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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.

Topics: War, Survival, China, Family, Revolution, Communism, Courage, Civil and Political Rights, Heartfelt, Dramatic, Women in History, East Asia, Chinese History, Asian History, Mothers and Daughters, Tragic, 1960s, 1920s, 1950s, Escaping Oppression, Government, and Mao Zedong

Published: Touchstone on
ISBN: 9781439106495
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Interesting. I will admit a got a little bored in certain sections of this read - not because the subject matter is boring but because the style of the prose was bland. There seemed to be a disconnect of emotion between the living and the telling.more
Wild Swans is the story of the author's family, the "three daughters" of the subtitle representing three generations. The first, Chang's grandmother, Yu-fang, was born in 1909 into a traditional Imperial China on the brink of great changes. Two years after her birth the centuries old Manchu dynasty came to an end and China became a republic. As a toddler, she was among the last women to endure the practice of crippling footbinding and as a young teen was virtually sold by her father to become a warlord's concubine. Her daughter, De-hong, in her teens worked for the Red Army resisting the Japanese occupation. She married an idealistic, uncorruptible communist who'd become a high-ranking official in Mao's People's Republic. That was the world Jung Chang was born into in 1951. One where a privileged life would largely isolate her from the effects of the man-made famine caused by the "Great Leap Forward" that took tens of millions of lives--but then came the Cultural Revolution. Her account is both farcical and heart-breaking. Mao, as she put it, was a man with a "metaphysical disregard for reality" and a "deep-seated contempt for human life." The consequences for the country, that was taught to regard him as an Emperor-God, was catastrophic. I think, when it's done well--and this is done very well--that there's probably no better way to really absorb and become engrossed in history than through biography. It's one thing to be told the bare facts and statistics--or even told isolated stories about people. It's another to learn enough about a family that they become real people in your mind, then learn the details about how such events as the Japanese Occupation, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution affected them. What happened to her father was particularly heart-breaking. But when I was moved to tears, it wasn't the suffering that undid me--but the later happiness given all that had come before. Through the story of Chang's family she's able to tell, vividly, movingly, engrossingly, the story of China in the 20th century.more
A fascinating and at times disturbing look at the lives of three women in China. The book tells the story of Chang's grandmother (who was a concubine and had her feet bound, before escaping), her mother (a member of the CCP) and then herself (growing up during the Cultural Revolution. What I found interesting about this book (after reading a few others that talking about the Cultural Revolution and the famine) was how sheltered a life Chang led. That's not to say it was easy for her family (eventually they were sent to the country and Chang herself left China). But compared to other stories, it was interesting to get the view of a daughter of the CCP (her parents were devoted to Mao and the CCP for a very long time).more
Wild Swans is a memoir of three generations of 20th century Chinese women, written by the granddaughter. The story starts with her grandmother, who undergoes foot binding as a child and is later sent off as one of the concubines of a warlord. After his death, she escapes with her daughter and marries a much older Manchurian doctor. The daughter grows up through the horrific Japanese occupation during WWII and then the following Chinese civil war, and becomes enamored with the communist dream. She marries a communist officer, and they become mid-level party elites. Jung Chang is born in 1952 into the volatile world of Chinese communism. Despite all three women having lives of privilege, all three also suffered very real horrors and hardships. One thing this book taught me is that in 20th century China, no one was exempt from suffering. Whether it was the traditional culture, WWII, or under communism, there is one word that describes this century in China: capricious.I had mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, the book's strength is the author's ability to show how the historical events of these periods in China affected people's lives. It was certainly an engaging and interesting read. She showed how communism seemed like a dramatic improvement at first. She also showed how the cult of Mao consumed the culture.However, Wild Swans was written in a very factual style that left me cold. There was no dialogue at all. The grimness was unrelenting--on every page someone was tortured or just mistreated. For most of the book it appeared that the only kind people in all of China were her relatives. Everyone else was nasty at best.I suppose some of my disappointment was that I expected the book to be more literary and less mired down in minutia. It is one of the few memoirs on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, so I was expecting something more artistic. That said, perhaps the book was better for its lack of passion, as that may have been artifice. Just a thought.Recommended for: Unless you've read a lot about 20th century China, I recommend this book for everyone. This is an important story that needs to be widely known. I've read about traditional China, and about life under communism, but this book does an excellent job of showing the progression and how one came out of the other.more
