GUEST POST – Happy Year of the Horse from Lisa Pasold

Gung Hei Fatt Choi! (or Gong Xi Fa Cai in Mandarin)

$_3Happy Lunar New Year, and welcome to the Year of the Horse! I’m celebrating by rereading two fascinating memoirs about twentieth-century China: Anchee Min’s Red Azalea and Jan Wong’s Red China Blues. With the seminar “Living the Red Revolution,” I’m looking forward to discussing both these amazing life stories at Toronto Pursuits this July.

Red China Blues and Red Azalea first came out in the 1990s to great popular acclaim. Though Wong and Min were each born in the 1950s, the two women could not be more different. Their contrasting points of view, as well as their occasional points of commonality, fascinate me.

Jan Wong, age 19, in Chinese factory, 1972

Jan Wong, age 19, in Chinese factory, 1972

Jan Wong lives (mostly) in Toronto. A third-generation Chinese-Canadian, Wong decided to study in China in 1972. She arrived as a convinced Maoist, one of only two Westerners permitted to enroll at Beijing University. Her stay in China made her the award-winning journalist she is today—but her years in China tore away her faith in Communism. More about Wong here.

Anchee Min pictured in a screen test for Madam Mao's propaganda films.

Anchee Min pictured in a screen test for Madam Mao’s propaganda films.

In contrast, Anchee Min was born in China and went from a labour collective to starring in a film version of one of Madame Mao’s infamous political operas. Min now lives in the U.S. Her bizarre reversals of fortune make for a page-turning memoir—and create an eye-opening picture of the Cultural Revolution from within. More about Min here.

Shirley Lum

Shirley Lum

These two memoirs give us an opportunity to explore the Red Revolution through personal stories and wildly diverse experience. This summer, we have a special advantage discussing these books in Toronto because a short walk from the Toronto Pursuits campus is one of the largest Chinatowns in North America. Get a taste of the area here. We’ll be able to supplement our grasp of cultural references in both Red China Blues and Red Azalea by visiting the nearby historic streets of Chinatown and Kensington Market, guided by culinary historian and local expert Shirley Lum. More about Shirley Lum here

Lisa Pasold in Hanoi

Lisa Pasold in Hanoi

As I sink into a comfortable chair to enjoy these wonderful books (and nibble on some delicious New Year’s candied ginger), I can’t help but notice that Anchee Min’s memoir has yet to be published in Chinese. Jan Wong’s memoir is still banned in China. We are so privileged to have the freedom to read widely—and to contribute our ideas in lively discussion. I’m looking forward to a stimulating and wide-ranging talk around these two fantastic memoirs at Toronto Pursuits. See you in July—and in the meantime, Happy Year of the Horse!

For more information on Toronto Pursuits seminar, Living the Red Revolution, click here.

 Lisa Pasold

Lisa Pasold recently returned from a trip to Vietnam, where she found the bustling food markets especially inspiring. Decorations for the Lunar New Year were just being set up in Hanoi when she flew home. Lisa is a Canadian novelist, TV travel show host, and poet. She was nominated for a 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award for her book Any Bright Horse–and she is very much looking forward to Year of the Horse!

JAN WONG, Red China Blues”
“This superb memoir is like no other account of life in China under both Mao and Deng … Unique, powerful and moving.” – Publishers Weekly

ANCHEE MIN, Red Azalea
“It was passion and despair that made [Min] fearless; it was fearlessness that made her a writer.” – The New York Times



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