As a journalist, Vanessa Hua has published features in the San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post and The Atlantic — but there is another side to this writer. She is also an award-winning novelist.
Like a lot of her work, her new book, "Forbidden City," gives readers an understanding of Asian history and current culture. The novel imagines the complicated and intertwined relationship between a young woman and an older Chairman Mao.
CapRadio Host Donna Apidone talked with Vanessa Hua about "Forbidden City." The two first met in 2019 for a conversation about Hua’s award-winning "A River of Stars."
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
On Mao’s influence in and outside of China
He came to power in 1949, but he’d been a Communist rebel leader for years before that.
He took over China in 1949, and he had a goal of not only raising up his people and the country, but to be a leader of the entire Communist world, and so that led him to promote the Great Leap Forward, which rapidly industrialized the country but instead led to famine.
And then, 50 years later, as he lost power, he tried to reclaim it with the Cultural Revolution.
And so, as the daughter of Chinese immigrants who left the country when the Communists came to power, my parents never talked about him, but I became aware as I was older of just what an impact he had on my life and people of Chinese descent.
On the fictitious young woman in Mao’s life
I think she’s emblematic of so many of the women in China who have never had their story told. I think I’ve always been interested in those stories about those forgotten in the historical record.
In real life, Mao did have someone he met when she was 18 and later on became someone who would read over his correspondence and tell him about it. And also, when his speech became garbled, she interpreted what he was saying.
And even though this is not about her, it just made me realize that if the most powerful man in that country is spending that much time with someone, invariably, they’re going to have some sort of impact on what he’s doing or the policies that emerge outside of the palace walls.
On the family culture that inspired Hua’s career
I think it’s why I’m a writer at all, in some ways, to have that double consciousness to know early on as a child that the world inside my home was different than the world outside of it.
And so just trying to figure out why, and that came from reading books and going to the library. It also came from asking questions, and I think that’s what drove me to become a journalist and a writer.
So I don’t know that I would directly say it was some memory that they shared that led me to be interested in things I’m writing about, but it’s just that notion of always looking at things, being an outsider and trying to understand the world.
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