Socialism is Great!: Growing Up Headstrong in 1980s China

The New York Times reviews a new book by Zhang Lijia:

Lijia Zhang is a child of the 1980s. In “Socialism is Great!“, her coming-of-age memoir, that decade is to her what the 1960s were to American baby boomers. Zhang grew up in Nanjing at a time when her family, friends and bosses were trying to divine the new social and economic order. Her reflexively cautious mother lived a life of stultifying routine, working at a state-owned missile factory. In spite of this, Zhang developed a love of money, personal freedom, self-education and sexual adventure that seemed to spring from some gene of individualism rendered only temporarily recessive by Mao’s policies.

Autobiographical accounts by people who have endured the political crusades and intense psychological dramas of Communist China abound. The most harrowing examples to appear in English are Jung Chang’s multi-generational family history, “Wild Swans,” and Nien Cheng’s “Life and Death in Shanghai.” Both women survived relentless assaults on their families and their dignity, and fled China to tell their stories.

Zhang’s memoir, with its arc of resistance and personal struggle, at first feels familiar. But Zhang’s tale, written in fluent English peppered with dated Chinese idioms, begins where those older memoirs leave off. She devotes so much more attention to boyfriends than to politics that her relationship to politics, though crucial to the climax of the book, comes across as a flirtation.

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