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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China Paperback – October 3, 1992

4.5 out of 5 stars 1,130 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 524 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor Books (November 3, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385425473
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385425476
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,130 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,009,862 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ryan Brenner on January 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
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.Read more ›
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Format: 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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By Sandra Wang on December 5, 1999
Format: Paperback
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.Read more ›
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