y Beijing neighbors often said I was too wild, too direct, too rebellious, too uncouth,” says Annie Wang.
As a 34-year-old, she’s still a shoot-from-the-hip kind of gal. Only, now, shock is no longer a liability. It’s her selling point. And if you’re curious about life as a successful Beijing authoress, just take a look at her characters.
NiuNiu, BeiBei, and LuLu are facing midlife crises. LuLu cannot break it off with her polyamourous artist lover, NiuNiu alternates between nirvana and claustrophobia as a Chinese American “returnee,” and BeiBei, the epitome of grrl power, bemoans her inability to hold down a man. In her new novel, The People’s Republic of Desire, Annie Wang looks at 30-something women in the vastly changing city of Haagan Daas and heartbreak. She shows as much enthusiasm for contemplating Starbucks and designer icecream, two of the city’s latest obsessions, as she does for dishing on relationships.
“When I was young, every time I visited other people’s homes, if they asked me if I wanted to have tea or candies, I always said, ‘yes.’ I knew a good polite girl should say no. But I just didn’t see any point in these little white lies.”
But five books in Chinese and two more in English isn’t too shabby for a self-proclaimed rebel. And Wang revels in her ability to ruffle a few feathers. Her first Chinese novel explored a relationship between a Chinese woman and a Black man. The People’s Republic of Desire, is a hearty dose of abortion, fellatio and golddigger, delivered with a nonjudgemental gusto that is perhaps the most shocking of all.
In 2001, Wang was introduced by Pantheon Books as “the youngest published author who was born and raised in China and has written in English.” But, as with most aspects of Wang’s life, not all were complimentary.
“What’s the point of laboring 10 years to write an English novel when you could have published more books in your mother tongue for starved Chinese readers and let the translators do the rest of the work?” one irked fan asked, in an unpublished essay courtesy of Wang.
Annie Wang was born in 1972 and grew up in Beijing. Her parents were not well off but valued culture and individualism. Wang was never berated for her unladylike behavior. Her father, who held a senior position at the People’s Daily newspaper, was well known for his liberalism. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he was one on the vanguard of the feminist movement. But even with her liberal roots, Wang is the self-professed rebel in her three-daughter family. In grade school she dared to crush on boys when it was a punishable offense. She accepted treats when offered. She has a wide, toothy grin. Her unusually deep voice even won her a scolding in elementary school.
“‘Your voice is as thick as that of a Black man!’ my choir teacher would complain,” Wang says. “The other students all laughed at me and refused to sing with me. Eventually, I was kicked out.”
Nevertheless Wang was a star pupil. Her first story was published at 14. Her early literary success included being a nationally syndicated columnist, a radio show hostess, and a documentary producer. They offered her some popularity at university. She hoped Beida Beijing University, the best in the country. Tiananmen changed everything. New students were required to attend one year of military training as punishment for the university’s role in the protest. Wang opted for Renda instead, the second best university and home to the country’s top journalism program.
“I openly mocked the young party members who shouted political slogans every day,” she recalls “just so that they could be assigned to a good job by the time they graduated. I made fun of the ideological courses we had to take. And those orthodox Communist thought reformers who came to students’ dorms to ‘speak heart’ every day! I refused to be friends with classmates who always flattered the teachers and reported others’ political incorrectness in order to gain their favor.”
Despite her uncouth behavior, Wang was still the recipient of an occasional scholarship or award. In her junior year, she was assigned an internship at the overseas edition of the People’s Daily. It was the best internship Renda journalism had to offer.
But Wang dropped out before graduation. She bought a plane ticket to California and found a temporary haven at UC Berkeley. In the town’s independent bookshops and eclectic coffee houses, Wang found the liberalism she craved.
Living in one place for several years, Wang grew restless and began traveling. In 2000 she was offered a job by Washington Post’s Beijing office. She currently lives in Hong Kong and is a frequent traveler between China and the States. She has already been featured in a bestseller biography. Bit she has had to share the limelight with her two sisters as they are collectively known as the Chinese Bronte Sisters. Wang is a bestselling author in China, but has yet to achieve that status in the U.S. She plans to keep writing in both languages.