Jan Wong has returned to Beijing. Her quest: to find someone she encountered briefly in 1973, and whose life she was certain she had ruined forever.
In the early 70s, Jan Wong travelled from Canada to become one of only two Westerners permitted to study at Beijing University. One day a young stranger, Yin Luoyi, asked for help in getting to the United States. Wong, then a starry-eyed Maoist, immediately reported Yin to the authorities. Thirty-three years on, and more than a decade after the publication of her bestselling Red China Blues, Jan Wong revisits the Chinese capital to begin her search for the person who has haunted her conscience. She wants to apologize, to somehow make amends. At the very least, she wants to discover whether Yin survived.
As Jan Wong hunts through the city, she finds herself travelling back through the decades, back to her experiences in the Cultural Revolution, to places that were once of huge importance to her. She has changed, of course, but not as much as Beijing. One of the world’s most ancient cities is now one of its most modern. The neon signs no longer say “Long Live Chairman Mao” but instead tout Mary Kay cosmetics and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Places she once knew have vanished, bulldozed into oblivion and replaced by avant-garde architecture, trendy bars, and sleek condos. The people she once knew have changed, too, for better or for worse. Memories are everywhere. By searching out old friends and acquaintances, Jan Wong uncovers tantalizing clues about the woman she wronged. She realizes her deepest fears and regrets were justified. But Yin herself remains elusive–until the day she phones Jan Wong.
Emotionally powerful and rich with detail, Beijing Confidential weaves together three distinct stories–Wong’s journey from remorse to redemption, Yin’s journey from disgrace to respectability, and Beijing’s stunning journey from communism to capitalism.
Jan Wong was the much-acclaimed Beijing correspondent for The Globe and Mail from 1988 to 1994. She is a graduate of McGill University, Beijing University and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is the recipient of a (US) George Polk Award, the New England Women’s Press Association Newswoman of the Year Award, the (Canadian) National Newspaper Award and a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Silver Medal, among other honours for her reporting. Wong has also written for The New York Times, The Gazette in Montreal, The Boston Globe and The Wall Street Journal.
Her first book, Red China Blues: My Long March From Mao to Now, was named one of Time magazine’s top ten books of 1996 and remains banned in China. It has been translated into Swedish, Finnish, Dutch and Japanese, and optioned for a feature film.
Jan Wong is a third-generation Canadian, born and raised in Montreal. She first went to China in 1972 at the height of the Cultural Revolution as one of only two Westerners permitted to enrol at Beijing University. There, she renounced rock music, wielded a pneumatic drill at a factory and hauled pig manure in the paddy fields. She also met and married the only American draft dodger from the Vietnam War in China. During those six years in China, she learned fluent Mandarin and earned a degree in Chinese history.
From 1988 to 1994, Jan Wong returned as China correspondent for the Globe and Mail. In reporting on the tumultuous new era of capitalist reforms under Deng Xiaoping, she reacquainted herself with old friends and enemies from her radical past. In 1989, she dodged bullets in Tiananmen Square, fought off a kidnapping attempt and caught the Chinese police red-handed driving her stolen Toyota as a squad car. (They gave it back.)
She returned to China in 1999 to make a documentary and to research her second book, Jan Wong’s China: Reports from a Not-So-Foreign Correspondent. It tells the story of China’s headlong rush to capitalism and offers fresh insight into a country that is forever changing.
Jan Wong lives with her husband and two sons in Toronto where she is a reporter at The Globe and Mail. The best of her weekly celebrity-interview columns, “Lunch With,” which ran for five years, have been published in a book of the same name.
Praise for Red China Blues:
“A marvellous book by one of Canada’s best foreign correspondents at the top of her form.”
—The Gazette (Montreal)
“Totally captivating. A wonderful memoir.”
—The Globe and Mail
“With her unique perspective, Wong has given us front row seats at Mao’s theater of the absurd. It is hard not to laugh and cry . . . this book will become a classic, a must-read for anyone interested in China.”
—The New York Times
“This superb memoir is like no other account of life in China under both Mao and Deng. . . . Unique, powerful and moving.”