Lijia Zhang a rocket-factory-girl-turned writer, columnist and public speaker, and one of the few Chinese social commentators who write in English for international publications.
She was born into a poor working class family in Nanjing, on the banks of Yangtze River. Excelled at school, she dreamt of becoming a writer and a journalist. In 1980, aged 16, she was dragged out of school and put to work at a military factory that produced intercontinental missiles. It lasted for a decade. As an escape route, she taught herself English and took solace in literature.
She arrived in England in 1990, and a childhood dream stirred. She studied journalism. Returning to China three years later, she started her career by helping foreign correspondents before becoming a journalist in her own right. It was a struggle to write stories in English, but compared to my western colleagues, she believed that she had something different to offer: her insight into a culture that still remains largely unknown outside China. Her articles, usually commentary pieces on China’s social, cultural and political changes, have been published in South China Morning Post, Far Eastern Economic Review, Japan Times, The Guardian, Newsweek and The New York Times.
A book of oral history of modern China commissioned by Oxford University Press whetted her appetite for book writing. She penned a memoir about her factory experience in the 80s’ which also reflected the great social transformation in China brought by the reforms and opening up. It enjoyed world-wide success.
She then launched her first fiction project – Lotus, which tells the story of a young working girl, set in modern day Shenzhen, known as China’s ‘capital of sins’. Like the city itself, Lotus is torn between the past tradition and modern desires. It was published by Macmillan in 2017.
Lijia has lectured at many top universities, institutions, banks, and business conferences around the world, including Columbia University,
Stanford, Harvard, London Business School, European Institute For Asian Studies and Eu-Asia Top Economist Round Table Forum. I’ve been featured on the BBC, Channel 4, ABC (Australian), Aljazeera, CNN, NPR, among other international media.
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, 200