Beijing Confidential

Beijing Confidential

A Tale of Comrades Lost and Found

Book - 2007
Average Rating:
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Jan Wong has returned to Beijing. Her quest: to find someone she encountered briefly in 1973, and whose life she was certain she had ruined forever. In the early 70s, Jan Wong travelled from Canada to become one of only two Westerners permitted to study at Beijing University. One day a young stranger, Yin Luoyi, asked for help in getting to the United States. Wong, then a starry-eyed Maoist, immediately reported Yin to the authorities. Thirty-three years on, and more than a decade after the publication of her bestselling Red China Blues, Jan Wong revisits the Chinese capital to begin her search for the person who has haunted her conscience. She wants to apologize, to somehow make amends. At the very least, she wants to discover whether Yin survived. As Jan Wong hunts through the city, she finds herself travelling back through the decades, back to her experiences in the Cultural Revolution, to places that were once of huge importance to her. She has changed, of course, but not as much as Beijing. One of the world's most ancient cities is now one of its most modern. The neon signs no longer say Long Live Chairman Mao but instead tout Mary Kay cosmetics and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Places she once knew have vanished, bulldozed into oblivion and replaced by avant-garde architecture, trendy bars, and sleek condos. The people she once knew have changed, too, for better or for worse. Memories are everywhere. By searching out old friends and acquaintances, Jan Wong uncovers tantalizing clues about the woman she wronged. She realizes her deepest fears and regrets were justified. But Yin herself remains elusive-until the day she phones Jan Wong. Emotionally powerful and rich withdetail, Beijing Confidential weaves together three distinct stories-Wong's journey from remorse to redemption, Yin's journey from disgrace to respectability, and Beijing's stunning journey from communism to capitalism.
Publisher: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, c2007
ISBN: 9780385663588
0385663587
Branch Call Number: 951.15606 Won 3558ad 1
Characteristics: 320 p. :,maps

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PoMoLibrary Jun 13, 2015

From Kate, our 2015 Summer Reading Club member:
IF you're like me and you've never been to China, but always wanted to go, Beijing Confidential is an awesome ticket to one of the cultural hotspots of this great country. Part history book, part Lonely Planet guide and part candid journal, Wong takes the reader on a journey to Beijing to learn how ti has changed and see if she can amend for a past mistake.

b
booksphinx
Jun 02, 2015

A contemporary read, filled with a balance of irreverence (towards a past regime that was so damaging) and empathy (towards those she encounters on her trip, friends and strangers).

The protagonist in this story is journalist Jan Wong and this is her candid account of going back to Beijing to see how much it had changed, and - perhaps more importantly - to see if she can make amends for a past mistake by seeking out the person she wronged, via others who knew her. Some of these others are friends: an eccentric architect, an old dorm mate - others are not friends, but old adversaries, like Fu the Enforcer, who may not welcome her with open arms, but have a story to tell and a part to play in the resolution of Jan's long-standing shame about her past. Accompanying Jan are her family: spouse Norman (affectionately known as "Fat Paycheck in the book) and boys Ben and Sam. Used to Wong's past eccentricities in the name of journalism, they accompany her on her trip, adding comic relief to Wong's detailed accounts of past tragedies, history, etiquette and culture.

In many ways, this story reminded me of 'The Kite Runner' by Khaled Hosseini: a similar story of redemption, taking place in a far off land that many have not visited. Wong's accounts of scenery, history and happenings may not be as succinct and poetic as Hosseini's, but are beautiful and compelling enough, that after the first few chapters, I really felt as though I could see this city through the writing - the noise, chaos, smog and spice of it all. I suppose it made me want to visit China even more.

The first few chapters were a harder read than the rest. Hardly surprising, as Wong needed to fill the reader in about a lot of detail in order for the story to be understood. Throughout the book she draws on stories from her past to give the reader a taste of what things were like during Mao's Cultural Revolution: when bourgeoisie western items and ideologies were rejected in favour of patriotism, and people lived in fear of being reported for something that went against a strict and unforgiving regime. After a while, as the characters in the story get better known, I stopped noticing the amount of detail so much and got engrossed in the story.

Part Lonely Planet Guide, part History Book and part candid journal of an 'everywoman' trying to make peace with her past, Beijing Confidential was an enjoyable read. One day I hope to go and visit Beijing, but I think by the time I do, it will be an entirely different city than the one Wong describes in her novel. In the meantime, this novel gives me more mental pictures to draw upon!

WVMLStaffPicks Feb 01, 2015

If you are interested in what's going on in China today you will love this book. Globe & Mail writer Jan Wong takes her husband and teenage sons to Beijing, where she attended university during the Cultural Revolution, in hopes of righting a past wrong.

m
myshal
Dec 06, 2011

Jan Wong is a great writer. Her voice is smart, funny, yet critical. I appreciate that she's writing about a China that I never knew. She, like I, is North American born and educated. I can relate to her way of thinking and examining Chinese society. Her history gives her a unique and circumspect view of Chinese culture, being someone who was mesmerized briefly by the Cultural Revolution as a youth, but able return years later and see the results. I recommend this as a good look into some interesting and turbulent parts of modern Chinese history.

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