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Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  3,249 ratings  ·  233 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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4.05  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,249 ratings  ·  233 reviews

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Feb 10, 2008 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 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 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
Michael Gerald
Jul 08, 2013 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
Jul 15, 2007 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
Bryan Mitchell
Feb 28, 2015 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
Rui Su
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
As a Canadian born in China in the mid-1990's, I grew up familiar with Mao and Deng Xiao Ping, yet I had no real conception of the impacts of the Cultural Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, the Tiananmen Massacre, or Deng's capitalistic remodel of the economy. Jan painfully writes about her own indoctrination of Mao-ism as a starry-eyed college student and subsequently, we follow her journey through Beijing University, farming rice fields, and the shift of political power in China. She records ...more
What a life! A bit of a slog at times, but definitely worth reading for its insight into the mysteries of China during the Mao years from the unique perspective of a Chinese Canadian who chose to move there when she was still a teenager.
Feb 14, 2016 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
Sep 05, 2010 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 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 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 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 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.
S. Lang
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From what little I know, there's been quite a few memoirs written by survivors of totalitarian regimes. This one, however covers something even more riveting: China's transformation from Communist dictatorship to...well, a Communist dictatorship, with the addition of a free market.

Wong is a journalist through and through. As such, she is obviously fond of cliches and colloquialisms- which can be off-putting to some, but personally I didn't mind them. The first few chapters recall her years at Be
Terri Durling
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
My husband and I visited China on a tour for two weeks in 2014. It was an incredible experience - rich in history and I've been interested in that history ever since. Jan Wong tells it as it was and is, having been a Canadian student studying at Beijing University during the cultural revolution. She went there enthralled with Maoism and determined to experience it to the fullest. She did just that working like a peasant doing hard labour, casting off material goods and fighting constant hunger a ...more
Sarah Deeth
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Should be three and a half stars, but at this point I've given up pointing that out on this site.
I read this right after reading another book about the Cultural Revolution-a story that was eye-opening and pretty heart breaking. So when the author says she went to China in the 70s because she admired what was going on over there, I was shocked. But this book is about Wong growing from a adamant Maoist to a skeptical journalist, a young teen who voluntarily signed up for hard labour with her fell
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
The 20th century history, culture and politics of China is intriguing to me and this book offers a unique perspective. The author is a Chinese Canadian woman who went to China in 1972 as a university student and true believer of Maoism. She pictured China as it's propaganda described: Everyone was equal and everyone was happy. Slowly, she begins to see the flaws of communism in general and Maoism in particular. The book describes her journey from pro-Maoist university student in the early 1970s ...more
Sara G
This interesting memoir from a Canadian who was one of the first Western students at Beijing University and lived through the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square protests could have been better. Instead, I found it very polarizing. At first, the author as a young woman idolized Mao and his communist state. After 1989, she loathed it. There's no in between. The descriptions of the Chinese people and how life in Beijing has changed so drastically over the past few decades were amazing. Th ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An amazing, detailed, first-hand account of Cultural Revolution China in the 70's up to and beyond the 1989 Tienanmen Square Massacre. Anyone who wants to know the true evil of China, Communism, and censorship in general need to read this book. Scarily enough, there are many parallels to what Wong describes in her accounts of the ludicrous policies of the Cultural Revolution and the current state of American higher education.
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Tells about Wong’s personal experiences of her times in China as first a naive young woman and then as a disillusioned journalist. Well written—but there is some jumping around as she retells her stories so the timeline is not always chronological.
Rose Gawn
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Really excellent
I read this book slowly, across a month, and every time I picked it up the authors sense of humor and historical explanations sucked me right back in.
Can't wait to start her next book 'Jan Wong' s China"
Feb 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Such an incredible life! She is a wonderful writer! You really come away with a good understanding of Maoism, the Cultural Revolution, and how the Chinese are still suffering today. Very sad.
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Got a little too much near the end but otherwise I learnt a lot and appreciated seeing it through her eyes
Jul 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This book gave me some excellent context for fictional works like Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Livelier than a more academic history would be.
Faerol Wiedman
Only read 1/2. Interesting subject matter but waaaay too long
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The disillusioned of a Maorist cadre
Aug 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Amanda R
Sep 27, 2014 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
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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
“Living in China has made me appreciate my own country, with its tiny, ethnically diverse population of unassuming donut-eaters.” 6 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.” 1 likes
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