383 of 402 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2000
When I sat down with Wild Swans, I had no expectations but to be informed and entertained by what I hoped would be a good book. I read to gain a personal understanding of the world in which we live through accounts and examples given by others of things I would never be able to experience first-hand. Never have I read a book that drew me in so powerfully and personally as Ms. Chang's Wild Swans. Wild Swans is epic in it's historical backdrop moving untirelessly through the last century of China, roughly between the years 1911 and 1976, but this is no textbook. You will never feel as though you just entered a lecture hall and are sitting through a journalistic or pedantic analysis of these turbulent times. This is the story of the author Jung Chang, her mother, and her grandmother. It is through their lives that history unfolds and is exposed. From the end of Imperial China, through Japanese occupation, the Nationalist movement, the Civil War between the Kuomintang and the Communists, Communist takeover, Mao's Great Leap Forward starving tens of millions to death, the Cultural Revolution turning a national identity upon it's head and breaking it's collective spirit in the process, to Mao Zedong's death, you will be amazed at what you learn in this book about the capacity of the heart to perservere and triumph. I couldn't help but to feel ashamed at the provincial life we are handed in our land of freedom, and at once be thankful that we are so endowed. Jung Chang explores her family so deeply that her subjects, such as her stoic father, a true beliver in the Communist cause, and her grandmother, a veritable symbol through her bound feet of a time and place long gone, become indelibly etched upon the mind of the reader. By the end of Wild Swans, you will feel you know China and Ms. Chang and her family intimately. This book fulfills whatever you set out to obtain or attain when you devote time to reading. If you have never been afraid to crack a book, let this fall into your hands, enter your heart, and enrich your life and in the end, thank Jung Chang for opening your eyes. Thank you, Chang Jung.
254 of 273 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2004
The first half of this book is well written and quite interesting as a personal memoir; the rest is less engaging, as it became closer to a chronicle than a memoir. Even still, I have mainly admiration and not criticism for the writing; it is the content that concerns me. I am from the same province as the author and also lived through the Cultural Revolution. Westerners might have heard only about the Red Guards, however all Party members, including those who later became victims, were participants in the movement (and other movements before the Cultural Revolution). I can understand why the author chose to portray her parents as purely victims or even heroes against the Revolution -- after all, we Chinese have thousands of years of tradition "avoiding anything that may compromise the name of an intimate." In reality, it was simply impossible for a Party cadre like the author's parents not to be an active participant in the movements, until they themselves become victimized. To me this was the true tragedy for us Chinese. I wish the book had been more honest in this aspect and given a more complete picture to western readers about what happened. I think this honesty would make the book even more valuable.
Another thing that bothers me is that the author chose to translate "xuan-chuan-bu" ("the Department of Propaganda") as "the Department of Public Affair". She noted this was "in order to describe their functions accurately". But the former translation is far more accurate, literally and in terms of function. Perhaps this change was made because the author's father was a co-director of such a department in the Communist Party. Such a change seems unnecessary to me.
95 of 101 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 1999
During dinner time one night, my sister and father developed a thoughtful conversation over the Communist revolution of China. My initial reaction was amazement. I had previously believed that my sister was like me: an American born Chinese completely unschooled in anything relating to our ethnicity. As I picked up scraps of their conversation, which coursed from the "Manchukuo" period under the Japanese rule to Mao's communist reign, I wondered how my sister had absorbed all of the information of this intensive period. To my relief, I discovered that I did not have to pick up a history text book in order to become familiar with Chinese history; I could instead visualize the past through a memoir of three generations of Chinese women in Jung Chang's Wild Swans. Wild Swans is insightful and descriptive in uncovering a tumultuous era that spans from 1924 to 1978. However, Wild Swans is more than a chronicle of China's events during this period; Chang's book is an account of how war and revolution personally affected Jung's grandmother, her mother, and herself. The moving stories of these courageous and characteristically different women bring life and meaning to China's twentieth century cultural revolution. Chang's chapter titles are clever; her writing style is direct, needing little embellishment in order to retell the fascinating lives of her family. Chang also discusses how the three women are molded by the societal trends of each generation. Educative and personal, Wild Swans is a tribute to family and friends, and a celebration of the lives of "Three daughters of China." I found Wild Swans to be captivating and emotional in its direct portrayal of the determination of these women to survive and adhere to their duties, whether they are to themselves, their loved ones, or to their country. Wild Swans may be at times difficult to read, due to vivid and sometimes graphic accounts of certain events, but it is equally heart warming in its account of victories. Wild Swans is definitely worth reading!
50 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 1998
I'm deeply moved by this book. Thank Jung Chang for writing such a great book.
I am from Mainland China. I came to U.S for graduate study five years ago. I felt difficult to breathe when I closed the book because it reminds me the stories of my family in china. The similar thing happened to them, not so worse than Ms. Chang's, but also painful and intolerable. They experienced the collapse of Qing dynasty, warlord chaos, Japanese invasion, civil war and communist control.
