Lijia Zhang: Understand The Past of China, to Better Comprehend the Present Day Reforms

Lijia Zhang considers that if we understand China’s past, we better comprehend the present day reforms…

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In 1980 when I was 16, I was taken out of school and put to work at a rocket factory. A mini-Communist state, the factory fed us at dining halls, housed us in identical workers’ dormitory and indoctrinated us at meeting halls. As an escape route, I taught myself English. It changed my life. What I learnt wasn’t just the ABCs but the whole cultural package. I dared to be different and I grew to be political. In 1989, I organized a major protest among workers from my factory in support the democratic movement led by the students.

My journey also reflects what China went through in the 80s when the economic reforms transformed China. It was a time that Chinese people started to break free from the political tight rope and to dream the impossible. It was a time when China became what it is today.

Now based in Beijing, I work as a writer, columnist and social commentator. All comes down to one thing – being a cultural bridge between China and the outside world. What I try to do is to help people understand where China comes from; what’s happening now and there it is going. Once you have a better understand of China, there’ll be less fear and more empathy.

LiJia Zhang

LiJia Zhang is a rocket factory girl turned writer, journalist and social commentator.  She was born in 1964 and raised on the banks of the Yangtze River.  At 16, she was pulled out of school to work at a factory that produced inter-continental missiles.  As an escape route, she taught herself English.  After she went to England in 1990 LiJia dared to pursue her childhood dream by studying journalism.  Back in China a few years later, LiJia started her career as an assistant to foreign journalists before becoming a journalist of her own right.  Her features, often very human stories about the plight of China’s “little people”, have been published in South China Morning Post, Far Eastern Economic Review, Japan Times, The Independent, The Observer, Newsweek and The New York Times. Her widely acclaimed English-language memoir, “Socialism is Great!”chronicled LiJia’s decade-long experience at the rocket factory.  LiJia’s journey from a worker to a prominent social commentator reflects the great transformation undergone by China itself.  Zhang LiJia has been featured on the BBC, Channel 4, ABC (Australian) CNN, CBS and National Public Radio, among others.

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