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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. One of the most fascinating books I have ever read Not only do I feel I got an honest history of communist China, its story plays out like a novel I never wanted to put it down Chang excels at pulling it together for you showing you the differences between her Grandmother s life, her mother s life and her own, moving chronologically in a manner that makes such good sense I completely followed it despite my absolute dearth of knowledge on the subject of China I wept with her and felt an almost physical pain at the loss of such an ancient culture during the Maoist regime I live in such an easy world, with freedoms I don t even consider being thankful for Reading her family s story makes me look with a different perspective at my own life and the community and culture in which I was raised I want to tell everyone about it. How far could Chinese patriarchy go in the early twentieth century to make the lives of women sheer humiliation and misery Here in Wild Swans we have that question tidily answered This is a tale of the lives of three generations of Chinese women the author, her mother and her grandmother Author Jung Chang s grandmother had her feet bound a hideously painful process undertaken solely so that some man might one day find her lustworthy enough to take as a concubine The years long process of foot binding of smashing the toes with a rock and binding them under the sole of the foot is thoroughly explained Author Chang s grandmother was thus encrippled and eventually traded off to a general of one of the factions vying for control of the country in 1920 All this so her wretch of a great grandfather Yang could raise his own material status, buy land and accumulate concubines I have read of stories purdah, the seraglio and Morman four wiving, but never have I come across such a harrowing description of the degradation of women that I have found here Mind numbing are the cruel stratagems of the concubines back at the family home to degrade Yang s first wife Chang s great grandmother and freeze her out of her own home I was aware of this social structure before through works by the writers Jonathan Spence, Anchee Min, Nien Cheng, Harry Wu and others, but never have I had such a vivid picture of how the first wife concubine pecking order played out in the daily life of a Chinese family as I ve had here It is beyond belief Then in 1930, released from her bond of concubinage on the death of the general, the grandmother whose name Yu fang translates as jade fragrant flowers falls in love with a Manchu doctor, who is determined to marry her as his wife This sends his large family into conniptions since it means Jade will have to be accorded reverence in line with the doctor s strict Manchu standards of filial respect And at 65 he is almost three times her age Perhaps if it weren t for his wealth there would be less of a fuss, but a new wife has implications for the eventual distribution of his estate s assets In protest one of his sons shoots himself dead This act of greed for the family is worried only about its own dispossession, nothing drives Dr Xia to divide his possessions among his sons and move to a shack on the outskirts of Jinzhou which is a cholera epidemic waiting to happen Yet there, he and Jade and the author s mother find some happiness despite the fact that the doctor is penniless and must start at the bottom And all of the above in the book s first 44 pages Next we learn of the horrors committed during the Second Sino Japanese War the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, in which Jinzhou is located Dr Mrs Xia are able to save a friend from the Japanese by befriending the prison garroter, Dong, who promises them not to strangle the man fatally, only partially, so he ll look dead enough to be transported to the foul smelling communal grave at the end of town There, the Xias extract him from a tangle of bodies he s still breathing take him home and nurse him back to health This man, Han Chen, later goes to work for Kuomintang intelligence where he procures a membership ID for Mrs Xia s son which allows him to avoid military service and keep working in the doctor s medicine shop where he s most needed He even gets Dong a job After the war there were so many saved by Dong from the Japanese reaper in this way that survivors pooled their monies and bought the former executioner a little house for his retirement Heroism takes strange forms.The Japanese were defeated in 1945 and the second and concluding portion of the Chinese Civil War resumed The author s mother now turns out to be this capable community organizer on the Communist side She distributes propaganda The Nationalist bigwigs are seen as corrupt and lacking discipline The Communists were promising the populace things they would never deliver on, such as the retention of personal property In Jinzhou, the author says, the Communists were perceived as innovators who would make the lives of the people better Another sneaky thing the Communists did, while the Nationalists were busy fighting the Japanese, they intensified their propaganda and brought the people over to their side Anyway, as you may know, neither side comes out smelling like a rose.Need to finish 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. Simply put, Wild Swans is a poor man s Life and Death in Shanghai Reason being that that while the initial chapters about Jung Chang s grandmother are informative and