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Customer Review

283 of 304 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Would that It Were More Honest, January 24, 2004
This review is from: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (Paperback)
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.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 7, 2008 1:02:26 PM PDT
I found this review most interesting. This author seems to be saying that Chang presented her parents as unrealistically good and that they must also have participated in some of the atrocities. No one was purely victim. I am saddened by this. They seemed to be idealists to the extreme and I find that sometimes idealists get an unfair share of bad treatment simply because they are perceived to be weak.

Posted on Apr 5, 2009 5:13:15 PM PDT
This comment will be most useful when my students (international students living in China) are following the story. Excellent food for discussion.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2009 3:29:18 PM PDT
J. K. Rudeen says:
jkrudeen's Wife: Please do note that she mentions her father ordering a party member to leave her newborn baby behind in the hands or strangers (The unit needed to be stealthy, moving over a lot of ground on foot), or face a court-marshal. The woman chose to leave her baby behind, perhaps forever. Her father could indeed be hard-nosed about things, even things involving the suffering of others, it didn't seem to me that she tried to downplay this.

Posted on Jul 30, 2009 11:24:02 PM PDT
Brent Gates says:
I heard that the department of public affairs was changed from the dept of propaganda, and Jung Chang admitted she did this for the benefit of the western reader to understand or identify with? It was an unnecessary mistranslation which serves no purpose for the reader and only improves the name of what her father did for the communist party, a type of sales manager using properganda (deceiving the public) about Communism. The actual mistranslation could be interpreted as properganda itself, which is a little ironic. I find it highly likely from what you say that the father was definitely worse that portayed in the book especially being a man of his position, but I doubt this has been done to save face, I just think she dosn't know all his secrets.

Posted on Sep 17, 2009 4:44:08 PM PDT
smallmadness says:
I got the same impression as you did, that Chang downplays the negative aspects of her parents' roles as Communist officials. However, to say that she whitewashes them isn't fair, either. With this book, you sort of have to read between the lines to understand that her parents' roles were a bit more complex than she can fully let on. However, upon reflection, I think it is clear why she does so; life during the Cultural Revolution was so bleak that it really brought her family together in way that she even says would not have been possible had the Cultural Revolution not happened. Her father, in particular, came across--particularly early-on--as a bit of a jerk, one of those guys who is so driven by ideology that it limits his compassion and empathy. He comes across as too cerebral and not emotional enough. Her mother, as Chang says, left her children alone in the hands of wet nurses and state-run nurseries for extended periods of time in her zealousness to discharge her duties. Thinking about that as you read the book, helps you to understand why she was not more explicit about her parents' political selves--she hints at it, without wanting to dishonor her parents--who, as you read the book--she comes to love, warts and all.

Posted on Sep 30, 2010 10:07:11 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 30, 2010 10:08:12 PM PDT
dia tsung says:
when people devote their lives to ideologies, you can be sure that no good will follow.during the cultural revolution the lunatics were in charge of the mad house, and they went on a rampage, destroying artists, writers, musicians and intellectuals with reckless abandon, to say nothing of the works of art, literature, musical instruments and everything else that did not suit their ideology. make no mistake, these people were monsters. they may have blended in to society, but in my opinion they are criminals who should be punished.
the children of cold distant and cruel parents often never get over the compulsion to win their love and approval. it is often impossible for them to be objective and honest about the parent's misdeeds. i read another book written by a chinese 'daughter' - i think it was called 'fallen leaves', and i was saddened to see how this woman could never break the spell cast over her by her sadistic step mother. i think it is something akin to the stokholm syndrome.
i felt the same way about 'daughter of persia', where a woman practically gives up her life to live in a way that upheld the ideals ( but not the behaviour) of her polygamous father.

Posted on Jan 13, 2013 1:57:14 PM PST
E. Smiley says:
Point taken about the possible idealization of the parents. I think that's pretty much to be expected when somebody writes a book like this--her mother's story is mostly based on what her mother told her, and her grandmother's story seems to be largely from what her mother told her about her grandmother (who, in turn, had to tell it to her mother). So no matter how scrupulous the author tries to be, certainly not everyone in her stories would have seen events the same way. But that's what a memoir is--one person's version of the truth.

My reading experience was different from the reviewer's in that I found the first 100 pages tedious, but felt that the book definitely picked up after that.

Posted on Apr 2, 2013 4:22:15 PM PDT
Guo Wu says:
As a Chinese I was also very troubled by the deliberately distorted translation of Xuan chuan into "Public Affairs". No Chinese would think this is "accurate" but instead would believe the author was trying to whitewash her parents. Xuan chuan is propaganda and the job of the Department of Propaganda was, and still is to supervise all media, censor news, and decide how to deceive the public more effectively. Chang obviously did not want Western reader to think her father was doing such as notorious communist job and she knew well that propaganda is such as dirty word. I guess this was the smart idea of her husband Jon Halliday to save face.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 10, 2013 8:22:31 AM PDT
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Jul 31, 2014 9:38:35 AM PDT
a new book is in progress who will write?
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