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Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao To Now

4.08  ·  Rating details ·  3,677 ratings  ·  266 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, hauled ...more
Paperback, 405 pages
Published 1997 by Bantam Books (first published 1996)
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Average rating 4.08  · 
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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
Andrew Milton
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
Sep 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jan Wong,a Canadian journalist of Chinese ancestry, in this illuminating volume writes of her experiences as an ardent young Maoist in the early 1970's who actually went to China to work and study.
She hauled pig manure in a Chinese re-education farm, and at Beijing University she turned in a fellow student who had begged her help to escape to the West.
Slowly she realized the evil of the Communist system in China and was repatriated to the West in 1978.
Wong returned years later as an undercover j
Brian Griffith
Wong was the best kind of journalist on China, combining outside with inside perspectives, personal with political life, and moral indignation with empathy. Her books have been an antidote to our self-righteous judgments (and punishments) on other nations for how they have dealt with their challenges. Here's a quote on the economic and political challenges China has faced in recent decades:

"In a frank report, the Chinese Academy of Science predicted a post-Deng [Deng Xiaoping] power-struggle bet
Feb 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 14, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bryan Mitchell
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
Jul 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Michael Gerald
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
AMAZING. Anyone who's ever read her writing - on a variety of topics from human interest stories to celebrity interviews - knows that Jan Wong can be scathing, zealous, and laugh-out-loud funny, often much to the misfortune of anyone who finds themselves featured in her articles. In this memoir (which was promptly banned in China and I think remains so today, more than twenty years later), Ms. Wong directs that energy on a new topic: herself and her experiences with China.

Born and raised in Cana
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
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
Mar 03, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hookah
(banned in China)

Jan Wong's memoir of her long-haul experience in China is somehow disturbing, possibly because she inhabits two categories--Chinese and Maoist--that can be disquieting. then all of a sudden the narrative accelerates (view spoiler). Wong's disillusionment thereafter flows. 4/5
Sep 05, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Rui Su
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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
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.
Julio Pino
May 16, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao/ You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow."---John Lennon. If only Jan Wong had taken these lyrics from 1968 at heart she, a Chinese young woman adopted by Canadian parents, would not have traveled to the PRC in 1972. Wong expected to encounter a place "where everyone was as happy as clams" and instead found herself trapped in a giant ant colony for the next six years. Highlights of this hilarious and also, at times, terrifying memoir include me ...more
Jul 29, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating memoir. Reading it has made me realize how little I know about China. Glad I unofficially borrowed from the discard pile of the library I work in.
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
S. Lang
Mar 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
May 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian, important
I shouldn't say this was surprisingly good, as I know Jan Wong is a very good writer, but it was surprisingly engaging. It's a unique perspective as she was one of the very few Westerners permitted into China in the 1970s. She looks back at her foolish idealistic rigidity and you sense she's saved some of her strongest distain for herself and how slowly it took her to realize that Maoism wasn't the solution to the world's greed and unfairness. She has a light touch to her writing, so that even t ...more
Terri Durling
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Leo McKay
Apr 06, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not sure how I missed this in the 90s, since my recollection is that it was pretty widely read at the time.

Wong has one of the most unique perspectives on China to be found in a Western journalist. She studied at Beijing University during the Cultural Revolution, when she was an ardent Maoist. Then she later returned to the country as a reporter for a Canadian newspaper, and was on location reporting in 1989 during the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Because she lived in China as both an outsider/insi
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this during lockdown. This was very sad and depressing yet enlightening. I was born in Hong Kong but moved to different country as a teenager. I am not sure if it’s because I was not academically sound or did the school not teach much Chinese history. I felt like I am only just learning about Chinese history by reading at this letter stage of my life.
Jan Wong had first hand experience of what happened during 6/4. It was an opener to read about what happened as it happened. The insight as
Sydneyann Chase
Feb 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. This book is part memoir and part Chinese history being told by a Canadian woman who was one of the first westerners allowed by China to attend university there. She attends university in the heart of the cultural revolution in the 1970s as a dedicated self proclaimed Maoist and then goes on to be a Bejing news correspondent for The Globe. Hearing her first person account of being at Tinamin Square was intense and eye opening. The author has an amazing story of how she slowly become ...more
May 13, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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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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