Sunday, June 22, 2008

Lijia Zhang

Lijia Zhang has been published in the South China Morning Post, Far Eastern Economic Review, Japan Times, The Independent, Washington Times, and Newsweek.

She is co-author of China Remembers (Oxford University Press, 1999) and author of the newly released, "Socialism Is Great!": A Worker’s Memoir of the New China.

Recently, I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
As a journalist reporting from China, I always try to read new books about China. Recently, I read a few good ones.

The Little Red Book of China Business by Sheila Melvin. This is not another book for how to do business in China, cashing in on the large potential of the China market and the need for guidance through the political and cultural maze. This is a most unusual book about how to apply Chairman Mao’s thoughts to understanding business culture in China. It sounds wacky, but makes sense. Although Mao died over 30 years ago, he influenced the new generation of business leaders and his legacy lives on. With her deep knowledge and insight into the culture, Ms. Melvin unlocks many secrets to business success in China. Her accessible writing style and funny anecdotes make this a highly enjoyable read.

Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China by Duncan Hewitt. There have been quite a few books written by western journalists after reporting from China for some years, often a re-working of their clippings. But this one, by a former BBC correspondent, exceeds my expectations for the solid research, gripping account and selection of individual stories that illuminate the fast and vast changes.

Genghis Khan: Life, Death and Resurrection by John Man. I just interviewed the author who was in China to research his next book about Xanadu: In the Footsteps of Marco Polo. It's such a gripping read that I found it hard to put it down. Man’s passion for his subject, something that fired up his imagination 40 years ago, shines through. The biography is an exhilarating blend of travel and history. His personal experience – in searching for Genghis’s burial place – not only updates the current situation in Mongolia but also makes the history alive and accessible.

The Witch of Portobello by Paulo Coelho. A friend gave the novel to me for my birthday, wishing the magic to be part of my life. Having read and enjoyed the book, I now believe, more than ever, that there are magical things/moments in our lives if we are open to them.

A Bridge without Bank: An Aesthetics’ Two Lives by Tian Huidong. About a third of the books I read are in Chinese. Overall I am disappointed in the quality of the fiction coming out of China these days, which was why I was so excited and thrilled to come across this highly unusual novel, a sort of magic realism with Chinese characteristics. The story is set in the Cultural Revolution. An art student, after being hit on the head by the Red Guards, begins to experience her former life as a man from a wealthy family before the Communists took over. After being raped, the student wakes up from her coma. The hospital director claims it is due to the magic power of Chairman Mao. But she is disgraced after being discovered pregnant. With the wisdom of two life experiences, she decides to maintain the dignity of the aesthetic.

One book I always take on trips with me is Michael Ondaatje’s Running In the Family, a semi-biographical account of his journey back to Sri Lanka, mixing tales, often hilarious ones, heard or imagined, about his family. It is so evocative, beautiful and exotic – you’ll know what I mean if you read it.

On Entering the Sea: The Erotic and Other Poetry of Nizar Qabbani. Qabbani, a Damascus-born poet is reputed to be the most popular one in the Arab world. In this collection, he not only sings the praises of beauty and eroticism but champions women's rights and social Justice.
Peter Hessler, Bejing correspondent for The New Yorker and author of Oracle Bones and River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze, on Lijia Zhang's "Socialism Is Great!":
If David Copperfield had been a Chinese girl in the 1980s, in the city of Nanjing, he might have ended up on the assembly line at Liming Machinery Factory, under the authority of the Ministry of Aerospace Industry, making missiles capable of reaching North America. Has the blacking factory ever seemed so benign in comparison? In ‘Socialism is Great!’ Lijia Zhang has written a beautiful memoir of this important period, when China began to recover from its political traumas and open to the outside world. Our current China literature is heavy with victim memoirs, but this is a true tale of aspiration: a young woman coming of age in a nation desperately trying to do the same.
Read an excerpt from "Socialism Is Great!" and visit Lijia Zhang's website.

--Marshal Zeringue