Dori Jones Yang, a journalist from Ohio reporting on China in the 1980s for BusinessWeek—who married a Chinese man while doing so—decided she wanted to write a book that bridged two worlds. When the Red Gates Opened, published this month by She Writes Press, achieved that goal.
Although the bureau Yang ran for the business magazine was located in Hong Kong, the author found many ways to conduct personal interviews in China, a difficult task in the beginning, but which got easier as the country more and more opened its gates to American business interests.
As a former female journalist during those same years, a time when women were struggling to prove themselves capable of moving to the top in their chosen careers, I identified with the author’s ambitions, and her insecurities, as she took on the manly task of bureau chief in a foreign country. And I silently cheered as the book revealed Yang’s growing confidence and increasing number of cover stories for BusinessWeek.
One of Yang’s stories in When the Red Gates Opened is a first-hand account of the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square incident in which hundreds of Chinese freedom protesters were killed. The journalist was in Beijing when the military action occurred. While not on the square itself during the event, she hired a driver who took her through the devastated areas afterwards. It was a scary experience for both her and the driver. This account alone should make the book a must read among history buffs. But Yang’s straight forward, clear, journalistic style of writing makes it easy reading for everyone.
All rolled together in one, When the Red Gates Opened is a memoir, a history book, a romance, and certainly an inspiration to women. This is especially true when Yang writes about the difficult decisions she was forced to make when she became a working mother.
But the soul of the book includes Yang’s determination to go beyond interviewing China’s growing number of successful business leaders to interact with everyday Chinese. Her expertise as a mandarin speaker helped because it allowed her to converse with people on the streets, in the trains she rode, and in places where she shopped. Having married a man whose family escaped to Taiwan during the Culture Revolution in the 1960s, and being able to visit and talk with some of his relatives who had stayed behind, was a bonus.
Yang’s book clearly shows that she had a rare perspective of the lives of China’s people. And because of this country’s current antagonism over trade with China, When the Red Gates Opened couldn’t be timelier. Although Yang admitted that her marriage to a Chinese man did somewhat undo her objectivity as an unbiased reporter, she felt it important to show how up-close interactions between people can put out the fires of hate.
As a former journalist whose nerves are being almost constantly jangled by what’s going on in the media today, one of Yang’s closing comments in the book vastly cheered me. “I had managed to gain people’s trust by putting them at ease, by asking the right questions in language they could understand. I learned to be a reporter without being aggressive or confrontational or self-aggrandizing,” she wrote. Yea! for Yang. I loved this book.