interesting as it gives us a peek into the life of people in Pre Communist China as the book progresses, Chang s ignorance as she was a little girl at that time about the events happening around her becomes a permanent annoyance I am not saying that Chang was still ignorant about what happened in China during the Great Leap Forward and The Cultural Revolution after she grew up she definitely knows her history, but it seems that she has tried her level best to hide that in her book She would write something like, My dad was very sad about the things that were happening in China but for me it was very difficult to understand it at that time And then she would start talking about something else without even clarifying her point Even with the benefit of hindsight, it seems that she never really wanted to write in detail about the causes, reactions and outcomes of the events like The Cultural Revolution.Her book is what the title itself suggests, about three daughters of China, but it is only and only about the three daughters of China and I was expecting it to be a little than that Chang took her time to tell her story, 700 odd pages in all, so it s only fair to expect her to write about China s history, but instead she chose to write about the flowers in the garden of the hospital where her father was being treated during the Cultural Revolution Even Mme Mao and her Gang of Four , the main perpetrators of The Cultural Revolution , gets only a passing mention As a biography, Wild Swans is a good book But if you want to read a detailed history of The Cultural Revolution and of China at that time, read Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng instead of this book In my opinion, Life and Death in Shanghai is the best book written on The Cultural Revolution and also one of the best autobiographies ever written If you are going to read both the books which I did , I suggest you start with Wild Swans first which I didn t , because if you read Life and Death in Shanghai before reading this book, chances are that you might end up appreciating Wild Swans much less than what you might have been predicting at the start. A fascinating description of one family s experiences of China s political upheavals during the 20th century Although Jung Chang s family are fairly privileged much of the time, they still experience great hardships being an official and Party member was no guarantee of immunity from persecution and even torture.HARD TO CATEGORISE BUT DON T BE DAUNTEDIt s part biography autobiography and part a historical political psychological exposition of how Communist China came into being and to how it maintained its hold on its citizens However, it has the readability of a novel, eschewing sheer horror and dry history quite an achievement.This book can seem daunting because of its size, subject matter and fame, but it s actually a riveting read and although some of the content is harrowing, the writing style is very easy going It is a complex story, but it is never confusing I also think some people may be put off because it s subtitled Three daughters of China and so wrongly assume it s primarily about and for women In fact one of the most powerfully drawn characters is Jung Chang s father born poor, largely self educated, who loved literature, was a passionate and principled Communist putting Party before family , rising to power as an official, but who couldn t cope when he saw his beliefs being violated in the name of the Party.CONTRADICTIONS INHERENT IN THE SYSTEMAlthough I have read many books about China, this one gets to the heart of the contradictions of The Party and how to brainwash a vast nation far better than many others When Jung Chang subsequently wrote an autobiography of Mao, she d already done much of the groundwork in Wild Swans.Brutality and hypocrisy of various kinds are described, but it s some of the subtler hardships that were especially vivid I find it extraordinary that strong family ties could coexist with couples not allowed to live together and an apparent casualness resignation of children left to live with wet nurses, relatives or in boarding nurseries for years During the Cultural Revolution, ignorance was glorified even in universities and beautiful artefacts destroyed the family were expelled from the official compound and sent to live in rooms in an old mansion beauty was so despised that my family was sent to this lovely house as a punishment UNEXPECTED HUMOURThere is humour too sending those studying English to a southern port to practise by talking to foreign sailors not being able to rename a street whose sign was too high, and traffic chaos when it was decided that red was a positive colour so oughtn t to mean stop The extraordinary degree of organisation in some aspects of life and none in others also throws up lighthearted contradictions, such as being sent to learn from the peasants, with no guidance as to what was to be learnt and when the peasants didn t want them being extra mouths was worse than being extra, not very useful hands.FLAWSThe main problems with it are minor, but nonetheless irritating Because it s biographical, main characters are referred to as my mother , my father s mother in law etc, which can get confusing when characters talk about their relatives in similar terms Some passages sound clich d that is partly because I have read many other books on similar subjects, but it is also because at times the writing style actually is somewhat banal and clich d Although the political history is explained very well, because