Wild Swans is a true story of three generations of Chinese women and that alone is enough for me to urge you to read this book. Jung Chang tells the tale of her grandmother, who was a concubine in old China, and the tale of her mother, a wholehearted Chinese Communist who worked for Mao, and her own tale, the tale of a child in Mao’s China and a young woman who made her way to a new life in freedom.I was saddened by the terrible consequences of power concentrated in the hands of a few in this story. Mao seemed to offer China so much hope after centuries of cruel treatment of the common man by the emperors. Yet, within a few years, Mao made decisions that resulted in the starvation and death of millions of people. In this story, Chang shares the stories of small people in the new China and the miseries they endured.It took me some time to warm up to this story. It was not until Chang had shared her grandmother’s tale and had begun to relate her mother’s story that I began to love this book. Glad I didn’t give up early.My favorite little story from the book: When Chang was a little girl, she and her siblings were sent to a nursery during the day while both of her parents worked for the Communist Party. Chang and the other children often did not want to eat the food the nursery workers prepared. The nursery workers would taunt the children by saying, “Think of all the starving children in the capitalist world!”more
WILD SWANS is my first serious foray into twentieth-century Chinese history. For one, I am not all that big on history and memoirs. For another, I have ambiguous feelings on contemporary China, due to my Taiwanese background and my current job in Shanghai. WILD SWANS, however, was an eye-opening look into the horrors of Mao’s China and the importance of keeping history—even the bad parts—in our memories.Chang writes with a narration that is largely devoid of drama—the only way that a writer can give this horrifying historical period the respect and literary justice it deserves. At times this type of narration can make the distance between reader, writer, and events feel greater, but I appreciated this style for this tale: there is no need to play up the actual events of the Cultural Revolution with forced or extravantly elaborated prose. The result is that there is no writerly manipulation of emotions, instead just the clean human reaction to scenes of inhumane horror, and a strengthening of the bond of humanity between all sorts of readers.Whether you’re not big on nonfiction but are interested in reading about twentieth-century Chinese history, or if you enjoy memoirs but know nothing about twentieth-century Chinese history, WILD SWANS will be a heart-wrenching and searing read.more
Good, but not great. It's nonfiction but is full of stilted dialogue which seems to take it into fiction-land - and not very good fiction at that. Having said that, it was a fascinating study of a period of history that I didn't know nearly well enough. I just wish she'd written either a strict nonfiction book, or else fictionalized it. This was an odd mishmash that didn't always work.more
Synopsis: A glimpse into three generations of China during the Cultural Revolution. My Opinion: I have read many stories about Mao but I never fully understood how he became the emperor and the attraction there was towards him. A wonderfully written memoir.more
Wild Swans tells the author's family history of herself, her mother and grandmother. The center of the book is clearly the story of her parents. Her own story is limited by her impression management. She rarely opens up to reveal her inner self. The picture of her mother and father are much more fully developed. warts and all. The grandmother's story is fleshed out the least, despite her having the most difficult life transitioning from concubine in warlord China to a mother to dissidents. What is important to note is the elevated social position of the family: As one of two hundred top Communist functionaries in Sichuan among 72 million inhabitants, they were no ordinary family. Jung Chang is in a similar position as Isabel Allende, narrating her country's recent history from a privileged vantage point. The personalization of the horrible events of the Japanese occupation, the Chinese Civil War, the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution is the great strength of the book. One Chinese aspect of "hell is other people" is that the Chinese managed to oppress themselves without a KGB or Stasi. The decentralized bullying of the Red Guards and local cliques is truly frightening and ugly. The abuses happened without much of a Milgramesque authority.I never understood the appeal of Mao, especially for the 1960s European kids from bourgeois families. Much of the Red in the East was the blood of innocent victims starved and killed by one of the 20th century's totalitarian dictators. How can one gloat in the icon of Mao, given all the death this man has caused? Vienna currently hosts a strange big exhibition of kitschy Mao devotionalia, collected by an enthusiastic foreign correspondent during the 1970s. As a corrective, visitors should really be handed this book.more
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS1. What surprised you the most about Chinese history?2. What do we owe our government?3. How does the idea of socialism differ from what was practiced (pg. 415)4. Does society benefit from gender roles?5. Does the right of society weigh heavier than the right to the individual?6. Was the author's father a good man?7. Do you remember the first time you were disillusioned by your government?8. Compare how people view Mao with how people view Jesus.9. How long would you last as a peasant?10. How does this book relate to the Patriot Act, or does it?11. What about the government lies? (example – steel production)12. Which of the 3 daughters had the best life, in your opinion?13. Was Mao aware of what he did?14. Chang says it was very painful to write this book.......She was unable to do so for many years.......If you went thru what she did, could you have written about it?• This book (published in 30 languages) is now banned in midland China• Chang earned a Ph.D. in Linguistics in London• Chang grew to love life in Britain, especially its literature and the arts.• Chang lives in West London with her husband,...a British historian who specializes in Soviet history.• Chang retired in the 1990's to concentrate on her writing.• Chang's latest work is a biography of Mao, co-authored by her husband.more
