What happens when you interview a 1987 Literature and Finance graduate from Xiamen University for your book? Well, you get a long reading list.
Josie (not her real name) was born in 1965, a year before Chairman Mao launched the Cultural Revolution. Recalling her childhood, she tells me that the only entertainment people had at the time were eight state-sanctioned plays. Her opinion about these plays?
‘Boring!’ she says, definitively.
As a result of this intellectual deprivation, an underground network of readers emerged. People would hide banned books, read them in secret, and circulate them among like-minded friends. Books were so rare and precious that each reader could only have a book for a short time. In order to be able to reread the texts, Josie and her mother used to copy books by hand.
‘What sort of books did you copy?’ I ask.
‘Books that reflect human nature, human love, human feelings, because we were sick of political books. French classics: Camellia,’ says Josie.
From 1981 to 1987, Josie studied Chinese Literature and Finance at university. After graduating, she worked at the People’s Bank of China before flying to Perth to study English in 1990. She eventually settled in Australia as a political refugee.
As much as the first part of her story is astounding for the breadth of her reading, the second part is astounding for her business acumen. I could not have made up the story of how she moved from working on less than minimum wage to owner of not one, but two, small businesses.
I then ask Josie what she thought about the current unease over major Australian political parties receiving donations from Chinese businesses. Her reaction is swift and far more emphatic than what I had expected, ‘They should NOT! These politicians do not care where this money comes from, and Australia should guard her sovereignty.’
I had thought that Literature and Finance was an unusual combination, but after hours of reading the books Josie read, and hours spent writing her story, it dawns upon me that literature and finance is a great combination because it teaches you that money comes with story.
It matters where money comes from and how it is acquired. It matters because money is used to shape the future. This is a problematic thought when so much of the Australian economy is dependant on the Chinese dollar, and more broadly, when money moves fluidly around the world as if it is a neutral agent.