Former correspondent offers in-depth look at China in memoir where personal meets political


KIRKLAND, WA – Award-winning author Dori Jones Yang spent eight years as a foreign correspondent for BusinessWeek covering China, where she interviewed local citizens, fell in love, and witnessed a tumultuous period that shook the world. In her new memoir, When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China’s Reawakening (September 22, 2020, She Writes Press), Yang brings to life this transformative time in history and in her personal life.

When Beijing opened its doors in the 1980s, it shocked the world by allowing private enterprise and free markets. Dori was among the first American correspondents to cover China under Deng Xiaoping, who dared to defy Maoist doctrine to try to catch up with richer nations. Despite her natural reserve, Dori used her fluency in Mandarin to get to know the ordinary people she met—people embracing opportunities that had once been unimaginable.

Soon, Dori fell for a Chinese man who had fled China with his family in 1949 and only recently returned. Together, they found the relatives his parents had left behind, who were just starting to hope for a better future. This euphoria—shared by American businesses and Chinese citizens alike—reached its peak in May 1989, when a million peaceful protestors filled Tiananmen Square, demanding democracy. Dori lived that hope, as well as the despair that followed when the army opened fire. After Tiananmen, dejected and sure that the era of promising possibilities was over, she returned to America—only to watch as China resumed its growth.

“I wanted to show the country close-up, at the dawn of its rise to power, focusing on ordinary people and the way their lives changed,” says the author. “Understanding China’s motivations and dreams during that era could be key to understanding what is going on today.” Written at a time when China’s rapid rise is setting off alarm bells in Washington, When the Red Gates Opened offers insight into the daring policies that started it all.

“When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China’s Reawakening”

Dori Jones Yang | September 22, 2020 | She Writes Press
Paperback | ISBN: 978-1631527517 | Price: $16.95

An experienced journalist, author, and speaker, Dori Jones Yang has written seven previous books, including a best-selling business book about Starbucks and two award-winning novels about Chinese children in America. When the Red Gates Opened is her first memoir. Educated in history at Princeton and in international studies at Johns Hopkins, Dori worked for eight years in the 1980s as a foreign correspondent for BusinessWeek, covering China during its pivotal years. From her current base near Seattle, she also worked as West Coast technology correspondent for U.S. News and World Report. Fluent in Mandarin Chinese, she has traveled throughout China over forty years and spoken about her books across the United States.

More details are available on her website,

Praise for When the Red Gates Opened

“Dori Jones Yang’s memoir is an enthralling account of her love affair with China that’s replete with drama, disappointment, progress, and hope.” — 4-star Foreword Clarion Review

“Dori Jones Yang has given us two wonderful, East-West coming-of-age stories for the price of one: China’s metamorphosis from poor Communist backwater to quasi-capitalist powerhouse, and her own journey from rookie reporter in the male-dominated world of business journalism to respected foreign correspondent. Both tales come with their share of great leaps forward and troubling setbacks. This chronicle of her two love affairs―with China and with a very special Chinese man―and her steely determination to succeed not only as a professional, but as a colleague, wife, mother, and stepmother, make for an inspirational and rewarding read.” ― Scott D. Seligman, author of The Third Degree: The Triple Murder That Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice

“Captivating! At the onset of China’s embrace of a new openness, the author lands her dream job as a correspondent in Hong Kong covering China for a leading business journal. A pioneering female foreign correspondent, she captures the story of a young gal finding her way―as a journalist and as a woman. Her evolution intersects with dynamic world events, resulting in a mesmerizing tale of personal struggle, vibrant history, and real guts. A remarkable story!”― Marianne Lile, author of Stepmother: A Memoir

“Dori Jones Yang enfolds us in her frank personal story and the saga of a China just opening its gates to the ‘outside world’ . . . Americans of Yang’s generation in the China field are sure to be swept by nostalgia and vivid reminiscence. Younger readers will see today’s China more clearly after they ingest this saga of opportunity, challenge, frustration, reward, and tenacious love. As America’s relations with China stumble today, looking back to the decade of Yang’s encounter with China is more important than ever.” ― Robert A. Kapp, former president, US-China Business Council

When the Red Gates Opened is a riveting, insightful, personal account of a pivotal moment in history: the critical years when China, after alternately starving and stifling its population for decades, began moving toward a more open, market-oriented economy . . . Dori Jones Yang, among the handful of foreign correspondents then who spoke fluent Mandarin, set out to find out for herself, talking to hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong. Today, as China increasingly flexes its muscles on the world stage, this book provides a nuanced understanding of the challenges and promises presented by a complex global power that thinks and operates in ways so different from us.” ― Leslie Helm, author of Yokohama Yankee, My Family’s Five Generations as Outsiders in Japan

“This is a beautifully crafted, intimately written memoir of a young woman from Ohio who became a true rarity―a female foreign correspondent covering the vast economic changes in China in the 1980s. Dori’s journey is one you will want to take yourself.” ― Bruce Nussbaum, author of Creative Intelligence

“Dori Jones Yang beautifully conveys her deep respect for China and its culture―through experiences that included falling in love with a Chinese man and his extended family, as well as navigating issues of marriage and motherhood as a working woman in the 1980s. She gives us a rare inside look into China from the 1980s to today as she comes to squarely stand in two cultures―both American and Chinese.” ― Juliet Cutler, author of Among the Maasai

“Foreign correspondent and memoirist Dori Jones Yang offers a charming cross-cultural love story that fascinates as it educates. When the Red Gates Opened offers intimate and original insights into China, a country often misunderstood, once stumbling to open to the outside―and now a world superpower. On her journey, we, too, find promise, disillusion, and hope.” ― Brenda Peterson, author of Your Life is a Book: How to Craft and Publish Your Memoir

