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October 28th, 2012
It isn’t everyone who drops out of high school to work in a rocket assembly line and then goes on to become a wildly successful journalist. But most people are not WildChina expert Lijia Zhang. Born and raised in Nanjing, on the banks of the Yangtze River, Lijia managed to escape her job at the government rocket factory by teaching herself English. Lijia’s language skills enabled her to eventually move to England with a Scottish man (who would later become her husband) she had met at the Forbidden City.
In the British Isles, Lijia began what would become her professional passion: writing. Over the years, her work has been published in South China Morning Post, Far Eastern Economic Review, Japan Times, The Independent, Washington Times and Newsweek. The rest of her time, she has put towards writing books; Lijia’s most famous book, “Socialism is great!” is a memoir of her time working in the rocket factory and has been translated into Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian.
(A young Lijia)
Recently, Lijia has been concentrating her efforts on two books concerning prostitution in China. While she is only a couple months from putting the finishing touches on a work of fiction, she has yet to really dig in to her second book. This second book, a work of non-fiction, brings to light many realities of prostitution in China–an issue that has received relatively little attention. And as she notes, “the history of prostitution in contemporary China is a barometer of the country’s changes throughout the modern era.” For her book Lijia has interviewed multiple sex workers, but says that building relationships with them has been difficult. One day a girl will be available to talk, the next she will refuse. Sometimes girls disappear completely.
It has not all been bad news though. Some of the women Lijia has spoken with were able to escape their brothels and dedicate their time to educating other prostitutes about the dangers of sexually transmitted infections. Lijia always hopes her writing can lead to more such stories.
Lijia says that when she thinks about her writing, she sees it as pushing her towards her greater goal. As someone who grew up in China she has access and insight into local society, but also has the education that allows her to share the realities of Chinese life with the rest of the world. “My self-appointed mission in life is being the bridge, being the cultural bridge.” Lijia’s life goal is to increase global understanding. If that isn’t why we travel, what is?
If you have any questions about Lijia’s work, or are curious about meeting her on your next trip to China, send us an email at info
Photos courtesy of Lijia Zhang