Engrossing tale of three generations of Chinese women. Their lives are a window into the rapid evolution of Chinese society in the 20th century - from a fragmented society with territorial warlords to a highly centralized, controlled society under the Communists. What struck me most was the devastation wreaked by Mao's dictatorial whims (at one point he ordered all citizens to tear up grass and flowers for being too bourgeois), and the way he controlled millions largely without the use of force. Instead, he turned groups of citizens, often members of the same family, against one another through fear of punishment and loss of privilege. His commands were carried out to avoid the threat of becoming an outcast and losing privilege.more
Jung Chang recounts the experiences of her mother and grandmother in the transition from ancient China through the cultural revolution and the partial opening of China to Western Ideas in the 1970's. Her grandmother was sold as a concubine to a warlord general, and was a victim of foot-binding at an early age. She outlasted the general, married a traditional Chinese physician, lasted through Japanese occupation of northern China, the appearance of the Koumingtang, and the triumph of Mao. Her daughter became a convert to Communism, married a convinced Communist, then underwent detention, denunciation, and endless trials and imprisonments during the later revisions of Communist doctrine. She and her husband barely endured; her daughter, the author, was young enough to not have a suspicious history. This is an indictment of the Maoist system, very passionate, intensely interesting in respect to the very long time it took for the author to reject the authority and worship of Mao.more
The story of three generations in twentieth-century China is an engrossing record of Mao's impact on China. Jung Chang describes the life of her grandmother, a warlords concubine; her mother's struggles as a young idealistic Communist; her parents' experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. If there is not a special place in hell for Mao, then there is no justice in the next world.The publication of 'Wild Swans' in 1991 was a worldwide phenomenon. Not only did it become the bestselling 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 1992 NCR Book Award and the 1993 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 20th-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.more
Before beginning this book I didn’t know very much at all about Chairman Mao, but I’m obviously not alone in that. As Jung Chang says in her introduction to the 2003 edition, ‘the world knows astonishingly little about him’. This book helped me understand why the Chinese people initally welcomed communism and how millions of children grew up viewing Mao as their hero and never dreaming of questioning his regime. It also explained why many people eventually became disillusioned and why the system started to break down.One of the most horrible things in the book occurs within the first chapter when Chang describes her grandmother’s footbinding. It’s so awful to think of a little girl being forced to undergo this torture just because tiny feet (or ‘three-inch golden lilies’) were thought to be the ideal. Soon after her grandmother’s feet were bound the tradition began to disappear. However, this is just one small part of the book and the first in a long series of shocking episodes the author relates to us.Some parts of the book made me feel so angry and frustrated, such as reading about the senseless waste of food when peasants were taken away from the fields to work on increasing steel output instead, as part of Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’. The descriptions of the Cultural Revolution are also horrific; it went on for years and resulted in countless deaths. One of the most frightening things about this period was that nobody was safe – people who had been high-ranking Communist officials before the revolution suddenly found themselves branded ‘capitalist-roaders’ or ‘counter-revolutionaries’ (sometimes by their own children) and some of them were driven to suicide.The book is complete with a family tree, chronology, photographs and map of China – all of which were very useful as I found myself constantly referring to them and without them I would have had a lot more difficulty keeping track of what was going on.As you can probably imagine, it was a very depressing book, as Jung and her family experienced very few moments of true happiness. She only really sounds enthusiastic when she’s describing the natural beauty of some of the places she visited – and the pleasure she got from reading books and composing poetry, both of which were condemned during the Cultural Revolution. However, it was also the most riveting non-fiction book I’ve ever read – I kept thinking "I’ll just read a few more pages" then an hour later I was still sitting there unable to put the book down.All three of the women featured in Wild Swans – Jung Chang herself, her mother and her grandmother – were forced to endure hardships and ordeals that are unimaginable to most of us, but remained strong and courageous throughout it all. However, Wild Swans is not just the story of three women – it’s much broader in scope than that and is the story of an entire nation. So much is packed into the 650 pages of this book that I’ve barely scratched the surface in this review and if you haven’t yet read the book I hope you’ll read it for yourself – no review can really do it justice.more
Still reading, but I find myself really caring for this story right now.more