it is also biographical, important events that didn t affect the family e.g the Long March are barely mentioned and this is where its confused identity between autobiography and political text book are a weakness.Nevertheless, this is an insightful, accessible and enjoyable book HORROR AND HOPEThere are many horrors in this book though generally not graphically described , but I didn t find it depressing overall the indomitable spirit of many of the people, coupled with the fact I know Jung Chang is now happy and successful, gave an air of hope.FREEDOM China s people are still far from free, but having read this book and travelled round China in 92 and 08, the transformation is remarkable and ongoing. If you read only one book about twentieth century China, let this be the one A mish mash of personal memoir, family saga, history, feminist literature, and global and Chinese politics, Wild Swans Three Daughters of China covers it all vividly The book covers the life of Jung Chang s grandmother, her mother, and herself over the course of a China that was constantly changing in response to the changing times and the challenges it was facing.Chang starts off with her grandmother s story a concubine to a feudal lord, she managed to escape to freedom with her daughter, Chang s mother, who, in turn, became a rebel and supported the communists Chang herself appears to be the least rebellious of these three women, but that doesn t detract from her strength in facing the daily challenges of living in Communist China under Madman Mao.One of the most interesting things I found about this book was how it seamlessly depicted the enormous changes that took place in within a hundred years While the grandmother was fully immersed in traditional ways and superstitions, this gradually changed over the years Another thing I really loved about this book is how Chang kept challenging the practice of Maoism by demanding why the status of women had not changed and why they were still subject to the old ideas and customs, despite the communist revolution I loved how Chang managed to put her finger on the right places and ask the right questions.While this book is a memoir of one single family, Chang makes the attempt to weave in the broader political and historical issues of the times wherever appropriate This gives Wild Swans a much broader scope than most memoirs and provides a comprehensive understanding of Chinese history and politics over the last century I really appreciated this as Chang has obviously taken the time to research many things and has managed to keep a distance between her own experiences and historical facts.One last question that does remain to be answered Why has China not eschewed Mao yet It has been than forty years since he died, and yet the official stance is one of reverence and deification The idea apparently is that it would hurt the image of the Communist Party, but I genuinely fail to understand why The best thing anyone can do is to show Mao in his full idiocy to the masses But as it stands today, his body is preserved and revered It s an insult to the entire country I am not surprised Wild Swans is banned in China, as well as all of the other books by Chang.If you have even a remote interest in China, Chinese people, Chinese history, or Chinese politics, this book is a must read Wild Swans is a candid and harrowing account of three remarkable Chinese women grandmother, mother and daughter but also gives us a very good picture of what China was like from the turn of the Century to the 1980 sWe learn about the ancient culture of the Chinese which included much that was beautiful and some that seems cruel We learn of the hope of so many Chinese that the overthrow of the Kuomintang would lead to a just social order but how it soon became clear that the worst excesses of the Kuomintang and those of Imperial China before that paled into insignificance compared to the hell on earth created by Mao s Chinese Communist PartyOne is left aghast that a system can destroy even the most basic human instincts of decency and compassion while turning people into inhumane monsters totally possessed as if by a demon by a cruel and totally destructive systemIt sends shivers down one s spine to realise that The Great Helmsman Mao Ze Dong who ranks with Hitler and Stalin as among the most evil men of the 20th century had his image worn on T shirts by progressive students and youth in the west and these same young champions of equality hung large pictures of Mao in their dormitory rooms.This at the same time as millions of Chinese were being slaughtered and physically and psychologically maimed on the orders of Mao and his Chinese Communist Party as described in this book.Today many in the West laud the economic reforms towards a type of totalitarian capitalist system but fail to remember that human rights have not improved at all and China is still a hideous and inhuman hell for hundreds of millions of its inhabitants And the world turns a blind eye While we a re left asking how much longer the people of China will remain enslaved by their inhumane Communist masters How Long But the book is also about the strength of the human spirit , about wonderful people especially the three remarkable women who are the central characters of this book as well as the cruel onesIt is a story of love and hate, strength and weakness , the beautiful and the uglyBut than anything it is about how the human spirit can never in the end be crushed by cruelty, evil and tyranny At first I did not want to