Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program By Pete Earley and Gerald Shur, founder of WITSEC
02/21/2002 - Updated 12:57 AM ET

Early bloomer Wang thrives with 'Lili'

By Tara McKelvey, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON ! Some people would call Annie Wang an overachiever. A native of Beijing, Wang started writing poetry when she was in third grade. At 14, she published her first newspaper article ! about a Eurasian pop star ! and won an award for it from the Beijing Youth Daily. Several books followed, including An Ode to Searching, published while Wang was in high school. She's now 29.

When Wang witnessed the uprising in Tiananmen Square in 1989, she knew she would write about it. Yet she decided to write in English rather than her native language. It wasn't sheer folly that led to her decision. Wang, who was 17 when she started to write Lili: A Novel of Tiananmen (Pantheon, $24; 2001), thought it would be hard to express her feelings in Chinese.

"English allows me to write without self-censorship," says Wang. "In this book, I wrote about female sexuality and racism. Nobody talks about that in China. I also realized I couldn't write it in Chinese because there are too many cultural landmines.

"There are certain words like 'individualism,' 'privacy' and 'ambition' that ! if you translate them into Chinese ! have very bad connotations. 'Individualism' means 'egotism' and 'selfishness.' "

Favorable write-ups in The New Yorker, Details, Publishers Weekly and other publications assured Lili a warm welcome in America. Her latest work, a novella called The Proper Daughter, is about two sisters who live in a traditional family in Beijing. One of them runs off to America. When she returns to China years later, she finds her well-behaved sister has changed.

"Her big sister ! who once wanted to give up her marriage to serve her parents ! is actually a lesbian who secretly organizes sex parties," Wang says.