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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China Paperback – October 3, 1992
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In Wild Swans Jung Chang recounts the evocative, unsettling, and insistently gripping story of how three generations of women in her family fared in the political maelstrom of China during the 20th century. Chang's grandmother was a warlord's concubine. Her gently raised mother struggled with hardships in the early days of Mao's revolution and rose, like her husband, to a prominent position in the Communist Party before being denounced during the Cultural Revolution. Chang herself marched, worked, and breathed for Mao until doubt crept in over the excesses of his policies and purges. Born just a few decades apart, their lives overlap with the end of the warlords' regime and overthrow of the Japanese occupation, violent struggles between the Kuomintang and the Communists to carve up China, and, most poignant for the author, the vicious cycle of purges orchestrated by Chairman Mao that discredited and crushed millions of people, including her parents.
From Publishers Weekly
Bursting with drama, heartbreak and horror, this extraordinary family portrait mirrors China's century of turbulence. Chang's grandmother, Yu-fang, had her feet bound at age two and in 1924 was sold as a concubine to Beijing's police chief. Yu-fang escaped slavery in a brothel by fleeing her "husband" with her infant daughter, Bao Qin, Chang's mother-to-be. Growing up during Japan's brutal occupation, free-spirited Bao Qin chose the man she would marry, a Communist Party official slavishly devoted to the revolution. In 1949, while he drove 1000 miles in a jeep to the southwestern province where they would do Mao's spadework, Bao Qin walked alongside the vehicle, sick and pregnant (she lost the child). Chang, born in 1952, saw her mother put into a detention camp in the Cultural Revolution and later "rehabilitated." Her father was denounced and publicly humiliated; his mind snapped, and he died a broken man in 1975. Working as a "barefoot doctor" with no training, Chang saw the oppressive, inhuman side of communism. She left China in 1978 and is now director of Chinese studies at London University. Her meticulous, transparent prose radiates an inner strength. Photos. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The book is a little long, but offers a great overview of life in China for three different women during the 20th century and how life changed for women over three generations ending in the cultural revolution.
Ms. Chang writes very dryly and dispassionately about her family's torment and trouble, I suspect because it is impossible for her to deal on an emotional level with the remembrance of such things as her mother's being made to kneel on broken glass. To write in a dry, these-are-the-facts style only enhances the horror of the treatment meted out not only to her family, but to many innocent people in China.
Yes, it IS history, and ought to be read as such, but it is also an affirmation of the survival of love, family, and the human spirit in incredibly tough times. It is not a romantic novel, nor a political polemic.
Read it if you want to know more about China and why she is how she is today, but also read it if you want to know the depths and heights to which human nature can plunge or soar.