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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung…

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China (original 1991; edition 1993)

by Jung Chang

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,979143876 (4.14)1 / 407
A Chinese woman chronicles the struggle of her grandmother, her mother, and herself to survive in a China torn apart by wars, invasions, revolution, and continuing upheaval, from 1907 to the present.
Title:Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
Authors:Jung Chang
Info:Flamingo (1993), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 704 pages
Collections:Your library, Book, Fiction

Work details

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang (1991)

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English (115)  Dutch (9)  Spanish (5)  German (4)  French (2)  Swedish (2)  Danish (1)  Hebrew (1)  Catalan (1)  Japanese (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  All languages (142)
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"as the revolution was made by human beings, it was burdened with their failings."

Wild Swans is a memoir of three generations of author Jung Chang’s family, principally the lives of her grandmother, mother and herself but through the lives of these three successive generations the reader is given a front row seat into some of the most momentous events of the twentieth century allowing them to understand and appreciate what they meant to the country from a very personal level.

While, this book provides an insight into the lives of ordinary Chinese people over a momentous period of roughly 70 years, in a nation that convulses from seismic upheavals from one crumbling after the overthrow of its Emperor, to occupation of the Japanese, the rise of the the Nationalist Kuomintang to eventual Communist rule under Chairman Mao.

Yet is difficult to view this family as anything but ordinary. Each generation possesses intelligence, strength of will, emotional fortitude and a strong work ethic, qualities that earn Jung Chang's parents influential positions within the new communist government on merit. However, the Communist Party would always view Chang’s mother with suspicion; coming from a city which was under Japanese and Kuomintang occupation for so long and where she was known to be politically active.

The first half of the book centres around Chang’s parents and in particular their seemingly difficult relationship. Her father, Wang Yu, was a deeply committed member of the Communist Party, to the extent that he frequently puts the party before his own family failing to support his wife either in public or in private. Chang doesn't blame the party but instead turns her resentment on her father.

"My father’s devotion to communism was absolute: he felt he had to speak the same language in private, even to his wife, that he did in public. My mother was much more flexible; her commitment was tempered by both reason and emotion. She gave a space to the private; my father did not."

For a time, the family live a life of privilege, due to Wang Yu’s high rank, but the growing influence of Mao would bring devastation, depression and disillusionment to both the family unit and to the country as a whole under his and his cohorts brutal dictatorship. The final third of this novel centres around the author’s relationship with the cult of Mao. As her family are brutalised the author struggles to separate her devotion to the cause and Mao's achievements in the country for China from the realities of what is happening around her.

"It was in this period that I started to realise that it was Mao who was really responsible for the Cultural Revolution. But I still did not condemn him explicitly, even in my own mind. It was so difficult to destroy a god!"

On the whole I found this a fascinating read about a series of extraordinary events in a country and a time that I knew little about beforehand but I must also admit that I struggled a little with the author's matter-of-fact writing style. I realise that this is a non-fiction novel and as such she probably didn't want to air her parent's personal relationship too freely yet the lack of anything other than guarded emotion I found a touch disconcerting. The author credits her husband with helping her to write the book so perhaps this a result of his influence or maybe it just shows an awareness of her audience. She is able to explain why Chinese people supported various groups, whether nationalists or Communists at various times without rancour or bitterness. As such Wild Swans would certainly be on a short-list for featuring my favourite non-fiction book.

"I could understand ignorance, but I could not accept its glorification, still less its right to rule." ( )
  PilgrimJess | Sep 29, 2019 |
China - where idealism, the wish for stability, and megalomania met. The best book I've read on life in China throughout the rise of communism and Mao. ( )
  carliwi | Sep 23, 2019 |
My friend Katie wrote how I felt on this book better than I could. It was thought provoking, and managed to make a time in China's history as clear as can be. A must read for anyone interested in modern Chinese history. Best book I've read in 2015 so far. Thanks for reviewing this book and piquing my interest, Katie! ( )
  rkcraig88 | Jul 15, 2019 |
This is an epic personal story of life in China over much of the 20th century, told through the stories of three generations of women in one family. The author has lived in Britain since becoming one of the first Chinese students to get a doctorate at a British university since before the communist takeover in 1949. Her grandmother's family came from Manchuria in the extreme north of China, and at the age of 15 in 1924 she was given away as a concubine to one of the warlords vying for control in this part of China in the vacuum created by the overthrow of the last Chinese emperor in 1912. Her mother, the daughter of this union, was one of the early idealistic communists in the years leading up to the 1949 revolution and for the first few heady years of the new regime when there seemed to be a genuine attempt to create a better society and reduce the oppressive and miserable life of the majority of the population, especially in rural areas. The book covers in depth the dramatic and horrific events that followed: the initially promising but quickly aborted attempt at liberalisation that was the Hundred Flowers campaign; the "Great Leap Forward", where much of the country was forced to produce steel to boost industry, to such an extent that agriculture collapsed and famine ensued, in which some 30 million people died, including the author's uncle and great-aunt; then, after a brief period of reform, the appalling "Cultural Revolution", Mao's attempt to create a personal rule, overthrowing much of his own communist apparatus, which dislocated society and economy, destroying much of the country's cultural and historical infrastructure, effectively abolishing education, burning nearly all books, banning films, theatre and sport, seriously blighting the author's teenage years and adult adulthood; and which, despite some relaxation after 1972, didn't fully end until after Mao's death and the overthrow of the Gang of Four, led by his wife, in autumn 1976.

