Between China and the rest of the world, an abyss of misunderstandings has to be bridged, and that is one of author Zhang Lijia´s missions, she tells in Prestige Hong Kong. She tells about the research into prostitution in China, the theme of her upcoming book, and inspired by her grandmother.
Prestige Hong Kong:
Public speaking, at home and overseas, broadens her audience farther. “I spend a lot of time travelling for business and pleasure – it’s one of my passions,” she says. “I used to live in such a small, confined world. Now that I’m out of it, I try to make the best of this freedom.” On a recent trip to the US, Zhang “gave a breakfast talk at the Four Seasons Hotel to HSBC New York and some of its clients”, she says. “I talked about my life and recent social and cultural changes – stuff you don’t read in newspapers.” Then it was on to Chicago and “a discussion at the Association for Asian Studies Annual Conference, where my focus was Xi Jinping”.
Yet Zhang has required still more avenues for the dissipation of a restless energy that perhaps built up during her decade in the depths of the well: witness the writing of her forthcoming debut novel.
Titled Lotus and set in Shenzhen, it stars a photojournalist and a young sex worker who, like much of China itself, is torn between ineradicable tradition and the temptations of a mutating modern world.
“I’m interested in prostitution because my grandma was a working girl in her youth,” reveals Zhang. “She was sold into prostitution after becoming an orphan. Since I discovered her secret, by her deathbed in 1998, it has fascinated me and I’ve wondered how the girls cope with life.”
Zhang’s research was empirical. “I made a huge effort to befriend prostitutes, especially a lady who’s a former sex worker and who now runs an NGO helping girls on the street,” she says. “I worked for her organisation, distributing condoms, chatting with the girls and gaining invaluable insights.
“But leaping into fiction writing has been an extremely difficult transition,” she admits. “Coming from a journalistic background, I find the freedom to create a believable world exciting but utterly intimidating. It’s taken me 16 major rewrites and more than 10 years to complete the book.”
The girl whose international success is a direct descendant of The Carpenters’ hits turns 51 this month and is “feeling young and much happier with myself than in my earlier days,” she says. “I have a clearer idea of who I am and what I want from life.”
Nor has she forgotten her musical inspiration. “When I hear The Carpenters I sing along happily,” says Zhang. “I sing their songs in the bathroom – the only place I’m allowed to. My children have banned me from singing in public.”
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