personal with the political in this very compelling story - the dreary life in her factory, her her relentless quest for an education, the hassles and petty annoyances of life in an autocracy. Some of what Zhang describes is quite dark, but her spirit and basic good cheer come through. In a b ...more
Sep 11, 2008 Ben rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was poorly written; the story was poorly packaged, and not well thought out.

Yet despite these technical failures it was still an interesting book—it was fascinating exploring life during China's transformation over the past few decades, as well as getting insight into Chinese life, personality, and culture. I was particularly impressed by the vivid idioms scattered through out, as well as a general discussion about language (be it any of the Chinese dialects or english).

The ending wa
Sylvia Ttl
Aug 04, 2011 Sylvia Ttl rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Forget about this book If you are looking for a serious memoir with more depth and insight upon the Chinese history in the early 20th century. An interest for history is what appeals most readers to this genre but the author (albeit her current profession as a journalist) seems torpid in doing a proper research. It is perplexing to read the book without any background knowledge. The author is undoubtedly a bold and headstrong feminist of her time (probably 1970-1980), a "outlandish" character in ...more
Maggie Craig
Apr 14, 2013 Maggie Craig rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I thought this was a wonderful book, offering an insight into the mysterious world of communist China before and as that country began to embrace Western economic ideas, if not Western ideas of democracy. Politics suffused everything but a major attraction of this book is that the author conveys also the importance of family and tradition. It's also a coming-of-age story as she discovers love, who she is and what the future might hold for her. My only criticism is that it ends slightly abruptly. ...more
Rui Igreja
Apr 19, 2013 Rui Igreja rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china
A FABULOUS book. How a personal story can tell so much about 20 years of the history of 1 billion people. Lijia Zhang, living in Nanjing, tells her and her family story along the 1970s and 1980s, a period of time that may perfectly in the future be regarded as one of the most important milestones in mankind's history.
Jun 28, 2014 Karen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really liked this book. It inspires me being stuck, to do something. If Lijia is able to follow her dream in China, I should be able to do the same in America. Really liked it!
Jul 30, 2013 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: china
Sometimes it really is the book's cover that makes me want to read it. I was looking for a book about China, and out popped this beauty with a satirical title and goofy propaganda on the front. Sold!

This memoir details Lijia Zhang's teenage years starting from the time her mother made her leave school to take a job in the local rocket-building factory, all the way through Zhang's mid-20s. I could almost categorize it as a coming of age novel, except that it's not just about Zhang -- it's about C
David Tensmeyer
Nov 20, 2014 David Tensmeyer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like other reviewers, I can attest that the structure of the story leaves something to be desired, and that Zhang often seems to focus on her romantic life at the expense of the more interesting story of her later career and activism.
Even so, the book was compelling to read if only for the glimpse that it gives of working life during a very interesting period of Communist China's history. In describing her everyday interactions with the people around her in 1980's Nanjing, she reveals a fascinat
The first half or so of the book is interesting for the insights into life in socialist China and how the government controlled (controls?) every aspect of life: where you live, where you work, how long your hair can be, how wide your trouser legs can be. I liked seeing the small shifts toward capitalism that showed how strict socialism wasn't working - salary bonuses based on production and attitude, supply and demand overcoming the fixed market prices, rampant corruption and bribes, etc.

But M
Apr 03, 2013 Sonia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: memoirs, journalism, non-fiction
Shelves: owned-books
So I picked up this book because I absolutely adored it's cover - and I'm so glad that I judged this book by it's cover. It's such a delight. This isn't a victim book bashing communism. It's a coming of age story for a round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Lijia comes of age in 1980's communist China - Nanjing to be precise. Her mother, sensing the tides turning and worried about her daughter's future, gives her daughter her much coveted job in a factory to secure her future. Lijia, howeve ...more
Nov 04, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was very interesting and humorous in many ways. The only problem is that the sarcasm of the title doesn't necessarily come out (My son was really wondering why I was reading this book). It was a memoir of a generation to don't hear too much about - those in their formative years during the 80s and the change to be more open to capitalism.

There was still much of the old ways and Lijia was caught as a factory worker instead of the student that she wanted to be. It is interesting how she
Ik had geen idee vooraf over dit boek, ik ben er gewoon aan begonnen omdat ik in mij ereader maar eens begon met de letter Z. De kaft is echt heel slecht en past wat mij betreft absoluut niet bij het verhaal dat zich veel meer richt op de fabrieksarbeidster Lija.

Op het einde na, heb ik met plezier deze biografie gelezen. Het einde kwam voor mij op een heel raar punt. Ik weet niet of er nog een vervolg op komt, maar dat zou voor mij de enige reden zijn om een boek op dat punt te eindigen en dan z
Sep 11, 2011 Alexis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Other reviewers have said this book has an abrupt ending; I have to agree. The ending is highly unsatisfying and not even very fitting. I do think Lijia Zhang had interesting experiences, and even is a good writer, but the ending just didn't work.

On the other hand, I have to disagree with the other reviewers about Zhang's emphasis on her romantic relationships. Learning what it was like for a woman in 1980s China to have romantic relationships is a very unique thing. It is similar to the antholo
This book is an interesting insight of how rigid the working structure of China was. Young Lijia has no choice but to work in a factory and give up her dreams of going to a University. If you had offended the government - or if someone thought you did - moving up in the working world was nearly impossible. Lijia refuses to be content with mindless gadget making and works towards opening other opportunities, such as planning a move to America, the "beautiful country."

