Thursday, April 21, 2011

Socialism is Great!

Socialism is Great! A Worker's Memoir of the New China by Lijia Zhang has a great cover.

The book is quite good too.

Socialism is Great! begins as Zhang's mom, a factory worker, has been offered ding zhi, an opportunity to retire early and give her teenage daughter her factory job. During the time of "iron rice bowls" and the relative uncertainty after Mao's death, being able to give her daughter a stable job (and getting out of the factory herself) was not something she could pass up. Thus, as China began its reform and opening in 1980, Zhang, a budding intellectual and book worm, found herself dropping out of high school early at the age of sixteen to begin a dirty government factory job.

The book is largely about Zhang's struggle with the hand she was dealt at her mindless factory job on the outskirts of Nanjing framed during a time of great change in China.

China had transformed almost overnight after Chairman Mao's death. Over were the days of memorizing the little red book. Replacing cultural revolutionary dogma was the opportunity for higher education, studying foreign languages, and the ability, to a greater degree, to choose one's own path.

Zhang was born with a free spirit and wanted more than anything to take advantage of the newfound freedoms afforded to her and the rest of her countrymen. But because of her circumstances, she was largely stuck while everyone and everything around her blossomed.

Zhang found plenty of adventure in time, though. She slowly broke free from the shackles of her factory and developed quite a nose for trouble and excitement. Her numerous romantic endeavors were pretty wild. I was shocked at some of the the tawdry affairs she describes with young bohemian men. Her entry into China's mid-1980's underground sub-culture is fascinating stuff.

Socialism is Great! is a really nice exploration of the bubbling intellectual movement that began in the early 1980s. It's a portrait of a China that I have not read much about. Zhang is a good writer that takes the reader through many unexpected twists and turns. It's a fun, fast read.

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