The book includes much very interesting historical information about modern Chinese history, the communist takeover and the cultural revolution. You have to read between the lines or do further research if you are interested in those aspects of Chinese culture that brought about the terrible hardship and suffering and how they continue to manifest in modern China.However, I thought the author was completely self absorbed and unbelievably selfish. She callously abandoned her mother and seems to think the cultural revolution was something personally directed at her.more
I liked the book and was pleased to learn so much about China under Mao. It was not a page turner, though, more of a history lesson, but still I am happier for having read it. Personal details that would be interesting are left out, like her relationship with Jon Halliday and other possible boyfriends in China and if she has children and more about her smart eldest brother, i.e. the really personal things instead of just a description of all the bad things that happened to people under Mao. And still even with all her attempted explanations I have trouble understanding how a billion people could be brainwashed so completely by a hypocritical fat little peasant like Mao.more
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I'm just starting to undertake a serious study of China and WILD SWANS introduces Chinese history, from the mid 1910s to the early 1980s, in a clear, welcoming format that keeps the reader engrossed in the main characters' life of pain, suffering, and torment. The presentation of the history of the Kuomingdang/Communist battles, Great Leap Forward (steel production period), all the purges, Cultural Revolution (remember the Red Guards?), etc., was written from the viewpoint of the author, Ms. Chang, who witnessed the above events first hand. Her mother, father, grandmother, and other family members all suffered tremendously. At the age of 26, after almost three decades of extreme hardship, Ms. Chang was able to leave the country on a scholarship to Britian, the first Mainland Chinese to leave Sichuan province (90 million people) since 1949. I loved this book and would definitely read it again. I was particularly impressed with the father's moral and unyielding character. He was a committed Communist to the core who refused corruption and the chance to save his own life if such action meant harming others--and he paid tremendously for taking the moral high ground. Impressive book. Five stars. 9-14-09more
I was assigned to read this book for my English class during our World History year. I usually loved what was assigned to me the four years of high school, but for some reason, I was skeptical about this book. It was thick and heavy and, because I was undergoing treatment for cancer my senior year, I was actually a little mad at my english teacher for assigning it to me. But I am incredibly glad he did. This book kept me engrossed for an entire month with its captivating story and amazing characters. . . I was literally upset when I finished it. I wanted it to go on. I've read it again twice since and recommended it to friends about 4 times (they all liked it as well). I'm not usually one for historical novels, but this was a major exception. My teacher actually let me keep this book and I'm glad for it!more
History is not a big reading interest of mine but I'm glad I made an exception in this case. This is such an interesting view of life in China during the major upheaval of Japanese occupation, the beginnings of Communist China, the insanity of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and the more modern expansion of freedoms. I learned so much about China that I hadn't known previously and the personal narrative of the author, based on the experiences of her family was inspiring and heartbreaking. I highly recommend this book.more
Wonderfully written nonfiction- the story of three women in the same family: the authors' grandmother who was a concubine, her mother who marched with Mao and herself- first part of the Cultural Revolution and then a conversion from Communism. By learning about these women's lives, one can learn about China's turbulent "recent" history.more
I loved this book. It gave me a whole new perception about China and its communist regime. Reading the book gave me the feeling of being right there in the midst of it all. A very well written book. I would highly recommend reading it.more
The Wild Swans:Three Daughters of China is the fourth book I’ve completed for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. This memoir won the British Book Awards “Book of the Year” in 1994. Wild Swans tells the story of three generations of women in Jung Chang’s family: her grandmother, her mother, and herself. It spans the years from 1909, when her grandmother was born, to 1978, the year Jung Chang left China to study in Great Britain.Wild Swans encompasses the personal history of Chang’s family, as well as the tumultuous history of China. At the age of 15 Yu-fang, the author’s grandmother, became the concubine of a warlord. Jung Chang’s mother, De-hong, was born 7 years later. After the war lord’s death in 1933, Yu-fang married Dr. Xia. De-hong was raised in his household, as one of his children. Jung Chang was born in 1952, the second of 5 children born to De-hong and her husband, Shou-yu.This book details the family’s struggles, as China itself struggles. Some events that impact the family include: World War II; the rise of Mao Tse Tung and the Communist party,;the founding of the People’ Republic of China; the Great Leap Forward; the Cultural Revolution; and China’s eventual opening up to the West.Chang’s parents are loyal Communists, yet they suffer denunciation, re-education and imprisonment. The entire family is subject to the daily indignities of life in a totalitarian society. As children, Chang and her siblings rarely see their parents. Fortunately, Yu-fang is able to care for them.Wild Swans is a very long and complex book. The appendices include a brief chronology of modern China juxtaposed with Chang’s family’s milestones. There is also a very helpful family tee and a map of China. I referred to these often. This memoir is quite thorough. I learned a tremendous amount about modern China.Unfortunately, it did get a bit repetitious. We read numerous times that De-hong was upset that her husband put his very strict Communist principles before his family’s well-being. And the family’s constant struggles with other Communist Party officials, while important, are also tedious after a while. Some of the language seems a bit stilted. Chang did not learn English until her early 20’s, and the awkwardness shows. Overall, this memoir was quite good. It took me a very long time to read it, and I think it would be improved greatly by skillful editing.more
