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Red China Blues: My Long March from Mao to Nowby Jan Wong
Reading Group Guide
1. Jan Wong tells us that all existing dictionaries and language textbooks were destroyed at the time of the Cultural Revolution. Why was this necessary? How effectively could a political system be shaped or controlled by such a measure?
2. When the author realises, early on, that she is not allowed the freedom to think, she says this is “only the beginning of my real awakening, a painful process that would take several years more.” Why was her awakening such a slow process?
3. If the author had grown up in China, do you think her doubts and questions would not have arisen in her student years? Or do you think her classmates went through similar “awakenings”?
4. In theory at least, the workers had better living conditions than intellectuals in China in the early 1970s. Does this strike you as any more unfair than the opposite situation?
5. Having completed the book, what are your feelings about Jan Wongs informing on Yin (the girl who wanted help getting to the West) while she was still an unquestioning Maoist?
6. Could you characterize the four sections of the book? Do they differ in tone as well as content?
7. Broadly speaking, the first half of the book avoids overviews or hindsight, but in the second half the author adopts a more knowing perspective. What effect does this have for the reader?
8. What fresh insights have you obtained from Jan Wongs analysis of the Tiananmen Square demonstration and the detailed description of the subsequent massacre?
9. The author says that the Tiananmen massacre could have been avoided: “An experienced mediator could have solved things so easily.” How different do you think life in China might have been after the demonstration if there had been no violence?
10. At the beginning of the book the author is writing largely about herself and her reactions to the political system. The last part of the book is more concerned with the stories of individuals living in post-Tiananmen Square China. What can you deduce from this? How much do you think she has changed, and how much has China changed?
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