My parents moved from Shanghai to an inland small town with dedicated hearts to communist party in 1956 but they suffered all the time. They are must ordinary people. My mother is as old as Jung Chang's mother - Hong, there were endless meetings against her in each of political movements in 20 years. My mom is not a party member, working in a factory as a product planning staff. She was badly treated only because she was from a landlord family and with a oversea sister. My grandfather, my father suffered similar spiritual torture. My home was searched several times in Culture Revoluation, almost all books, magzines and jewelry (including the wedding ring of my parents) are burned or confiscated.A few months after I was born in 1968, my father was sent to "Cadre school" (kind of labor camp) to receive re-education. My uncle was marked as "rightist" in 1957 and his whole family was discriminated all the time until 1978. My elder sister went to the countryside too and her annul wage was merely 50 pounds of yams and 200 pounds of wheat.
I didn't suffer so much compared with my parents and my sisters. Everything is getting better since 1978. I was a good student and went to college with many dreams. Again, in 1989, the gunshot and blood in Tianmen Square broke them all prior to my graduation.
The history of china is like a cycle: the periodic construction and destruction. My heart is saying I should go back to my homeland, but who knows I can avoid the same fates of my parents?
In fact, I read Wild Swans in Chinese first. I happened to borrow it from my local library east Asia section, it's translated to Chinese and published by Taiwan. I can't stop reading when I opened the book. All the depiction is like real life movie floating before my eyes. I highly recommend it that's why I browse your website to get a original version for myself and for my American friends.
96 of 107 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2000
I can't believe more people don't know about this incredible book. It's beautifully written and tremendously informative. I agree with the reviewer below who said that it's the best book on 20th century China. And what a movie it would make if done right. Still, I'm taking away from the book itself -- if you think it's tough reading Holocaust literature, try this -- the Japanese and the Chinese committed the most horrible tortures and crimes on each other you can imagine, yet the author dwells on the hope and the love of her family despite the horrors she recounts. One of the most moving books you'll ever read.
56 of 63 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2008
I have mixed feelings about the book Wild Swans. It certainly was not a page turner, rather it was a book I could lay down at any time, and even walk away from for a couple of days, which I did a number of times. It didn't read like a novel, as some memoir/biographies do, rather it was as though the author, Jung Chang was narrating to me the history of her family, beginning with her grandmother. The narration is well written, but long, and ends when she is 26. A short epilogue at the end then updates you as to what she has done with her life in the 10 years following the writing of the book. So if you are looking for a wildly entertaining book you can hardly put down, this is not a book for you.
Having said this, I do not consider reading the book was time wasted. If you are at all interested in the history of China, especially what it was like under Mao's years in power, you would find many fascinating passages in the book. Of course most of us know that Mao was not good for the people of China, but I was truly surprised at what all went on under Mao and his wife. Some of it was so strange, that it seemed down right bizarre to me, such as when Mao determined that grass and beautiful things should be removed from the cities. People all over China were pulling up flowers and grass. Students even spent school time out in the yard pulling up the grass. Reading the book was a learning experience about a time that it turned out I really knew very little about.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2006
Though 6 years her junior, I can relate to Jung Chang closely. My own father was labeled as rightist in 1958, the year I was born. Her story reflects the lives of millions of families in China during those years.
I read her book with an emotional roller coaster. Sometimes I had to put down the book to wipe tears off my eyes, and sometimes I had to stop reading the book for a few days till I could resume reading it again. I couldn't stop thinking of my own parents, my grandparents, and my generation.
It's a great book about a short span of Chinese history, part of which I lived through and which I hope will never be repeated.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2001
In Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China author Jung Chang chronicles the three generations of her grandmother, her mother, and herself as they struggle to survive the perpetual wars and violent instabilities of life in China from the early 1930's to the late 1970's. The title stems from the Mandarin character for "wild swan" which is incorporated in the name of the author's mother (Hong). The bitter struggles of the three heroines and their extended families provide the reader with an agonizing glimpse of the fear in which hundreds of millions of Chinese lived throughout WWII, the civil war between the Communist Party and Chaing Kai-shek's Kuomintang army, and Mao's Cultural Revolution. Chang essentially teaches an elementary course in the history of the People's Republic of China and Communist Party politics while also narrating a gripping, moving, and ultimately unsettling story about family, loss, and love.
The strength of Wild Swans lies in its illumination of Chinese middle-class life, a subject that has largely remained shrouded. The narrative is experienced most intensely during the unraveling of the family at the height of Mao's Cultural Revolution. The targets of the revolution are Communist Party officials, dubbed "capitalist-roaders" and "class enemies", which includes Chang's mother and father. As student rebels arbitrarily classify officials as class enemies, the noose slowly tightens around Chang's family. The description of Mao's witch-hunt painfully illustrates the constant terror and fear of middle class life fueled by Communist Party propaganda and disinformation.
