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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China Paperback – August 12, 2003
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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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Top Customer Reviews
I've come to "Wild Swans" late, learning of it only recently from a friend who lived in China awhile teaching English. Ordinarily averse to reading books others recommend to me (don't really know why) this time it worked, in part I suspect because my friend in describing some of the fascinating revelations it contained tugged back the hem of a curtain I hadn't realized was blocking my view of a land and a culture far beyond anything I had imagined. Many of the handful of disappointed readers bemoaned that "Wild Swans" didn't excite them, didn't have enough dialogue to suit their taste for action. They compared the book to works of fiction or fictionalized biographies. They must have missed the parts describing the incomprehensible horrors the Japanese committed on the Chinese in World War II, and then by the Chinese themselves in the subsequent struggles for political control and ultimately by the prevailing Communist Party and by the regime headed by Mao Zedong, a certifiable madman who relentlessly set his subjects against each other by the millions, urging them to torture and beat each other to death and drive one another to insanity and suicide.
I'm surprised anyone who claims to have been bored by author Jung Chang's descriptions of such horrific atrocities as "singing fountains", in which Red Guards split victims' heads open to entertain onlookers with the subsequent screaming and geysers of blood can read at all. Or maybe they miss the dramatic foreground music that prompts them to glance up from their cellphones in time to catch violent depictions on their wide-screen TVs.
Jung Chang builds her story, an account of China's tumultuous history during the 20th century, around the lives of three generations of women - her grandmother, mother and herself, the "wild swans" of the title. Eventually allowed to leave her politically oppressive homeland for England as a visiting scholar, she began writing "Wild Swans" after a visit of several months from her mother. Finally free of the restrictions to talk about anything that might be perceived as showing China in a negative light, Jung Chang's mother starting telling her daughter things she'd bottled up most of her life. She talked almost nonstop, even when she couldn't be with her daughter. Jung Chang said her mother left some 60 hours of taped narrative before returning to China. I could go on for pages describing the horrors these women suffered and the incredible heroism they displayed under conditions brought about by the most wicked behavior the human species has ever displayed.
This statement is bound to arouse suspicion that I'm a political shill or at least am exaggerating beyond reason, but from reading "Wild Swans" I can say with complete confidence that Mao Zedong was a genius of the most evil design ever seen on the planet. If only for the sheer magnitude of Mao's murderous subjugation of China's hundreds of millions, Hitler and Stalin were pipsqueaks in comparison. As Jung Chang observed, Hitler and Stalin relied on elites and secret police to enforce their totalitarian regimes. Mao cowed and brainwashed his subjects with cunning, bringing out their worst instincts toward service without question of his every whim. One consequence was the starvation of millions during a famine brought about solely by Mao's vanity and ignorance.
My vague, naïve sense of China left me woefully unprepared for Jung Chang's deceptively dispassionate revelations. Her straightforward, uncontrived presentation, which has a diary feel at times, gives the horrors she describes a poignance that wrenches the heart. Not that all is ghastly and bleak. Alongside the indelible image of the "singing fountains" is her childhood remembrance of having deliberately swallowed an orange seed. A family member had warned her not to swallow the seeds or orange trees would grow out of her head. She admitted having trouble getting to sleep that night worrying about it.
I prefer this memory to the other, although I know both will ever remain with me.
The author Jung Chang, who emigrated to London, also describes the joy of literature, beauty in architecture and nature, travel, and participation in a free and open society that I myself experience and, I fear, take for granted.
I recommend this book to anyone who has family members who left China during the Cultural Revolution, to anyone whose mother and grandmothers have been strong positive influences in their life, and to all who want to recognize and learn about the destructive effects of being trapped in an authoritarian regime.