Zhang LiJia 張麗佳

I am a rocket factory girl turned writer, journalist and social commentator.  I was born in 1964 and raised on the banks of the Yangtze River.  At 16, I was pulled out of school to work at a factory that produced inter-continental missiles.  As an escape route, I taught myself English.  After I went to England in 1990 I dared to pursue my childhood dream by studying journalism.  Back in China a few years later, I started my career as an assistant to foreign journalists before becoming a journalist of my own right.  My 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. My widely acclaimed English-language memoir, “Socialism is Great!” chronicled my decade-long experience at the rocket factory.  My journey from a worker to a prominent social commentator reflects the great transformation undergone by China itself.  I have been featured on the BBC, Channel 4, ABC (Australian) CNN, CBS and National Public Radio, among others.

Socialism is GreatSpecific Accomplishments:

Described by Tony Blair as “an inspiring example of promoting the understanding between China and Britain” in his keynote speech during his state visit to China in 1998.

Voted one of the “40 Beijing heroes” by TimeOut Beijing, October, 2008

Subject of a BBC documentary Peschardts People, May 2009

Recipient of the prestigious International Writer’s Program, University of Iowa, sponsored by the US State Department, 2009


“Socialism is Great!”

With insight and humour, I’ll tell my coming of age story which shows where China was coming from.  The 80’s was an important era when things began to change and China became what it is today.  I’ll also discuss the pressing issues facing today’s China and predict where it will be going.

Understanding Business Culture

China can be incomprehensible for westerns on their first foray into the country.  It is essential to understand business etiquette and certain aspects of Chinese culture: the philosophy of midstream living, Confucianism and its emphasis on hierarchy, the concept of mianzi and its significance.  I’ll explain how the Chinese communicate and what “yes” really means.  And I’ll offer tips for success as well as for avoiding pitfalls.

Developing a Better Understanding of China’s Past to Better Comprehend Present Day Reforms

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.

The Changing Role of Women in China

My grandma was a prostitute-turned-concubine; my mother a frustrated worker and victim of the political campaigns; and myself a factory-worker-turned writer, making the best out of new opportunities.  These stories illustrate the changes Chinese women have gone through.  I’ll discuss what the Chinese Communists did for women and the setbacks brought the reforms in recent years.

Frog in a Well (inspirational/motivation speech)

This is a famous story by the ancient philosopher Zhuangzhi about a Frog being trapped in a well, unable to see the great world beyond the patch of sky above.  For ten years, I was a frog trapped at the bottom of my factory well.  To change my situation, I started to teach myself English, which eventually gave me the drive to get out.  Many of us find ourselves trapped in some kind of well.  As long as we are willing to try, we can always find inspiration to make the jump.


We found Lijia Zhang an ideal speaker for our conference session “What does “yes” really mean?  Understanding the Chinese business culture”.

Over 400 directors, CEOs and executives from Australia, Europe, America and Asia attended our Company Directors Conference in Beijing in May 2011.  Lijia was great to work with prior to the event and was very attentive in her communication to ensure all preparations were made for her to deliver a high quality presentation.  She gauged our audience very quickly from our pre conference discussions and from meeting with delegates the morning prior.

Her session rated amongst the highest overall.

Hanna Bloomfield
National Events Coordinator

I enjoyed moderating a session in Beijing where Lijia was the key participant. She was very engaging, illuminating to Chinese culture and overall understanding of China to the whole audience. She was very relaxed and displayed a great humanity and knowledge. I had many responses afterwards requesting follow up with her which was testimony to the great success of her presentation and connection with the audience.

The Hon. Warwick L. Smith AM
Chairman, New South Wales & Australian Capital Territory – ANZ
Chairman – E*TRADE Limited

I just wanted to thank you again for your participation in the speaker series at Capital M last Sunday.  As usual, your remarks were cogent, evocative, and insightful.  You are exactly the kind of speaker we were looking for: a Chinese person who is both bilingual and bi-cultural, who can speak to a foreign audience about your own rich experience in China.  We had lots of great comments about your talk, and a lot of interest in your book as well.

…As someone with broad journalistic and academic experience and almost-native English, you are indeed a valuable resource to the sinophile ex-pat community in Beijing.

David Moser 莫大伟
Academic Director
CET Beijing Chinese Studies

…your presentation had one of the highest scores. When I get feedback from the student survey with comments saying “Lijia Zhang was their favorite speaker and that they enjoyed your sense of humor”, I feel very appreciative that you took the time to meet with the students and share your story and knowledge of China.

Guy Trompeter, MBA Global Excursions

A sharply observant and admirably crafted memoir.  She places her own first experiences with factory work, foreign literature, physical desire and political activism in the broader setting of fading Maoist impulses and the beginnings of China’s headlong pursuit of economic growth.  The result is a truly original contribution to our understanding of modern China.

Professor Jonathan D. Spence, author and famous sinologist

Lijia Zhang’s book is gentle, funny and wry.  A lovely addition to some very fine contemporary writing coming out of China.  I enjoyed it tremendously.

Arundhati Roy, author of God’s Small Things.

Rob Lilwall

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