Beijing Bastard


A New England Book Awards runner-up (Biographies and Memoirs)


A humorous and moving coming-of-age story that brings a unique, not-quite-outsider’s perspective to China’s shift from ancient empire to modern superpower
Raised in a strict Chinese-American household in the suburbs, Val Wang dutifully got good grades, took piano lessons, and performed in a Chinese dance troupe—until she shaved her head and became a leftist, the stuff of many teenage rebellions. But Val’s true mutiny was when she moved to China, the land her parents had fled before the Communist takeover in 1949.
Val arrives in Beijing in 1998 expecting to find freedom but instead lives in the old city with her traditional relatives, who wake her at dawn with the sound of a state-run television program playing next to her cot, make a running joke of how much she eats, and monitor her every move. But outside, she soon discovers a city rebelling against its roots just as she is, struggling too to find a new, modern identity. Rickshaws make way for taxicabs, skyscrapers replace hutong courtyard houses, and Beijing prepares to make its debut on the world stage with the 2008 Olympics. And in the gritty outskirts of the city where she moves, a thriving avant-garde subculture is making art out of the chaos. Val plunges into the city’s dizzying culture and nightlife and begins shooting a documentary, about a Peking Opera family who is witnessing the death of their traditional art.
Brilliantly observed and winningly told, Beijing Bastard is a compelling story of a young woman finding her place in the world and of China, as its ancient past gives way to a dazzling but uncertain future.


North American publisher: Gotham

Foreign rights: Sabila Khan (

Film Rights: Gillian MacKenzie (


"Wang delivers a sensitive narrative that takes readers effortlessly through the seemingly disparate worlds of a family divided across distance and generations, Beijing's burgeoning '90s contemporary art scene, the demise of China's traditional arts and the changes wrought in the name of the city's Olympic bid. Wang's Beijing is gritty and bleak but also hopeful and exciting, and her affection for the city is palpable. Her writing is vivid, and the intertwining stories unfold clearly and naturally. A deftly written and entertaining memoir that offers a fresh perspective on contemporary China and the people caught in its rapid transformation." Kirkus Reviews


"Wang has given us a memoir perfectly suited to the Beijing that she brings to life so well: heedless, pungent, and proudly insubordinate ... Like contemporary China itself, Wang is torn between the aspirations for success, idiosyncrasy, and belonging. A vivid and evocative read." Evan Osnos, author of Age of Ambition


"Val Wang spins a rollicking tale of misadventure in Beijing, wonderfully engaging, filled with astute observations of modern China, and edged by a sharp wit that left me laughing out loud on the subway even as I concealed a tear at the last page." Ann Mah, author of Kitchen Chinese and Mastering the Art of French Eating


"A spectacular debut by a writer with the most enviable gift a storyteller can have: timing. Like Arthur Phillips' Prague and other generation-defining works that capture a fleeting, golden moment in both the lives of a group of expatriates and a larger-than-life place, Val Wang's memoir of Beijing is shot through with insight, beauty, humor and sadness." Ben Ryder Howe, author of My Korean Deli


"[A] wonderfully unreserved memoir ... Her choice of destination makes Beijing Bastard a distinctive memoir: at once a pioneer coming-of-age tale and a discovery of family roots, set in a China that is quickly shedding the old century and dramatically donning the new." The ARTery, NPR (Boston)