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Growing up in a Changing China

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“In 1970s China we lived an uneducated, rural life with no television, no books or magazines, and no access to information that wasn’t state-controlled. With Communist ideology running from top to bottom, there was barely any room for personal discussion about love or intimacy. I don’t ever remember having heard the word ‘love’ before I had turned twelve or thirteen. No one ever mentioned it. Or if I did hear it, it would have been used in propaganda about Mao, and the Communist Party. But they would use the word re ai, literally ‘hot love,’ or passionate devotion. You were supposed to devote yourself entirely to the Communist Part and Chairman Mao. Personal love was the last thing one should be concerned with. I wondered, years later, whether that was why my grandmother took to crying alone in her kitchen corner so often. There was so little love in her life. And she didn’t ‘love’ or understand Communism and the ideology of Chairman Mao either. She probably loved her son, my father. But he barely ever came home. Were we abandoned by him and by my mother, or by the idea that you should ‘devote your life passionately?”

An excerpt from Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up by Xiaolu Guo, published by Chatto & Windus, p. 27.

On Wednesday 26th April we will be welcoming novelist and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo  who was named as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists in 2013 to talk about her recently published memoir, Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up.

Xiaolu Guo met her parents for the first time when she was six. They were strangers to her. When she was born her parents handed her over to a childless peasant couple in the mountains. Aged two, and suffering from malnutrition on a diet of yam’s leaves, the couple found out where her grandparents lived and entrusted her to her grandmother; a woman who had suffered greatly in her marriage and from whom Guo would learn the meaning of love. In her candid memoir, Xiaolu Guo takes us through these early beginnings in a run-down shack through to film school in a rapidly changing Beijing, navigating the everyday peculiarity of modern China: censorship, underground art and Western boyfriends.

By the time Guo left Beijing in 2002 on a scholarship to study in a picturesque British village she had already published six books. Now after over a decade in Europe, her tale of East to West resonates with the insight that can only come from someone who is both an outsider and an insider. Extending from childhood to womanhood and artistry to motherhood, Guo’s memoir is a handbook of life lessons for people from all walks of life.

Xiaolu Guo will be in conversation with Pamela Kember, Head of Arts & Learning at Asia House, about her memories of growing up in a changing China. The talk will be followed by a book signing and drinks reception sponsored by event partner PAWA (Pan Asian Women’s Association).

To book tickets for this event, please click here

General: £10, Concessions: Asia House Arts Members: £5

Asia House Arts Members need to enter their unique membership number when booking online. This can be found on the back of your membership card. Please call 0207 307 5454 if you experience any issues booking tickets.


April 26, 2017
18:45 - 20:00
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Asia House
63 New Cavendish St W1G 7LP United Kingdom
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