Author(s): Jung ChangDownload
The story of three generations in twentieth-century China that blends the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history—a bestselling classic in thirty languages with more than ten million copies sold around the world, now with a new introduction from the author.An engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiring tale of courage and love, Jung Chang describes the extraordinary lives and experiences of her family members: her grandmother, a warlord’s concubine; her mother’s struggles as a young idealistic Communist; and her parents’ experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. Chang was a Red Guard briefly at the age of fourteen, then worked as a peasant, a “barefoot doctor,” a steelworker, and an electrician. As the story of each generation unfolds, Chang captures in gripping, moving—and ultimately uplifting—detail the cycles of violent drama visited on her own family and millions of others caught in the whirlwind of history.
Some Reviews: 5190 in Goodreads.com
Wild Swans presents the story of three generations in the life of the author’s family, which covers most of the 20th century, as well as the amazing social, political and economic changes occurring in China as a whole. We move from the portrait of a concubine with bound feet to a woman who worked alongside her Communist Party husband to bring Party ideals to fruition, then on to the granddaughter who is among the first of her generation to be allowed to leave the country to study.
Along the way, there are the classics of any family story,love and hate, birth and death, marriage with unimaginable struggles, and gradual worsening of life on a regular basis. The details should be read. Most of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s have some memory of hardships in China. We really didn’t know and it is important to know about the history of China, from pre-Communist times to the present as it explains so much.
Highly recommended as a big step in education about China in the 20th century through a personal history.
Addendum: I plan to read the introduction to the 2003 edition as I’ve heard it adds some valuable insights to the intro and epilogue available in the original 1991 edition I own.
At a conference dinner some time in the mid-90s, I found myself sitting next to this extremely impressive Chinese woman researcher – bunch of frequently cited publications, well-read in three languages, manages to look gorgeous as well. I cast around for something to say.
“I liked that Wild Swans book,” I hazarded. “Do you know it?”
She looked at me scornfully. “Any Chinese woman could have written that!” she replied. “There are a hundred million stories just like it.”
I must admit I had a little trouble believing her. But would Professor Fung have lied to me? That seems even less plausible.
I am daunted by the prospect of commenting on this book. Jung Chang tells the story of her grandmother who was a concubine to a warlord general before marrying a compassionate and principled Manchu doctor, and was one of the last generation to suffer the disabling practice of foot-binding.
She tells the story of her mother, revolutionary, committed communist, wife of a passionate political leader, whose support for the regime finally collapsed in the face of inexpressibly extreme onslaughts of violent purges, violations of basic rights and erasure of all culture and knowledge except ‘Mao theory’. It’s overwhelming just to read of the sufferings she and her generation struggled through. That these things actually happened somewhere leaves a mark on my chest.
She tells her own story of precarious survival and struggle for scraps of education under the terrifyingly unstable regime, and of her indoctrinated worship of Mao. Her father’s status sometimes allowed her family certain privileges, but these could be snatched away at any moment. When she finally wins the right to leave China, even under restrictions, the relief for the reader is intense yet unbearably conflicted by the sorrow for all those who did not escape hunger, misery, brutality and death. That Chang found herself able to bear witness is a gift. Every word of this work is a memorial to those lives narrowed, broken and wasted by a political agenda that deemed them cheap enough to sacrifice.
As Cecily points out in her review one of Chang’s great achievements here is shaping her material into a coherent narrative written with engaging clarity. Despite the great length and heavy subject matter, this book is an easy read
After reading Margitte’s excellent review just now and browsing through this book again, I’ve decided to up my rating.
* * * * * * * * *
I see that I read this hardback in 1993. I will, when I get the time, reread it just to see how I now view it.
It’s the story of three Chinese woman and it is a memoir of Jung Chang, her mother and her grandmother.
There are wonderful photos portraying China’s history, although not necessarily pleasant memories.
The author “grew up in Manchuria under Japanese and then Russian occupation”.
Yes, looking briefly again at the book, I highly recommend it.
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