Much more my sort of biography, dates, time lines, notable events, facts that could potentially be verified if one had the will and the papers were not destroyed in the Cultural Revolution etc. Full of details of the lives of a family of three women in China. Only a bit of dialogue , thankfully, and all of the type of which the gist could be realistically recalled.more
This is a good book. It is the experience of three generations of Chinese women. Grandmother - before the revolution, mother- during the communist take over, daughter (author) - during the Cultural Revolution. It is a good look at how the whims and wishes of one man, Mao, could bring a country to the brink of meltdown. These experiences may explain why the author wrote a biography critical of Mao that some LTers were not happy with.more
Jung Chang’s powerful memoir transports us to twentieth century China, where we are given a glimpse of society through the thoughts and actions of three generations of her family. The unfolding of the lives of Chang’s grandmother, a concubine of a warlord, and her parents, communist idealists and party leaders, is deeply moving. We watch as hopes and enthusiasm brought about by the start of Communism are very gradually replaced by disillusionment and suffering brought on by Mao’s policies and the Cultural Revolution. This book is banned in China even today, more than 30 years after Mao's death. Having grown up in a democracy, Chang’s descriptions of life under a dictator like Mao are surprising and revealing to me. I feel that this was an important work for me to read and it has changed my understanding of politics and the world.more
The big shortcoming of an historical overview is that it distances you from the events it covers. You see the story unfolding from above and rarely get a feeling for what it was like for the people actually living through it. That's why it's good to pepper one's reading of history with first hand accounts. Wild Swans is one such account. It's the story of "three daughters of China"--the biographies of the author, her mother and grandmother. It covers most of the 20th Century in China, detailing the family's experiences through the fall of the Manchu Dynasty, the Chinese Republic, the Japanese occupation and the reign of Mao Zedong. It's an amazing tale of hardship and survival. Indeed, the book put me in awe of a people who could endure so much tsuris and yet become the happy and vibrant people I live among today. Of course, I have yet to hear their stories. Maybe Ms. Chang's tale is unique. Even so, it's a book I yearn to put on my shelf.--J.more
Love books about Chinese history through the eyes of a family living through it.more
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Reviews

Interesting. I will admit a got a little bored in certain sections of this read - not because the subject matter is boring but because the style of the prose was bland. There seemed to be a disconnect of emotion between the living and the telling.more
Wild Swans is the story of the author's family, the "three daughters" of the subtitle representing three generations. The first, Chang's grandmother, Yu-fang, was born in 1909 into a traditional Imperial China on the brink of great changes. Two years after her birth the centuries old Manchu dynasty came to an end and China became a republic. As a toddler, she was among the last women to endure the practice of crippling footbinding and as a young teen was virtually sold by her father to become a warlord's concubine. Her daughter, De-hong, in her teens worked for the Red Army resisting the Japanese occupation. She married an idealistic, uncorruptible communist who'd become a high-ranking official in Mao's People's Republic. That was the world Jung Chang was born into in 1951. One where a privileged life would largely isolate her from the effects of the man-made famine caused by the "Great Leap Forward" that took tens of millions of lives--but then came the Cultural Revolution. Her account is both farcical and heart-breaking. Mao, as she put it, was a man with a "metaphysical disregard for reality" and a "deep-seated contempt for human life." The consequences for the country, that was taught to regard him as an Emperor-God, was catastrophic. I think, when it's done well--and this is done very well--that there's probably no better way to really absorb and become engrossed in history than through biography. It's one thing to be told the bare facts and statistics--or even told isolated stories about people. It's another to learn enough about a family that they become real people in your mind, then learn the details about how such events as the Japanese Occupation, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution affected them. What happened to her father was particularly heart-breaking. But when I was moved to tears, it wasn't the suffering that undid me--but the later happiness given all that had come before. Through the story of Chang's family she's able to tell, vividly, movingly, engrossingly, the story of China in the 20th century.more
