A Conversation with Val Wang
Author of Beijing Bastard
Gotham Books, October 2014
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
Q: What made you decide to go to China? How did your family react?
My parents weren’t happy at all. They thought I was throwing away my top-notch education and all the opportunities it afforded me in the States. To them, moving to China was a step backward into a past they’d worked so hard to leave behind. I can see now that part of it was their fear of opening the wounds of their own exile and immigration. Me living there forced them to confront their relationship with China and in the end, allowed them to forge a new, hopefully positive relationship with it.
Q: What do you find is the most common misconception Americans have about China? Why do you think that is?
Q: How did your upbringing prepare – or not prepare – you for what you found in China? How did living with your family at the beginning of your time in China set up your time in Beijing?
China itself, which felt foreign. I’ve heard it said that immigrant communities tend to preserve the values and ideas that are actually in flux back in the “old country.” This was especially true for China, which was in a state of upheaval when I got there. I thought I’d find this really uptight place but instead I found somewhere wild and chaotic, and just to my liking.
Living with my family in a courtyard house gave me a very visceral attachment to the old city and made the costs of modernization very personal to me, right from the start. I felt like I had a stake in how the city developed. It also let me know that my intention to move to China to get far away from my family and their Confucian psychodramas was not going to happen in the way I’d planned. I’d moved to the wrong place to do that!
Q: What drew you to the contemporary Chinese artists and what did they have to say about China?
Q: Beijing is a character in this book – how would you describe its personality and are there character traits that have survived the successive waves of modernization?
Q: Have you been back to China since you left? What were your impressions? Do you keep up with the people in your book?
I keep up with most of the people in my book, though one notable exception is my filmmaker friend Yang Lina, who’s gone through tough times since I left and who even mutual friends can’t find. I am still in touch especially with my family, though of course I don’t call them as much as I should. In fact, I owe Bobo, my uncle, a call this week. I’ve got to remember to do that.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from reading Beijing Bastard?
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Val! We're so excited for everyone to get to know your experiences in China, and to read your book!