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

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

by Lijia Zhang

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Pages: 384
Paperback
ISBN: 9780307472199






Available to Buy

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

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.

Lijia Zhang worked as a teenager in a factory producing missiles designed to reach North America, queuing every month to give evidence to the "period police" that she wasn't pregnant. In the oppressive routine of guarded compounds and political meetings, Zhang's disillusionment with "The Glorious Cause" drove her to study English, which strengthened her intellectual independence—from bright, western-style clothes, to organizing the largest demonstration by Nanjing workers in support of the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989. By narrating the changes in her own life, Zhang chronicles the momentous shift in China's economic policy: her factory, still an ICBM manufacturer, won the bid to cast a giant bronze Buddha as the whole country went mad for profit.

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

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.

Charles W. Hayford - Library Journal

Although this work's story line and political analysis will not surprise even the novice reader on China, it's still a revealing book. Zhang (coauthor, China Remembers), an internationally published journalist living in Beijing and here writing in English, looks back on her youth in China to share discerning and acerbic vignettes of family life, shop-floor politics, sexual encounters, and Dickensian types in a Nanjing factory in the 1980s, ending with organizing demonstrations of Nanjing workers to support the 1989 Beijing protests. Her ambitions to learn English and go abroad were thwarted when her mother, being only realistic, forced Zhang to leave school and inherit her guaranteed factory position through the "replace job" system. Her mother, Zhang shows, was herself deprived of happiness by a thoughtless husband and Socialist China's social constrictions. The warmest character she presents is her grandmother, an emotional support, great cook, and source of traditional lore. Zhang's lively though painful love life, explicitly described, shows that romance survives even under authoritarianism. The reader is left wondering what happened between 1989 and the present. All libraries wanting to supplement coverage for the Beijing Olympics could well consider this volume.-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL

About the Author, Lijia Zhang

Lijia Zhang was born and raised in Nanjing. Her articles have appeared in many international publications, including South China Morning Post, Japan Times, the Independent (London), Washington Times, and Newsweek. She is a regular speaker on BBC Radio and NPR. She now lives in Beijing with her two daughters.

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

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Editorials

Library Journal

Although this work's story line and political analysis will not surprise even the novice reader on China, it's still a revealing book. Zhang (coauthor, China Remembers), an internationally published journalist living in Beijing and here writing in English, looks back on her youth in China to share discerning and acerbic vignettes of family life, shop-floor politics, sexual encounters, and Dickensian types in a Nanjing factory in the 1980s, ending with organizing demonstrations of Nanjing workers to support the 1989 Beijing protests. Her ambitions to learn English and go abroad were thwarted when her mother, being only realistic, forced Zhang to leave school and inherit her guaranteed factory position through the "replace job" system. Her mother, Zhang shows, was herself deprived of happiness by a thoughtless husband and Socialist China's social constrictions. The warmest character she presents is her grandmother, an emotional support, great cook, and source of traditional lore. Zhang's lively though painful love life, explicitly described, shows that romance survives even under authoritarianism. The reader is left wondering what happened between 1989 and the present. All libraries wanting to supplement coverage for the Beijing Olympics could well consider this volume.-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL


—Charles W. Hayford

Kirkus Reviews

Composed in beautiful English, this remarkable memoir by a former Chinese factory worker delineates her efforts to buck the strictures of socialism and broaden her life's experience. Western readers accustomed to self-determination will be shocked to read how little control the average Chinese person has over his or her life. In 1980, Zhang was a promising student hoping to become a journalist when her mother announced that the 16-year-old would be replacing her as a worker at the Liming Machinery Factory. Having labored at the missile factory her entire life, supporting her three children mostly on her own while her husband worked in another city, Ma was taking advantage of dingzhi, a policy put in effect after the collapse of the Cultural Revolution in 1976 that aimed to alleviate soaring unemployment by allowing children to take over their retiring parents' jobs. Zhang didn't want to be a worker, but because her father had "political problems," her chances of access to a university education or any other means of bettering her lot were slim. Forced to quit school and become a gauge reader at the detested factory, she was apprenticed to several "masters" who taught her how to wile away the empty work hours, spy on others and trick the system. Zhang effectively conveys the emotional life of her younger self as she squelched her resentment and even made friends among the other workers, while never ceasing to read voraciously and to look for an opportunity for escape. Her braininess allowed her to study mechanical engineering at the Jiangsu TV University (a "new type of college . . . designed to popularize learning"); her various love affairs enlightened her; learning English became herMarxist "tool of struggle." The democratic movement of 1989, treated somewhat hastily here, brought her both exhilaration and chastisement. A notable historical document and a vivid, affecting portrait of a young woman's resolve.

Tribune

“[Zhang] offers a fascinating glimpse into what life and love is really behind the bamboo curtain and—with her endurance, stoicism and joy—leaves me wanting more!”

Booklist

“This revealing memoir will have readers rooting for Zhang as she fights her way out of an oppressive system.”

Seattle Weekly

“Zhang is a clear eyed storyteller…"Socialism Is Great!" is peppered with a teenager's dark humor and bright recollections.”

Jonathan D. Spence

“A sharply observant and admirably crafted memoir. . . . A truly original contribution to our understanding of modern China.”

Wall Street Journal Asia

“A riveting tale.”

The New York Times Book Review

“Zhang’s memoir, with its arc of resistance and personal struggle . . . written in fluent English peppered with dated Chinese idioms, begins where those older memoirs leave off. . . . She seems to suggest that in the 1980s, Chinese politics had evolved enough that they could be a quixotic diversion for a restless and headstrong girl.”

Da Chen

“A literary gem. . . . Zhang deftly crafts the journey of a whole generation, desperately yearning to break away from the ropes of tradition and living to dream the impossible. It's a book to relish, a volume to cherish and mostly, a life to celebrate.”

Pankaj Mishra

“This affecting record of individual striving and fulfillment reminds us, with humor and insight, how the growth of sensibility in unfavorable circumstances remains one of our most pleasurable literary experiences. Set against China’s breathless recent transformation, "Socialism Is Great!" offers a rare and intimate glimpse of a country and culture that are now reshaping our world.”

Peter Hessler

“A beautiful memoir. . . . 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.”

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