A fascinating and at times disturbing look at the lives of three women in China. The book tells the story of Chang's grandmother (who was a concubine and had her feet bound, before escaping), her mother (a member of the CCP) and then herself (growing up during the Cultural Revolution. What I found interesting about this book (after reading a few others that talking about the Cultural Revolution and the famine) was how sheltered a life Chang led. That's not to say it was easy for her family (eventually they were sent to the country and Chang herself left China). But compared to other stories, it was interesting to get the view of a daughter of the CCP (her parents were devoted to Mao and the CCP for a very long time).more
Wild Swans is a memoir of three generations of 20th century Chinese women, written by the granddaughter. The story starts with her grandmother, who undergoes foot binding as a child and is later sent off as one of the concubines of a warlord. After his death, she escapes with her daughter and marries a much older Manchurian doctor. The daughter grows up through the horrific Japanese occupation during WWII and then the following Chinese civil war, and becomes enamored with the communist dream. She marries a communist officer, and they become mid-level party elites. Jung Chang is born in 1952 into the volatile world of Chinese communism. Despite all three women having lives of privilege, all three also suffered very real horrors and hardships. One thing this book taught me is that in 20th century China, no one was exempt from suffering. Whether it was the traditional culture, WWII, or under communism, there is one word that describes this century in China: capricious.I had mixed feelings about this book. On the positive side, the book's strength is the author's ability to show how the historical events of these periods in China affected people's lives. It was certainly an engaging and interesting read. She showed how communism seemed like a dramatic improvement at first. She also showed how the cult of Mao consumed the culture.However, Wild Swans was written in a very factual style that left me cold. There was no dialogue at all. The grimness was unrelenting--on every page someone was tortured or just mistreated. For most of the book it appeared that the only kind people in all of China were her relatives. Everyone else was nasty at best.I suppose some of my disappointment was that I expected the book to be more literary and less mired down in minutia. It is one of the few memoirs on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, so I was expecting something more artistic. That said, perhaps the book was better for its lack of passion, as that may have been artifice. Just a thought.Recommended for: Unless you've read a lot about 20th century China, I recommend this book for everyone. This is an important story that needs to be widely known. I've read about traditional China, and about life under communism, but this book does an excellent job of showing the progression and how one came out of the other.more
Wild Swans is a true story of three generations of Chinese women and that alone is enough for me to urge you to read this book. Jung Chang tells the tale of her grandmother, who was a concubine in old China, and the tale of her mother, a wholehearted Chinese Communist who worked for Mao, and her own tale, the tale of a child in Mao’s China and a young woman who made her way to a new life in freedom.I was saddened by the terrible consequences of power concentrated in the hands of a few in this story. Mao seemed to offer China so much hope after centuries of cruel treatment of the common man by the emperors. Yet, within a few years, Mao made decisions that resulted in the starvation and death of millions of people. In this story, Chang shares the stories of small people in the new China and the miseries they endured.It took me some time to warm up to this story. It was not until Chang had shared her grandmother’s tale and had begun to relate her mother’s story that I began to love this book. Glad I didn’t give up early.My favorite little story from the book: When Chang was a little girl, she and her siblings were sent to a nursery during the day while both of her parents worked for the Communist Party. Chang and the other children often did not want to eat the food the nursery workers prepared. The nursery workers would taunt the children by saying, “Think of all the starving children in the capitalist world!”more
WILD SWANS is my first serious foray into twentieth-century Chinese history. For one, I am not all that big on history and memoirs. For another, I have ambiguous feelings on contemporary China, due to my Taiwanese background and my current job in Shanghai. WILD SWANS, however, was an eye-opening look into the horrors of Mao’s China and the importance of keeping history—even the bad parts—in our memories.Chang writes with a narration that is largely devoid of drama—the only way that a writer can give this horrifying historical period the respect and literary justice it deserves. At times this type of narration can make the distance between reader, writer, and events feel greater, but I appreciated this style for this tale: there is no need to play up the actual events of the Cultural Revolution with forced or extravantly elaborated prose. The result is that there is no writerly manipulation of emotions, instead just the clean human reaction to scenes of inhumane horror, and a strengthening of the bond of humanity between all sorts of readers.Whether you’re not big on nonfiction but are interested in reading about twentieth-century Chinese history, or if you enjoy memoirs but know nothing about twentieth-century Chinese history, WILD SWANS will be a heart-wrenching and searing read.more
Good, but not great. It's nonfiction but is full of stilted dialogue which seems to take it into fiction-land - and not very good fiction at that. Having said that, it was a fascinating study of a period of history that I didn't know nearly well enough. I just wish she'd written either a strict nonfiction book, or else fictionalized it. This was an odd mishmash that didn't always work.more
