Zhang Lijia

We had the luck of having Zhang Lijia, a published writer, speak to us and talk about her memoir, ‘Socialism is Great!’

After her visit, this was the conclusion I drew: Zhang Lijia is a wonderful person, but I don’t find her interesting as a writer in the slightest. Don’t get me wrong- I both respect and am in awe of the accomplishments that she has achieved in her life, and I am sure what she had gone through in her life required passion and courage that I have yet to possess. But, that’s the thing. I didn’t take anything away from her that I didn’t already know. From her past, it is obvious that she has thrown off the yolk of oppression, fighting for her rights, involving herself in the world, but I can’t help but react to that with a resounding ‘eh’. Perhaps I should stop being so overtly cynical about this entire experience, but I just feel as though, while she has broken out of the ties that had bound her when she was younger, she did it in a rather cookie-cutter, cliched way. Where’s the drama? The deep-seated insecurity? The pain and desolation of discovering the harsh edges of reality? The irreversible mistakes? I suppose you could say I was expecting something different. More Stephen King-esque. I realize I sound terrible for saying this, because it’s not her fault at all. I’m glad that she didn’t have to struggle through this emotional turmoil (but it certainly makes a more interesting story). Perhaps I simply didn’t look close enough?

It’s definitely more than a little bit unfair to expect that every single writer that comes along has an earth-shattering and unique history and will enlighten us ‘inferior folk’ with the insights only a ‘tortured’ writer can, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling a little bit disappointed.

She’s a lovely woman, but she has that run-of-the-mill ‘writer’ story. It’s harsh to say, but I guess I had hoped for a little more.

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2 comments to Zhang Lijia

  • Mr. MacKnight

    Michelle, the idea of the artist as a ‘tortured soul’ dates from the Romantic era, which in many respects we are still more or less living in. Earlier ideas of the artist—think of medieval or Classical poets, painters, etc.—put much more emphasis on the artist as craftsman, and as a conduit for divine inspiration . . . not at all as a bundle of neuroses. Zhang Lijia strikes me as very sane and healthy, a writer whose focus—despite having written a memoir—is not on herself, but on others and on the world around her. Is that a bad thing?

    • Michelle

      Mr. MacKnight, it’s definitely not a bad thing, and I must apologize if my post had come across this way. It wasn’t my intention to give the impression that good, accomplished writers are solely people who suffer from never ending misery -the “only through these onerous pains can I produce these magnificent pieces of literature, and I SUFFER EVERY DAY FOR MY ART” type – and the lack of said emotional burdens makes anyone less of a writer or a person. However, if that was intended to simply be question, my answer holds firm.

      Zhang Lijia is a refreshing subversion of the tortured writer trope, and I think that’s great. She doesn’t hang onto things in her past and doesn’t allow things to drag herself down, or indulge in self-pity, which strikes me as something extremely healthy and admirable. She hasn’t allowed anything to “become her” so to speak. If traumatic events were illnesses, I have a feeling that she would be the kind of person who wouldn’t just become the disease, unlike many other people, if that makes any sense. However, while I’m aware that this is something extremely impressive, my interest simply doesn’t hold if that’s someone’s attitude from the get-go, and hasn’t painstakingly crawled up from the depths of agony to reach such a point. Which is rather silly, and mildly contradictory. I’m unfortunately still stuck in this mindset.

      My impression of her was very superficial, and I’m fully aware of it, but that’s just how I am, I suppose! I just didn’t find her that interesting as an individual. I’m sure if I got to know her better, or if I read her memoir, my opinion would change, but it was simply my general impression.

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