voice my opinion of this book since it cut so near to the bone and was such a profound shock to read in 1993 It was, however, the first book, after reading Isabelle Allende, that kept me awake for several weeks afterwards No other book ever managed to achieve that.It certainly is a depressing book, no beating around the bush about that, but also such a courageous introduction to a life of people shut away behind the veil of communism My overall impression of the book was that it must have been equally painful for the author to write it as it was for her family, three generations of women, to endure the horrific takeover of Mao Tse Tung in China As with all Communist rhetoric, so many noble promises were made to people, freedom of oppression being the biggest, and innocent poor people believed enough in the idea to die for it Those who did not want to accept it, were killed as well in their millions.However, people such as Jung s father, who staunchly believed that it would bring change for the good, staggered back in horror when the first real implications of Communism hit their lives Freedom was the first privilege to be revoked on all levels of human existence All intellectuals against the revolution were either interned or killed They all lost their jobs and their standing and their respect in society were publicly destroyed They were declared enemies of the state.The equalization of society also did not happen seamlessly and the population would soon find out what it really entailed The educational and health systems crashed completely Expropriation of land was part of the plan Landowners were brutally murdered, land grabbing became the order of the day Land redistribution soon led to the most staggering overgrazing and erosion of fertile land over millions of hectares Large parts of China became an instant man made desert Poverty and famine increased substantially and exponentially Thirty million people died of hunger alone, which was a well kept secret for almost forty years.Jung Chang writes on p166 Although the Communists were apposed to torture in theory and on principle, officials were told that they should not intervene if the peasant wished to vent their anger in passionate acts of revenge against the farm owners People such as Jin were not just wealthy owners of land, but had wielded absolute and arbituary power, which they indulged in willfully, over the lives of the local population They were called e ba ferocious despots.In some areas the killing extended to ordinary landlords, who were called stones obstacles to the revolution Policy towards the stones was When in doubt, kill My father thought this was wrong and told his subordinates and public meetings, that only those who, unquestionably had blood on their hands should be sentenced to death In his reports to his superiors he repeatedly said that the Party should be careful with human lives, and that excessive executions would only harm the revolution It was partly because many people like my father spoke up that in February 1948 the Communist leadership issued urgent instructions to stop the violent excesses. The necklaces burning tires around an enemy of the revolution s neck , was rampantly used to kill very often innocent people If someone had a personal grudge against the victim, the latter was declared anti revolutionary and killed after street courts were held It was a method designed and used by Stalin a few decades earlier in Russia, and part of the Communist modus operandi to establish their complete control The narrative describes how an entire nation was terrorized, traumatized and intimidated into submission by various methods Everybody living in a free country should read this book The only way to understand real freedom is to get to know life when it is taken away and almost always by the very same people who used the idea to win them over to a new dispensation Although it was an exhausting book to read, it opened the dark, horrible side of the so called freedom fighters and communism to the world It is written in such a way that the history lesson flows easily along the narrative, which was compelling You need time for this book, and lots of courage However, it was beautifully written One of the best books I have ever read This book changed my life and my choice of books completely Listen to this Podcast with the author about this book. ^DOWNLOAD E-PUB ☟ Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China ↟ A New Edition Of One Of The Best Selling And Best Loved Books Of Recent Years, With A New Introduction By The Author The Publication Of Wild Swans In Was A Worldwide Phenomenon Not Only Did It Become The Best Selling Non Fiction Book In British Publishing History, With Sales Of Well Over Two Million, It Was Received With Unanimous Critical Acclaim, And Was Named The Winner Of The NCR Book Award And The British Book Of The Year Award Few Books Have Ever Had Such An Impact On Their Readers Through The Story Of Three Generations Of Women Grandmother, Mother And Daughter Wild Swans Tells Nothing Less Than The Whole Tumultuous History Of China S Tragic Twentieth Century, From Sword Bearing Warlords To Chairman Mao, From The Manchu Empire To The Cultural Revolution At Times Terrifying, At Times Astonishing, Always Deeply Moving, Wild Swans Is A Book In A Million, A True Story With All The Passion And Grandeur Of A Great Novel For This New Edition, Jung Chang Has Written A New Introduction, Bringing Her Own Story Up To Date, And Describing The Effect Wild Swans Success Has Had On Her Life