Synopsis: A glimpse into three generations of China during the Cultural Revolution. My Opinion: I have read many stories about Mao but I never fully understood how he became the emperor and the attraction there was towards him. A wonderfully written memoir.more
Wild Swans tells the author's family history of herself, her mother and grandmother. The center of the book is clearly the story of her parents. Her own story is limited by her impression management. She rarely opens up to reveal her inner self. The picture of her mother and father are much more fully developed. warts and all. The grandmother's story is fleshed out the least, despite her having the most difficult life transitioning from concubine in warlord China to a mother to dissidents. What is important to note is the elevated social position of the family: As one of two hundred top Communist functionaries in Sichuan among 72 million inhabitants, they were no ordinary family. Jung Chang is in a similar position as Isabel Allende, narrating her country's recent history from a privileged vantage point. The personalization of the horrible events of the Japanese occupation, the Chinese Civil War, the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution is the great strength of the book. One Chinese aspect of "hell is other people" is that the Chinese managed to oppress themselves without a KGB or Stasi. The decentralized bullying of the Red Guards and local cliques is truly frightening and ugly. The abuses happened without much of a Milgramesque authority.I never understood the appeal of Mao, especially for the 1960s European kids from bourgeois families. Much of the Red in the East was the blood of innocent victims starved and killed by one of the 20th century's totalitarian dictators. How can one gloat in the icon of Mao, given all the death this man has caused? Vienna currently hosts a strange big exhibition of kitschy Mao devotionalia, collected by an enthusiastic foreign correspondent during the 1970s. As a corrective, visitors should really be handed this book.more
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS1. What surprised you the most about Chinese history?2. What do we owe our government?3. How does the idea of socialism differ from what was practiced (pg. 415)4. Does society benefit from gender roles?5. Does the right of society weigh heavier than the right to the individual?6. Was the author's father a good man?7. Do you remember the first time you were disillusioned by your government?8. Compare how people view Mao with how people view Jesus.9. How long would you last as a peasant?10. How does this book relate to the Patriot Act, or does it?11. What about the government lies? (example – steel production)12. Which of the 3 daughters had the best life, in your opinion?13. Was Mao aware of what he did?14. Chang says it was very painful to write this book.......She was unable to do so for many years.......If you went thru what she did, could you have written about it?• This book (published in 30 languages) is now banned in midland China• Chang earned a Ph.D. in Linguistics in London• Chang grew to love life in Britain, especially its literature and the arts.• Chang lives in West London with her husband,...a British historian who specializes in Soviet history.• Chang retired in the 1990's to concentrate on her writing.• Chang's latest work is a biography of Mao, co-authored by her husband.more
Engrossing tale of three generations of Chinese women. Their lives are a window into the rapid evolution of Chinese society in the 20th century - from a fragmented society with territorial warlords to a highly centralized, controlled society under the Communists. What struck me most was the devastation wreaked by Mao's dictatorial whims (at one point he ordered all citizens to tear up grass and flowers for being too bourgeois), and the way he controlled millions largely without the use of force. Instead, he turned groups of citizens, often members of the same family, against one another through fear of punishment and loss of privilege. His commands were carried out to avoid the threat of becoming an outcast and losing privilege.more
Jung Chang recounts the experiences of her mother and grandmother in the transition from ancient China through the cultural revolution and the partial opening of China to Western Ideas in the 1970's. Her grandmother was sold as a concubine to a warlord general, and was a victim of foot-binding at an early age. She outlasted the general, married a traditional Chinese physician, lasted through Japanese occupation of northern China, the appearance of the Koumingtang, and the triumph of Mao. Her daughter became a convert to Communism, married a convinced Communist, then underwent detention, denunciation, and endless trials and imprisonments during the later revisions of Communist doctrine. She and her husband barely endured; her daughter, the author, was young enough to not have a suspicious history. This is an indictment of the Maoist system, very passionate, intensely interesting in respect to the very long time it took for the author to reject the authority and worship of Mao.more
The story of three generations in twentieth-century China is an engrossing record of Mao's impact on China. Jung Chang describes the life of her grandmother, a warlords concubine; her mother's struggles as a young idealistic Communist; her parents' experience as members of the Communist elite and their ordeal during the Cultural Revolution. If there is not a special place in hell for Mao, then there is no justice in the next world.The publication of 'Wild Swans' in 1991 was a worldwide phenomenon. Not only did it become the bestselling 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 1992 NCR Book Award and the 1993 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 20th-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.more