Reading Wild Swans brought tears to my eyes and chills to my skin. The three daughters of China are heroines who survive inhuman conditions and manipulation. The narrative yields two compelling story lines. One is a story of Chinese culture, family, loss, and love. The other story describes the atrocities inflicted by Mao Zedong on his own people, which left me thirsting for a deeper understanding of modern Chinese history.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on July 30, 2005
Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. by Jung Chang. (New York: Simon & Schuster 2003)
Wild Swans was written in 1991 by Jung Chang, a Chinese woman now living in England. In 1988, Chang's mother visited her daughter in Britain and told her the in-depth story of her own life and the life of her mother, Chang's grandmother, through China's turbulent 20th century. In the introduction, Chang reveals that she had always felt an inclination to write, and her mother's revelations and encouragement gave her a broad topic, and incentive. The story chronicles her family over three generations in post-imperialist and Communist China. The book illustrates not only the experiences of Chang's family, but also provides an outline of the changing political and social climate in China during the 20th Century. Wild Swans is effective as a passionate memoir and as an historical reference.
Wild Swans begins with a description of Chang's grandmother's life in Manchuria during the warlord era, after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Chang's grandmother lives for some time as a concubine to a warlord general with whom she has one daughter. She is confronted by the trials of raising a daughter in a culture and era in which women had little to no say in their own lives and those of their children. Living in Manchuria, Chang's mother grew up under the political authority of the Japanese and then the Kuomintang. Chang's mother yearned for a sense of pride in her country and for equality among Chinese. She joined the Communist cause in her mid-teens with the belief that the party could unite the country and bring justice and equality to the people. Chang's mother and father, a young Communist official, met and fell just as the government of China changed hands. They were married and given posts in the newly established Communist government. Chang herself was born three years after the birth of the People's Republic. The trials of Chang and her family, her father, mother and five siblings, through the various campaigns and purges of the Communist Era, including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution become the main focus of the novel, which ends when Chang accepts a scholarship to study abroad in England.
Wild Swans provides an inside view of how the good intentions of China's Communist party were twisted and distorted in such as way that they eventually led to the torment and persecution of many of its members. The Chang family is hounded in campaign after campaign to rid the country of the influence of anyone deemed to have capitalist aspirations or connections. Chang uses the experiences of her family as a jumping off point to describe the ridiculous criteria used to determine who these `counterrevolutionaries' were, and the suffering and heartache these campaigns caused millions of Chinese.
As well as describing her own experiences and those of her family, Chang includes short stories of the experiences of people in different social positions including peasants and officials higher that her parents. She succeeds in providing the reader with a more in-depth view of the effects that the changes in China's social climate had upon its people. The stories highlight the positive experience enjoyed by few and the negative experiences of others. In this way, she creates and understanding with her reader and convinces them that one of her main objectives in writing Wild Swans and sharing her experiences is to paint an accurate portrait of her country.
Chang writes in a very effective manner. She often describes what she and her family members were feeling at the time, but for the most part does not let her emotions get in the way of providing a concise chronicle of events. By doing this, she has allowed her readers the freedom to develop their own opinions and feelings toward the characters and events in the story.
One underlying theme in Wild Swans is the absolute power wielded over the Chinese by Mao Zedong, the Communist party leader. In most respects, Chang provides the reader with her own opinions regarding the changing policies of China, but does not attempt to persuade the reader to share them. The exception is her description of Mao. Chang paints her own portrait of Mao's character, while explaining to the reader how her views of the Great Helmsman (which are initially that he is a concerned and intelligent leader, a view which was and is shared by many people in the Western world) evolved and changed with each new hardship his policies brought to her family and to the country in general. Chang describes how she came to realize that Mao is was the God she has been brainwashed to have absolute faith in, but a tyrant whose main objective was to secure his own absolute power over China.
Chang's work is very relevant in the study of post-imperial China. As well as describing person experiences, it follows China's changing social policies and gives insight into the lives of Chinese people from all walks of life during these times. The main focus of Wild Swans is the lives of three women in China making the novel even more pertinent. Most historical and personal accounts of life in 20th Century China are written by men. By reading Wild Swans, one can take away an idea of the politics of China over the past 80 years, and a wonderful story of adventure and courage in the face of unimaginable hardship.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2005
More moving than any textbook could be, Wild Swans is an amazingly detailed firsthand account of the struggles of 20th century China. I feel foolish for not knowing more about Communism, Mao, the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution before now. Chang does a great job of drawing you into this world by telling the stories of her grandmother, mother and herself and the horrific violence and political turmoil they lived through which affected their lives to a great degree as it did all Chinese during this time. This is not light reading - it is chalk full of detail to convey the stories, culture, and most of all the sense that life, liberty and knowledge are not to be taken for granted even in this day and age. I was admittedly fascinated by the fact that this book is not allowed in mainland China and made me want to read it all the more - and came away not disappointed.