Lijia Zhang is an author and journalist living in Beijing. At 16, she was pulled out of school to work in a factory making missiles targeted at America. Her memoir, Socialism is Great!: A Worker’s Memoir of the New China, recalls the decade she spent in the factory, her eventual disillusionment with “The Glorious Cause” and her journey towards becoming a writer. The book was published in 2008 and has now been translated into seven languages.
Why I write
Because I am an ego-maniac – I often joke when people ask me this question. I am actually half-joking. Writing a book is such a huge undertaking it requires certain drive and of course ego. For example, when I wrote my memoir about my life at the missile factory, I needed to have the confidence that people out there would want to hear this story. I started writing my diary during long years of being stuck at my rocket factory. Writing has become a way to make sense of my life and express myself.
Do you write every day? If so, how many hours?
Yes, every day. When in the middle of completing a book, I try to complete 500 words every day. If I don’t write creatively, I write my journal. I live an interesting and eventful life. I keep a record as it is something I can draw from; and I need a place that I can be totally honest with myself.
Worst source of distraction?
My own addiction to excitement. I can never say no to a chance of going to a good party, meeting interesting people, flirting and dating, attending a good opera, participating in some literature festival, visiting an unknown place, giving lectures at universities, and trying new jobs. I’ve long decided that it is far more important to me to live a full and interesting life than to achieve highly.
Best source of inspiration?
A memorable character, an interesting experience or a story that moves me.
How often do you get writers’ block/doubt your own ability?
Like most writers in the world, I get writer’s block and I often question myself my ability as a writer. That’s not a bad thing. In this way, we have to try harder. I’ve revising my first novel. I am less confident as a fiction writer. But I want to give it a good go.
Favorite Chinese writer?
Best book about China?
A Dream of Red Mansions
The book you know you should have read but haven’t?
I read many classics when I was young when I couldn’t really appreciate the beauty and music in literature. Anna Karenina is just such a book. I bought a copy already in English. Have not got around to reading it yet. I am reading Lolita. Again, I read it years ago in Chinese, which didn’t count.Lolita was Nabokov’s love affair with the English language.
You look back at the first thing you had published and think…
My first printed article was a little essay published in my factory’s newspaper on some little while blue flowers blossoming in the factory compound – naïve but quite sweet.