The latter half of the book f
Jul 21, 2009 Britt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I saw Lijia Zhang speak in Chicago this spring and was led to believe that the book was centered upon her participation in the 1989 protests. It wasn't, which is fine, and the book was an interesting read. The insights into Zhang's life as a worker were the best part and it was nice to read a memoir from post-1949 China that wasn't all about hardship and suffering. That said, this book definitely turned into a "my-life-told-through-boyfriends" memoir, which I could have done without. It ended ve ...more
May 07, 2014 Claire rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This woman was more personable to me than Rae Yang, a different Chinese woman whose memoir I read for HIS424: World Communism. Maybe Yang was important to understand Communism's impact on the world, while Zhang was important to understand China's impact on Communism.

Or maybe I'm just in a Russian reversal mood.
Tentatively a Halloween costume has been set: not Ivan Denisovich Shukov, but rather Zhang Lijia. However, there are still four months to go...

Mother told me to read more memoirs. I told
Ralph Britton
The account of Lijia Zhang's determined attempt to escape the constrictions of 1980s China is honest, frank and fascinating in its detail. To the author's immense credit, she writes in English - a tribute to her native ability and unstoppable drive to educate herself against formidable odds. The account of the rapidly changing society in China, seen from the inside, is invaluable, but I have to say that the style reads slightly awkwardly, especially in the choice of English dialect and non stand ...more
Mar 24, 2013 Hope rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting read. It is honest, at times to a fault, but enjoyable on those same grounds. It breaks from the memoirs of the Cultural Revolution and addresses a more complex period of growth in post-Mao China. Also worth mentioning is the intimacy with which the author regards the reader. Her candor enables us to empathize with her, unlike similar works of non-fiction that strip away the humanity of the story in favor of political narratives. When all is said and done, it is a worthwhile read, ...more
May 01, 2010 paperdust rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the classic ugly-duckling-turned-graceful-swan memoir of one girl's hope to break from the mold of family conventions, chastity and the constrictions of being a factory worker in '80s Communist China. The author keeps up a good pace. She queries her nation's struggle to achieve modernization while still repressing individualism. She understands the importance of education to escape the shackles of the working class. Her own search for true love casts doubt over the integrity of the men i ...more
Jun 12, 2010 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Zhang’s memoir covers her life going from a student to worker in a state-run weapons factory and her continual efforts to get out of factory life. It was perfect for Women Unbound because it showed how different life is for women in a culture where men remain superior and family relationships trump any sort of individual desires.

To read the rest of my review, visit my blog, Sophisticated Dorkiness.
Dec 05, 2008 Ine rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This autobiographical work ("A Worker's Memoir") was actually not half bad. Lijia Zhang tells her story with gusto, in a spirited and good-humoured manner. She also provides some welcome insights into the developments in China in the 80s from the perspective of a not quite so ordinary worker. Moreover, it's a story many ambitious women (and fox fairies) will be able to relate to. I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in finding out a bit more about where China comes from, with a le ...more
Cam Tu
May 14, 2010 Cam Tu rated it really liked it
To this day, I still don't know why my school librarian recommended this book to me back in freshman year. Like me, he probably enjoyed throwing random books at people. There weren't a lot of remarkable things about this book, but I remembered being very fond of the narrator and her humor. She was very witty. After reading this book, I liked to think that I have some ideas of the meaning of socialism and what it's like to live under it.
Apr 24, 2009 Iva rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This memoir reveals much about growing up right after the Cultural Revolution. Giving countless examples of the author's own life and those around her, sadness is continually exposed. But it isn't a depressing read. Zhang's spirit is boosted by the example of Jane Eyre. (That book, by the way, was torn into little pieces when she was caught reading it at work.) There are love affairs (she sneaks one lover into her missile factory after hours). Full of spirit and beautifully written.
Aug 30, 2008 Pat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This could have been a better book if the woman who wrote the book were more likeable. It was certainly interesting to read about a woman's rebellious trip through the new China. However, the premise was that she eventually ended up with a writing career - defying odds - because she was continually pushing boundaries. Maybe it's the East-West thing, but she seemed a bit more stupid than intrepid.
Helen Yee
Maybe it was the cover that kept throwing me, but I often felt like I was reading a young adult book. Sure you get a sense of what life was like for her growing up but what I really wanted to read was some sense of self-reflection.

There did seem to be a disproportionate amount of attention focused on her 'racy' love life when I would have much preferred to hear about how she got to America. The end was ridiculously abrupt, as though three chapters were yanked out from the back of the book.
Feb 22, 2010 cessie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very interesting read!

This autobiographic coming of age book tells you about ten years of Zhang’s life in Nanjing, China in the eighties. You will learn about her life at home, school and work and her love life but also about life in China at that time. I guess my life was like a hundred times easier at that time…more

Aug 25, 2009 Heather rated it really liked it
This is sort of the exact opposite of Slavenka Drakulic's How We Survived Communism And Even Laughed, at least in terms of title irony. It's a well-crafted memoir, for sure, but it's also an important primary historical document about growing up in modern China. (And it's not like the market is flooded with those.) I imagine this will be required reading for political science/Asian history majors in five years.
Vanessa Hua
Jun 25, 2009 Vanessa Hua rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read loads of Cultural Revolution memoirs (since many of the educated sent down youth later wrote about their experience.) This memoir begins after the CR and as the market reforms begin -- also a fascinating turbulent time -- but it bears resemblance to ther other memoirs with its strong-willed, rebellious heroine who must struggle, struggle, struggle (studying TOEFL in a garbage dump!) in order to overcome her circumstances. The memoir ends before we learn how she actually left China.
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I am a rocket-factory-worker turned writer and social commentator. I grew up at a worker’s residential compound in Nanjing, on the bank of Yangtze River. Excelling at school, I dreamed of going to university and becoming a journalist and a writer. But at 16, I was taken out of school and put to work at my mother’s factory that produced inter-continental missiles, capable of reaching North America.
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