Stephen Mendoza, HIST 2312
Wong, Jan. Red China Blues. Toronto: Doubleday/ Anchor Books, 1996. 395 pages. $11.95
In Jan Wong’s entrancing expose Red China Blues, she details her plight to take part in a system of “harmony and perfection” (12) that was Maoist China. Wong discloses her trials and tribulations over a course of three decades that sees her searching for her roots and her transformation of ideologies that span over two distinctive forms of Communist governments. This tale is so enticing in due part to the events the author encountered that radically changed her very existence and more importantly, her personal quest for self-discovery.
Jan Wong starts out as a naïve, nineteen year old, Canadian student who is displeased with the capitalistic nature of her surroundings. It was the early seventies and to the author, she was experiencing a cultural revolution all her own. Opposition to the Vietnam War was strongly prevalent, the notion of feminism was beginning to arise, and there was a strong desire against conformity of any nature. The author grew up middle class to second generation Chinese citizens and was fueled by bourgeois guilt, and by a feeling of separation from her roots. “Curiosity about my ancestry made me feel ashamed that I couldn’t speak Chinese and knew so little about China” (14). After devouring every morsel of information that she could, she firmly believed Mao and his “comrades” were the only people who had a legit shot at establishing a utopic society. It was official. Jan Wong was going to Beijing.
Red China Blues captivates the audience through numerous unabashed, personal reports of her journey to become a faithful proletariat of Maoism. As she arrived in Beijing the country was in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. This was a movement being implemented across the nation that sought out to remove all capitalist, or bourgeois elements of Chinese culture. Citizens no longer had basic liberties such as reading a periodical, listening to music, or even interacting with a friend. The government and its associates held all power and forced a meager lifestyle that consisted of shabby domestic life, rationing, physical labor, and a sense of moral responsibility to tell on others who do not follow these tenets. Wong starts off as a gung ho follower keen on establishing herself as a faithful servant of “the Helmsman”. However she initially has difficulty learning the arduous regional tongue of the land, and the backbreaking manual labor that was “supposed be an inoculation against bourgeois thinking” (93), did nothing more than make her weep and question the practice.
Another situation that made her opinions towards Maoism waver was its stance on personal relationships. As a student of Beijing University, she was almost solely only to interact with students and teachers, who were fellow sympathizers of the cause. She tested this policy when she started to develop a relationship with an English speaking intern from the Swedish Embassy. Wong was interrogated by the schools chancellor, and she was basically expelled from the university, only to be reinstated after she sold her possessions and was almost on her way back to Canada. The author summed it up best with, “I didn’t realize that in China friends were rationed” (81).
Another interesting aspect of Wong’s work is the duality of the ideologies that are presented. At first, the Chinese are presented as obedient, determined, and well on their way to achieving social nirvana. It is only after Wong engages in the policies and practices as her native brethren, that she begins to question validity of the Maoist regime. After witnessing excesses by the government, she exposes the hypocrisy of proletariats being punished for enjoying the same, non- socialist privileges of the elite members of the government (126).
After the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, virtually all the nations polices began to waver from stern and ancient by the...
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