During the 1980s, China was under tremendous changes. Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 loosened the Communist party’s grip and it paved way to a better economy where the urban youth could start building what they desire.
The author of “Socialism Is Great!”: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China, Lijia Zhang, was born in this era. Her book is basically a memoir. Zhang came from Nanjing at a time when everyone around her were coping up with the new economic and social order brought by communism. Her other lived a life of routine while working at a missile factory that the state owns. But Zhang had her own individualism. She has learned how to love personal freedom, education, money, and sexual adventure.
There are a lot of autobiographies like this but Zhang was different in a way that it focused more on boyfriends rather than politics. Zhang has been ambitious since she was young. She often clashes with her mother who is conservative. Her father is usually absent and he got into political trouble sometime in the 1950s. Her mother thinks that what brought this is the interest of his father in ideas and books. Their mother became the breadwinner of the family despite having a small salary. Zhang wanted to be a writer since she was young and her mother belittled this dream.
Later on, Zhang planned to go to college but her mother pursued early retirement. The factory where she was working allowed her to be named as her mother’s successor s while she and her friends were busy with college entrance exams, she became a worker at the factory. The factory, named Liming Machinery Factory, mad ballistic missiles which could carry nuclear warheads. They also made guns and artillery. What they were doing was considered top secret.
Zhang narrated a lot of her moments with men. There was a time when she travelled all the way to Beijing just to meet this guy she was infatuated to. She was entertained but when she woke up in the middle of the night, she saw the man with another woman on the next bed.
There was also a time when she had her first experience with the police. In a public park, she seduced a government official who was married. They were both caught in the act by the police. The book has more narrations of her lovers and even heartbreaks. She even had an abortion and the most important of all, a political awakening. The different men in her life allowed her to be involved in a greater learning as she was able to discover the hypocrisies existing in the Chinese government. One of her boyfriends introduced her to oriental despotism.
During the spring of 1989, Zhang was able to mobilize her co-workers in rising up to support protesters in Tiananmen Square fighting for democracy. Police took her into questioning but she never revealed the repercussions. Today, Zhang is a journalist in Beijing.
About the Author
Lijia Zhang was born and raised in Nanjing. Her articles have appeared in many international publications, including South China Morning Post, Japan Times, the Independent (London), Washington Times, and Newsweek. She is a regular speaker on BBC Radio and NPR. She now lives in Beijing with her two daughters.