Lijia Zhang Speaker, Speeches, Booking Agent | MFL Global
Lijia Zhang 1

Lijia Zhang

Writer, Social Commentator and Speaker

Lijia Zhang is a factory-worker-turned writer, social commentator and public speaker. One of the few Chinese who writes regularly in English for international publications, her articles have appeared in The Guardian, South China Morning Post, Newsweek and The New York Times.

She is the author of the critically acclaimed memoir, “Socialism Is Great!” about her rocket factory experience and her debut novel Lotus, on prostitution in contemporary China, was published by Macmillan in January 2017. She is a recipient of the prestigious fellowship on the International Writer’s Program at the University of Iowa.

Lijia Zhang has lectured at many conferences, institutions and universities around the world, including Asia EU Economic Forum, European Institute for Asian Studies, The University of Sydney, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and New York University. She is a regular speaker on the BBC, Channel 4, CNN and NPR. She divides her time between London and Beijing.

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From Rocket Factory Worker to International Writer

I was born and raised on the banks of Yangtze River. At 16 I was pulled out of school and began my decade-long job at a missile factory. Bored by the tedium of greasing machine parts and the weight of the oppressive rules, I sought solace in reading literature and writing stories, and began to teach myself English. Like the rest of the nation in the 80’s, I struggled to break free from Mao’s straight jacket and dream the impossible. In a sense, my story is China's story. My ‘coming-of-age’ journey from a rocket factory worker to an international writer reflects China's rocky path of transformation in the reform era. And in no country more than China is an understanding of the past more crucial for understanding its present. Based on my own first-hand experience, I also discuss the pressing issues facing China today, and in turn try to predict its future.

Understanding Business Culture

China can be somewhat impenetrable for westerners on their first forays into the country. To be a success in business here, a basic understanding of the fundamentals can unlock the door to this complex society. I start with the ABCs of Chinese culture and common sense Chinese business etiquette. Following on from this I discuss the philosophy of ‘midstream living’, Confucianism and its emphasis on hierarchy, and the concept of mianzi (‘face’) and its significance. I also explain distinctive Chinese modes of communication, and what “yes” really means here whilst offering some rules-of-thumb for success as well as some tips for avoiding pitfalls.

The Changing Role of Women in China

My grandma was a prostitute-turned-concubine; my mother was a frustrated worker and victim of political campaigns; and I myself am a factory-worker-turned-writer, coming of age in a turbulent and changing China. The stories of the women in my family are a microcosm of the changes Chinese women have gone through in the last century up to the present. Chairman Mao famously declared that “Women hold up
half of the sky”, a slogan that in reality is perhaps as unreachable as the sky itself for China’s women today. Despite this Chinese women have indeed travelled a long way. I’ll discuss what the Communist Party has done for the plight of women, and the setbacks brought by the reforms in recent years.

Frog in a Well (inspirational/motivation speech)

There is a famous tale in China told by the ancient philosopher Zhuangzhi about a frog trapped in a well, unable to see the great world beyond the patch of sky above. I was forced out of the school at 16 and put to work at a missile factory. For ten years, I felt like Zhuangzi's frog, trapped at the bottom of my factory well. To make my escape, I began teaching myself English, amid the mockery of my fellow workers, who ridiculed me as ‘a toad who dreams of tasting swan meat’. A strong desire to find a new life gave me the drive to escape my fate. My own story - a young girl working in the drudgery of a rocket factory who went on to become an international writer and journalist - is a testament to the power of following your dreams.

I just wanted to thank you again for your participation in the speaker series at Capital M last Sunday. As usual, your talk was cogent, evocative, and insightful. You are exactly the kind of speaker we were looking for: a Chinese person who is both bilingual and bi-cultural, who can speak to a foreign audience about your own rich
experience in China. We had lots of great comments about your talk, and a lot of interest in your book as well.

Capital Normal University

I am very pleased but not surprised to report that your talk was absolutely loved by the Nestle participants. If anything they are wondering if we can move your keynote to the opening dinner for the programme in Guangzhou instead of at the closing dinner! They were thrilled that you were able to put a ‘human face’ to the story of China. Congratulations Lijia you have done an exceptional job.

London Business School

We found Lijia Zhang an ideal speaker for our conference session “What does “yes” really mean? Understanding the Chinese business culture”. Her session rated amongst the highest overall.

Australian Institute of Company Directors


Lijia Zhang 1

Socialism Is Great!": A Worker's Memoir of the New China

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Fees & Details

Fees From*

  • UK:

    £3k to £7k

  • Europe:

    £7k to £15k

  • US:

    £7k to £15k

  • Africa/Asia/ME:

    £7k to £15k

Travels From

  • United Kingdom


Chinese (Mandarin), English

* This Speaker's fee falls within the ranges shown above. Ranges are presented as a guideline only. Speaker fees are subject to change without notice. For an exact quote, please contact us.

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