China Beat Archive



Lijia Zhang

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August 16, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright August 16, 2008 Lijia Zhang. Used by permission.


At my school, sports lessons included an exercise where we threw hand grenades (made from wood topped with metal to resemble the real thing) against a wall that stretched a red slogan with the reason for our militaristic “sport” – “exercise our bodies and protect our motherland.” We feared that China might be invaded one day by the American imperialists or Soviet revisionists. Indeed, the whole West seemed holding evil intent towards us. Living in a closed country, we had little idea about the outside world.

I went to school in Nanjing in the early 70s, when the revolutionary fever of the Cultural Revolution was calming down. A few years earlier, my father was banished to the countryside for criticizing the government. My grandfather, a small-time grain dealer, had committed suicide – as he worried his not-so-politically-correct background would land him in trouble. These were the darkest times for my family as well for my our nation. Somehow the image of those dark days remain deeply imprinted on the Western mind, even though China has come a long way since then. Maybe the West is a little too keen to report the negative stories? Or perhaps, the West feels more comfortable hearing such stories?

That’s my impression, as a Chinese who has lived abroad and now writes for the Western media, based in Beijing. I had dreamt of becoming a journalist or a writer since hand grenade days. But my dream was shattered at the age of 16 when my mother dragged me from school to work at a state-owned missile factory. Only after I finally made my way to England did I dare to pursue my long-buried dream.