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"Socialism Is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China Hardcover – April 17, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“[Zhang] offers a fascinating glimpse into what life and love is really behind the bamboo curtain and—with her endurance, stoicism and joy—leaves me wanting more!” (Glyn Ford - Tribune)

“This revealing memoir will have readers rooting for Zhang as she fights her way out of an oppressive system.” (Booklist)

“Beautiful.... A remarkable memoir.... A notable historical document and a vivid, affecting portrait of a young woman's resolve.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Zhang is a clear eyed storyteller…"Socialism Is Great!" is peppered with a teenager's dark humor and bright recollections.” (Kate Silver - Seattle Weekly)

“A sharply observant and admirably crafted memoir. . . . A truly original contribution to our understanding of modern China.” (Jonathan D. Spence)

“A riveting tale.” (Malia Politzer - Wall Street Journal Asia)

“Zhang’s memoir, with its arc of resistance and personal struggle . . . written in fluent English peppered with dated Chinese idioms, begins where those older memoirs leave off. . . . She seems to suggest that in the 1980s, Chinese politics had evolved enough that they could be a quixotic diversion for a restless and headstrong girl.” (Joseph Kahn - The New York Times Book Review)

“A literary gem. . . . Zhang deftly crafts the journey of a whole generation, desperately yearning to break away from the ropes of tradition and living to dream the impossible. It's a book to relish, a volume to cherish and mostly, a life to celebrate.” (Da Chen, author of Colors of the Mountain)

“This affecting record of individual striving and fulfillment reminds us, with humor and insight, how the growth of sensibility in unfavorable circumstances remains one of our most pleasurable literary experiences. Set against China’s breathless recent transformation, "Socialism Is Great!" offers a rare and intimate glimpse of a country and culture that are now reshaping our world.” (Pankaj Mishra, author of An End to Suffering and The Romantics)

“A beautiful memoir. . . . Our current China literature is heavy with victim memoirs, but this is a true tale of aspiration: a young woman coming of age in a nation desperately trying to do the same.” (Peter Hessler, Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker and author of River Town)

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlas (April 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 8172238045
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977743377
  • ASIN: 0977743373
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 0.1 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #355,256 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Julius Perl on July 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I have met Lijia Zhang by a chance encounter as we shared the same row seat on a recent trans Pacific flight. At the onset of our casual conversation, I was impressed by her command of the English language, quite uncharacteristic of a native Chinese. I naively asked, "where did you learn to speak such good English?" She modestly replied that she is a writer, just having returned from a US book tour promoting her newly released "Socialism is Great!" and proudly handed me a fresh copy. Then, for the next 12 hours I was practically glued to the book, discovering the answer to my original question, and learning much more...

"Socialism is Great!" is an autobiography spanning a 10 year period of Ms Zhang's young adult life centering in China's ancient capital of Nanjing. On a surface level, it is a story about Lijia, a free spirited young woman coming of age. The book's plot skillfully meanders around both her home life, dominated by a strong mother, and her work place, a munitions factory, whose 'danwei' system keeps her shackled to a monotonous job while denying her the higher education which she desperately seeks. Lijia's heart is fragile, first broken by a handsome young intellectual called Red Rock, and then hurt once more by an older married man. In disillusionment, she spirals down to a series of loveless affairs and one night stands. Unlike her heart, Lijia has a tough skin, and against all obstacles she single-mindedly pursues a dream to better her education, to study and perfect her English (she even hides to study in the factory's garbage dump - the only place to provide her privacy), so she can free herself of her factory confinement and become a journalist.
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Format: Hardcover
Zhang Lizia tells a "coming of age" story in 1980's Nanjing, China. Her story traces in intimate detail the agony of being pulled out of school at age 16 by her mother in order to work in a intellectually stultifying and demoralizing missile factory - theoretically for life. Unable to accept this fate, Lizia dreams one day of becoming a journalist, attaining a proper University education, and breaking free of the shackles of mind-numbing socialist repression. The working title of the book was "Frog in a Well," signifying the depth of despair of walls closing in on her, without any obvious way out. After ten years of setbacks and more setbacks, Lizia was able to teach herself English by countless hours of self and group study and reading English novels like "Jane Eyre" behind the pages of the Communist "People's Daily" newspaper as co-workers laughed and mocked her. Fighting to maintain her integrity and desire for self-expression at all costs, Lizia's story is a living testament that the human condition which dares to dream cannot be denied, even in a country that stresses collective thinking only. Writing in her self taught non-native language, her style is emotional, beautiful, sad, and humorous, all in one. The book focuses mostly on her personal life - family, friends, lovers, and the beautiful "old" Nanjing, and less on politics as described in countless other memoirs of post Cultural Revolution families. Lizia writes with grace and determination and concludes the story risking her future by standing up to the authorities as she leads factory workers in demonstrations supporting the Beijing democracy movement of 1989. This book is not to be missed - you will laugh and cry at each turn of the page.
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Format: Paperback
It was on 13 June 2009, while hiking on the Great Wall above the hamlet of Sancha near Huairou north of Beijing, that I met Lijia Zhang. She introduced herself as `Lijia author of Socialism Is Great', and that is how I come to have heard of and read this book.

It is a very readable and interesting piece of autobiography, and its readability is largely down to the author's command of English. Normally when `perfect English' is attributed to someone whose first language is not English, there is an implication that we would still know that. Not here. If I had read Socialism Is Great knowing nothing of the author's background I could have believed that she was (somehow) a born Anglophone. In fact she had to struggle, against parental and official opposition, to learn the language, and her success in the matter suggests to me a completely exceptional talent, one she perhaps does not fully recognise in herself.

How the book's title relates to the rest of its content is quite an interesting question. The narrative starts in her impoverished family home in Nanjing, and develops through her unfulfilling early experiences as a factory worker. Obviously this is socialism Chinese-style in action, but although Lijia has plenty to say about that I would not say that her angle on it is mainly political. It's more about the inner struggles of an independent-minded spirit confined in a culture of conformity and conservatism. Towards the end of the book we come to the really political bit, but it is brief, it reads almost like a postscript, and it is tantalisingly incomplete. In 1989 Lijia led a demonstration in Nanjing in support of the rebellion in Beijing's Tienanmen Square in that year.
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