Book Review: Jan Wong’s China

Seldom do we ever get an accurate picture of the nation known officially as “The People’s Republic of China.”  After years of isolation and internal strife, China is emerging as a superpower on the world stage.  However, a lot of what China does is very curious in Western eyes.  It seems to be a country full of the beautiful and ancient, but also full of the tragic and brutal.  A history of wisdom and a present of seeming contradictions.  Development that is reaching for the future at breathtakingly break-neck speed.

Jan Wong is an author and reporter.  Much of her newspaper work has been done for the Globe and Mail.  As a young college-aged student, she had ascribed to Maoism and travelled to China to be immersed in the world of ideology.  However, she soon discovered that Maoism wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.  She eventually returned to China several times as a reporter for the Globe and Mail and for research for her many books on China.

Jan Wong’s China is her second book on China.  Her first is Red China Blues. She also has a more recent book called Beijing Confidential.  All her books document her times in China as a young Maoist and her various journalistic missions to China.

Jan Wong’s China is centred around the turn of the century and millennium.  It’s actually the same time I was in China.  So much of what she writes about has a very personal connection.  Plus, she’s a Chinese-Canadian. So her experience with the general population in China is similar to mine, except she probably speaks better Mandarin Chinese and has a journalists training.

Her most interesting chapter in the book is the one on Tibet.  It certainly does not have the typical stance that the Western media takes with respect to Tibet.  Wong highlights some of the benefits that the Chinese government has brought into Tibet.  She also shows that our simplistic view of Chinese oppression of the Tibetan minority may not be as black and white as we think it is.  She points out how many of the Communist cadres in charge of Tibet are actually Tibetans themselves.  So are Tibetans in government actually oppressing their own people? Hard to say since the situation is more complicated than I had initially thought. I would say this book is worth reading just based on this chapter.

The other chapters are also very entertaining and interesting because brings her own personal experiences as a foreigner who is not an obvious foreigner in China.  I think she takes everything in stride.  As one of my trainers taught, “Release.  You cannot change the situation sometimes, so just release.”

This is a good book if you have some interest in China, especially in these present times.  I haven’t had the chance to read Red China Blues nor Beijing Confidential, but I will be looking for them the next time I’m in the library.

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