“In this intimate memoir, Dori Jones Yang takes a close-up look at the emergence of China in the 1980s, from backward country to world power. Beijing bureau chief for BusinessWeek, Dori was an eyewitness to the start of this historic transformation, and she tells the story with insight and verve. She also shares her own personal odyssey, from Ohio to Princeton to Beijing, including the loving embrace of the Chinese man she met on an airplane and married two years later.” — Stephen B. Shepard, former editor-in-chief, BusinessWeek

“With refreshing candor, riveting detail and sharp insights, this beautifully told memoir breaks the mold of ‘Western journalist-discovers-China.’ Dori Jones Yang’s wonderfully personal journey allows one to view this vastly different culture and increasingly powerful country as she did—with open eyes and heart, without prejudgment. I could not put this book down.” — Helen Zia, Last Boat out of Shanghai: The Epic Story of the Chinese who Fled Mao’s Revolution

“Dori Jones Yang writes particularly eloquently about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown; it marked the endpoint for China of a golden decade of economic reform and freedom while for her it was a betrayal by a country she had come to love and admire. This deeply personal book interweaves her desires for professional success, love, and motherhood and may inspire young women striving to balance these aspirations in their own lives.” — Judith Shapiro, co-author of Son of the Revolution and of China Goes Green: Coercive Environmentalism for a Troubled Planet

“Like all superb memoirs, Dori Jones Yang’s is not only a candid reflection of her own character and experience, but an eyewitness account of an epic time in history. Her sensitive observations and skillful writing bring the yin-yang dualities of her life into a gratifying if sometimes hard-fought balance, to deliver a story that is sweeping yet intimate, ambitious yet humble, serious yet engaging.” — Claire Chao, author of Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels

“This book is about two transitions—Dori Jones Yang’s from student to Hong Kong bureau chief for BusinessWeek, and China’s from central planning to an open, market economy. Beautifully written, it portrays the victories and setbacks of both ‘awakenings.’” — Shanta Devarajan, Professor of the Practice of International Development, Georgetown University and former acting World Bank Group chief economist

In an interview, DORI JONES YANG can discuss:

  • Her career as a journalist and how she became a foreign correspondent
  • The highs and lows of U.S.-China relations and the current negative attitudes toward China
  • Her experience seeing China through the eyes of an American journalist and the inside perspective she gained through her relationships
  • The “up-close” and fresh look at China her memoir offers
  • How looking at the past can provide insight and hope for the future
  • These formative years for China as a country and her own personal life, and the parallels between the two
  • The challenges she faced writing a memoir as a journalist
  • Writing fiction versus her memoir, and the common threads through her written work

An Interview with DORI JONES YANG

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your career and how you became a foreign correspondent during this time?

Sure! Growing up in Ohio, I loved writing and foreign languages. My first journalism job was at my local newspaper, and I was hooked. I knew nothing about Asia until after college, when I spent two years in Singapore studying Chinese. By stroke of good luck, I finished grad school (in international studies) just as the U.S. and China established diplomatic relations. Few Americans knew much about China, so that put me in a great spot to become a foreign correspondent.

2. How has the relationship between the U.S. and China changed since your time as a correspondent?

In the 1980s, China was emerging from thirty years of isolation, so many Americans were eager to visit and do business there. Although China was poor and backward, it was a time of hope and possibility. Few imagined China could grow so quickly and rise to become a modern power. In recent years, many American leaders have become nervous about China’s advancing technological expertise, fearing that its rise could mean our downfall. The spirit of mutual respect and cooperation has badly eroded. As the election approaches, I fear that both parties will treat China as a convenient diversion or punching bag.

3. What is “missing” from many Americans’ understanding of China?

When you live in another country, you realize that it encompasses a wide range of individuals—not just the government. A few of my American friends think “China is evil”—based on Beijing’s policies toward Muslims, or Hong Kong, or the Internet. “China” is more than its current president, just as the United States is more than Donald Trump. A new generation of Chinese has grown up in a modern society, able to travel and study abroad; they have created the largest consumer market in the world, and they will become leaders someday. A U.S. policy of belligerence and confrontation toward China would be self-destructive.

4. These were incredibly formative years for China but also you personally. What parallels do you see between the two during this time?

As a Communist leader, Deng Xiaoping defied the odds when he allowed capitalism in China, and I was defying the odds, too. As a young woman in the male-dominated world of business journalism, alone in a foreign bureau, I was learning my way by trial and error. So was Deng. I faced some personal dilemmas that seemed unsolvable, as did the future of Hong Kong when Britain and China began discussions. A true dilemma, I learned, is not a choice between right and wrong. It’s between two options that are equally compelling—or equally hazardous.

5. As a journalist you had notes and articles to pull from to look back on this time— what was most challenging in writing this memoir?

What’s hardest about writing a memoir is the need to shine a light on your insecurities and reflect on your decisions. It forces you to be honest. It also demands you rethink your fraught relationships and decide how much to include. If someone might be hurt by a revelation, do you have a good reason to include it? I had to decide what were the major themes and include only as much as was needed to tell that story.

6. What do you hope readers gain from When the Red Gates Opened?

Why should any of us look behind the next hill, or across the border, into the warm living rooms of ordinary people who don’t look or talk as we do? If we cross those thresholds and listen in the language of people we too often misunderstand, we can see the world through their eyes and open our minds. If more of us from all countries committed to cross-cultural understanding, we’d increase the chance for world peace, which could benefit all.