Volume 93, Issue 38

Friday, November 5, 1999


Weekend Pass

Southworth wins over fans with eclecticism

Jan Wong recounts her rhapsody in red

Birds merely an admirable effort

London art show questions property value


Jan Wong recounts her rhapsody in red

Gazette file photo
AFTER SEEING THE CENTRESPOT FOOD PRICES, JAN WONG DECIDED LUNCH WITH HER MIGHT NOT BE SUCH A GOOD IDEA. Globe and Mail columnist and author Jan Wong shares her experiences in China.

By Paul-Mark Rendon
Gazette Staff

As an impressionable McGill University student caught up in the grass-root student movements of the '60s and '70s, Jan Wong fell in love with communist China, during her visit to Beijing in 1972. But the romance quickly fizzled and Wong's most recent account of her life and times details the stark realities of living in a communist regime.

Now an accomplished author and columnist for Toronto's Globe and Mail, Wong admits she first loved China so much, she decided to study at Beijing University for over a year, only leaving the country long enough to finish her degree at McGill before returning for a lengthy stay.

Wong says she got caught up in the simplicity of the life she found in China and fondly recounted her initial attraction to the country. "There didn't seem to be any waste. The garbage piles were tiny. People dressed very simply – I thought they looked great. I thought it was wonderful that women didn't have to primp and wear uncomfortable clothes, wear high heels and panty-hose."

During a recent trip to China, Wong says thoughts of personal safety bubbled on the back burner as her previous work, 1996's Red China Blues, had been banned in the country.

"It's really much more about the country, much less about a coming of age," she says of her latest work, Reports From a Not-So-Foreign Correspondent. "The first one was really autobiographical, much more of a memoir. The second one is more of a journalistic adventure,"

Working as the Beijing bureau chief for the Globe from 1988 to 1994, Wong's valiant return to China gave her the freedom she was looking for. "It was like a dream come true because I love journalism and I love China. It was a wonderful situation where I was far away from all my editors and people assigning me things, so I could do whatever I wanted."

But the regime's societal oppression, Wong explains, was coming to a boil and witnessing the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 was something burned into her memory and the turning point in her support of communism.

"First of all, I had never seen shooting and secondly, for me to see the Communist government killing its own people, I guess was the final blow in my long disillusionment with China," Wong says in a melancholy tone.

"I still believe the one child policy, as cruel and coercive as it is, is absolutely necessary. There's no time to be warm and fuzzy about population control in a place like China," she says assertively.

For Wong, China is obviously interwoven into her psyche. Still, she could only say she felt saddened by the country's current state of affairs, especially in the wake of the tumultuous Falun Gong movement.

"Even peasants know history and they know that virtually every dynasty has been overthrown by a peasant rebellion led by a messianic religious leader. This is just the way it goes in China."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999