Fast forward to 1994. Wong is now a journalist finishing a six-year stint in Beijing for Toronto’s The Globe and Mail. She knows China inside out – and she understands China’s history well enough to realize how thoroughly she was once duped.
As she prepares to go home to Canada, she decides to reread diaries from her student days. She stumbles upon her own account of the incident with Yin. Suddenly, she says, “I knew with blinding clarity what I had done. At the age of twenty, I had thoughtlessly destroyed a young woman I didn’t even know.”
At that point, however, Yin seems unfindable. Wong learns that she was expelled from school but after that the trail grows cold.
For a decade, Wong frets over Yin’s fate and then finally realizes, “I’m fifty-three now and I am running out of excuses. It’s time to find Yin.”
So with her husband and two bored teenage sons in tow, Wong sets out for four weeks in China. Her goal is to find Yin and then “apologize and try to make amends.”
Almost nothing could be harder. All Wong has is a name (and even that scrap of information turns out to be uncertain). “How will I find a stranger in a country of 1.3 billion?” Wong wonders. “I have four weeks and no plan of action.”
Her only hope is to return to the people and settings she once knew. She visits Beijing University, meets up with some of her old teachers and fellow students, and asks as many questions as she can.
What she learns is that the Cultural Revolution has become a black hole in Chinese consciousness. There are almost no official records from the period – they either never existed or have since been destroyed.
And when she tries to raise the subject she discovers that most Chinese prefer not to remember too much about what they now call “the decade of disaster.”
“I want to apologize to her,” she tells a former roommate. “No one does that,” the roommate replies. “No one even talks about the Cultural Revolution.”
Answers to Wong’s queries on Yin are maddeningly vague and unhelpful and it’s never clear that anyone is actually telling the truth.