NüVoices Podcast #95: Jan Wong on her Legendary Journalism Career

This week, NüVoices host and co-founder Joanna Chiu speaks to Canadian journalist and author Jan Wong. 

Jan was one of very few foreigners able to travel to China during the Cultural Revolution where she talked herself into studying at Peking University before working as a news assistant in the New York Times’ first Beijing bureau. Back then, the “office” consisted of two rooms in the Peking Hotel, one for the journalist and one that Jan shared with the driver and an interpreter. 

Jan Wong details how she then went on to hone her journalism skills at Columbia’s School of Journalism, eventually working as a business reporter for the Wall Street Journal and The Globe and Mail. When an opportunity came up to work as a foreign correspondent at The Globe and Mail’s Beijing Bureau, Jan made it her mission to get the role. After landing the job, Jan describes what it was like reporting from China during the 1980s, a bubbling tension that eventually culminated in the Tiananmen Massacre which Jan not only reported on but witnessed from a hotel overlooking the square. 

Joanna speaks to Jan about life as a student during the Cultural Revolution and her journey into journalism, as well as the advantages of being a Chinese-Canadian when reporting from China. They also delve into the current relations between China and Canada, and the alleged secret police stations that the CCP has been setting across Canada and the United States.

During the course of the episode, Jan shares all sorts of stories — about the time the Chinese police stole her car, and the time she hid from the authorities simply by putting a “do not disturb” sign on her hotel door. Make sure you tune in this week for inspiration and some great storytelling!

May is Asian Pacific Islander Heritage Month in Canada and the United States! This month, we’re partnering with House of Anansi, Canada’s leading indie publisher. Throughout the month of May, 10% of book sales on HouseofAnansi.com will be donated to NüVoices. Check out their online shop to support independent publishing and our work too! Thank you so much to House of Anansi for partnering with us. 

About Jan Wong

Jan Wong is a third-generation Canadian who traveled alone to China in 1972 to study at Peking University, while majoring in Asian studies at McGill University. She talks about this time of her life in her memoir, Red China Blues, My Long March from Mao to Now.

Jan began her career in journalism as a news assistant for The New York Times bureau in Beijing. In 1981, after graduating with a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she became a staff reporter at The Gazette in Montreal, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, and The Globe and Mail where she eventually reported from Beijing. Jan currently works as a professor in journalism at St. Thomas University in Fredericton and spends her free time playing the flute and learning the cello.

Books by Jan Wong:

Jan’s recommendations:

Joanna’s recommendations: