China, Democracy, and the West

Sheryl WuDunn and Joy Wong have some uncanny similarities. Both are third-generation Chinese-North American women who became interested in China only after reaching university. Both were educated in North America and married non-Chinese Westerners. Both are journalists who went to Beijing in 1988 as correspondents for major North American newspapers (WuDunn for The New York Times, Wong for the Toronto's The Globe and Mail). Both have struggled with their relationship to China and the Communist government that rules it. And both have recently written books about it.

Sure, there are some differences too. WuDunn's book, China Wakes, was written collaboratively with her husband, Nicholas Kristof (also a Times correspondent), while Joy Wong's Red China Blues is a solo effort. (Her husband is a computer guy.) Long before Wong covered the Beijing beat as a journalist, she was a believer; Red China Blues tells the tale of her fall from grace as a Maoist.

In 1972, Wong left McGill University in Montreal to become one of only two foreign students at Beijing University during the Cultural Revolution, Mao's attempt to shake up the Communist bureaucracy and return the revolutionary ardor to the hearts of the Chinese people. When it was decided that students risked becoming "bourgeois" by avoiding physical labor in the classroom, Wong and the other "worker-peasant-soldier-students" were sent to work in the grueling rice paddies at Big Joy Farm. Since all textbooks, literature, and dictionaries were burned during the Cultural Revolution, they were also commissioned with writing their own textbooks. According to Wong:

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 1997
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