Despite this litany of catastrophe, there is hope in the love and closeness of the family, centred here around the three eponymous amazing and strong-minded women. After the death of her warlord "husband", who treated her fairly decently by the standards of the time, the grandmother found happiness married to a much older man; the mother found love with a fellow communist and, despite strains caused by her husband's principled but rigid puritanism, their marriage survived their vicious denunciations by Red Guards and others at the appalling mass meetings, and their imprisonment in labour camps until the early 1970s. The physical and mental strains of years of humiliation and subjection to forced labour and psychological pressures, killed the author's father at the age of only 54 in 1975. In the relatively more relaxed atmosphere of the later 1970s, especially after the restoration to power of Deng Xiaoping, the future paramount leader in the 80s and 90s, the author was able to study abroad and the lives of her mother and other family members, as well as that of hundreds of millions of other Chinese, improved dramatically, albeit within the framework of what remains of course a one party communist state. The afterword recounts in brief the author's life in Britain and the original publication of this book in 1991 (what I have read is the 25th anniversary edition). One thing I would like to have heard a bit more about, though, was how she was able to defect to Britain after gaining her doctorate in 1982. This is a magnificent and absorbing book, with much to say about human nature at its best and worse, and the horrors that blind adherence to an ideology can bring about. 5/5 ( )
  john257hopper | Jun 15, 2019 |
This memoir recounts the story of three generations of Chinese women, the author, her mother, and her grandmother. Their lives cover a very turbulent time period in China's history and it's fascinating to see the difference in choices and the huge changes going on in China. The book starts with Jung Chang's grandmother, who hyad her feet bound and as a beautiful young woman, made a very fortunate match as the concubine yof a general. The story then follows her mother who grows up during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria and becomes a very powerful member of the Communist Party. But their lives are filled with turmoil as the country goes through the Great Leap Forward and the devastating Cultural Revolution. We see the transformation of the country and the drastic change to the lives of Chinese people at all levels. What I thought was especially fascinating was to see how the author changes from idealistic Communist filled with pride and love for Chairman Mao to disillusionment as she discovers the political corruption of the party, resulting in the deaths and destruction of millions of Chinese.

Excellent writing and excellent story. ( )
  jmoncton | Feb 23, 2019 |
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» Add other authors (33 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chang, Jungprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Castelli Gair, GianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Castelli-Gair Hombría, GianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chu-tanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gair, Gian CastelliTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hout, Bert Willem van derCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Syrier, PaulTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my grandmother and my father
who did not live to see this book
First words
At the age of fifteen my grandmother became the concubine of a warlord general, the police chief of a tenuous national government of China.
With luck, one could fall in love after getting married.
They had been brought up in the fanatical personality cult of Mao and the militant doctrine of "class struggle".  They were endowed with the qualities of youth - they were rebellious, fearless, eager to fight for a "just cause", thirsty for adventure and action. They were also irresponsible, ignorant and easy to manipulate - and prone to violence.
When I came home that afternoon, I found my father in the kitchen. He had lit a fire in the big cement sink, and was hurling his books into the flames.
This was the first time in my life I had seen him weeping. It was agonized, broken, and wild, the weeping of a man who was not used to shedding tears. Every now and then, in fits of violent sobs, he stamped his feet on the floor and banged his head against the wall.
... My father had spent every spare penny on his books. They were his life. After the bonfire, I could tell that something had happened to his mind.
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Alleen schrijvers met een uitzonderlijk talent lukt het om grote historische gebeurtenissen zo te beschrijven dat de lezer diep geëmotioneerd raakt. Een schrijver moet ook over veel overtuigings- en verbeeldingskracht beschikken om de lezer deelgenoot te maken van de gevoelens die de personages beheersen. Over dat talent beschikt de Chinese schrijfster Jung Chang. In Wilde zwanen, drie dochters van China vertelt zij de buitengewone levensgeschiedenis van haar grootmoeder, concubine van een generaal in het feodale China; en ten slotte het indrukwekkende verhaal hoe zij zelf als jong meisje in China opgroeide. Wilde zwanen geeft een panoramische visie van drie vrouwen op een complexe samenleving in de vorm van intieme memoires, prachtige portretten en verteld als een meeslepende kroniek van het twintigste-eeuwse China. En ondanks de haast onvoorstelbare gruwelen die de familie van Jung Chang ten deel zijn gevallen en die door de auteur op bijna onderkoelde manier worden beschreven, is Wilde zwanen een indrukwekkende getuigenis van optimistisch geloof in een rechtvaardige samenleving met gelijke rechten en gelijke kansen voor ieder individu.
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