Before beginning this book I didn’t know very much at all about Chairman Mao, but I’m obviously not alone in that. As Jung Chang says in her introduction to the 2003 edition, ‘the world knows astonishingly little about him’. This book helped me understand why the Chinese people initally welcomed communism and how millions of children grew up viewing Mao as their hero and never dreaming of questioning his regime. It also explained why many people eventually became disillusioned and why the system started to break down.One of the most horrible things in the book occurs within the first chapter when Chang describes her grandmother’s footbinding. It’s so awful to think of a little girl being forced to undergo this torture just because tiny feet (or ‘three-inch golden lilies’) were thought to be the ideal. Soon after her grandmother’s feet were bound the tradition began to disappear. However, this is just one small part of the book and the first in a long series of shocking episodes the author relates to us.Some parts of the book made me feel so angry and frustrated, such as reading about the senseless waste of food when peasants were taken away from the fields to work on increasing steel output instead, as part of Mao’s ‘Great Leap Forward’. The descriptions of the Cultural Revolution are also horrific; it went on for years and resulted in countless deaths. One of the most frightening things about this period was that nobody was safe – people who had been high-ranking Communist officials before the revolution suddenly found themselves branded ‘capitalist-roaders’ or ‘counter-revolutionaries’ (sometimes by their own children) and some of them were driven to suicide.The book is complete with a family tree, chronology, photographs and map of China – all of which were very useful as I found myself constantly referring to them and without them I would have had a lot more difficulty keeping track of what was going on.As you can probably imagine, it was a very depressing book, as Jung and her family experienced very few moments of true happiness. She only really sounds enthusiastic when she’s describing the natural beauty of some of the places she visited – and the pleasure she got from reading books and composing poetry, both of which were condemned during the Cultural Revolution. However, it was also the most riveting non-fiction book I’ve ever read – I kept thinking "I’ll just read a few more pages" then an hour later I was still sitting there unable to put the book down.All three of the women featured in Wild Swans – Jung Chang herself, her mother and her grandmother – were forced to endure hardships and ordeals that are unimaginable to most of us, but remained strong and courageous throughout it all. However, Wild Swans is not just the story of three women – it’s much broader in scope than that and is the story of an entire nation. So much is packed into the 650 pages of this book that I’ve barely scratched the surface in this review and if you haven’t yet read the book I hope you’ll read it for yourself – no review can really do it justice.more
Still reading, but I find myself really caring for this story right now.more
The book includes much very interesting historical information about modern Chinese history, the communist takeover and the cultural revolution. You have to read between the lines or do further research if you are interested in those aspects of Chinese culture that brought about the terrible hardship and suffering and how they continue to manifest in modern China.However, I thought the author was completely self absorbed and unbelievably selfish. She callously abandoned her mother and seems to think the cultural revolution was something personally directed at her.more
I liked the book and was pleased to learn so much about China under Mao. It was not a page turner, though, more of a history lesson, but still I am happier for having read it. Personal details that would be interesting are left out, like her relationship with Jon Halliday and other possible boyfriends in China and if she has children and more about her smart eldest brother, i.e. the really personal things instead of just a description of all the bad things that happened to people under Mao. And still even with all her attempted explanations I have trouble understanding how a billion people could be brainwashed so completely by a hypocritical fat little peasant like Mao.more
This is one of the best books I've ever read. I'm just starting to undertake a serious study of China and WILD SWANS introduces Chinese history, from the mid 1910s to the early 1980s, in a clear, welcoming format that keeps the reader engrossed in the main characters' life of pain, suffering, and torment. The presentation of the history of the Kuomingdang/Communist battles, Great Leap Forward (steel production period), all the purges, Cultural Revolution (remember the Red Guards?), etc., was written from the viewpoint of the author, Ms. Chang, who witnessed the above events first hand. Her mother, father, grandmother, and other family members all suffered tremendously. At the age of 26, after almost three decades of extreme hardship, Ms. Chang was able to leave the country on a scholarship to Britian, the first Mainland Chinese to leave Sichuan province (90 million people) since 1949. I loved this book and would definitely read it again. I was particularly impressed with the father's moral and unyielding character. He was a committed Communist to the core who refused corruption and the chance to save his own life if such action meant harming others--and he paid tremendously for taking the moral high ground. Impressive book. Five stars. 9-14-09more
I was assigned to read this book for my English class during our World History year. I usually loved what was assigned to me the four years of high school, but for some reason, I was skeptical about this book. It was thick and heavy and, because I was undergoing treatment for cancer my senior year, I was actually a little mad at my english teacher for assigning it to me. But I am incredibly glad he did. This book kept me engrossed for an entire month with its captivating story and amazing characters. . . I was literally upset when I finished it. I wanted it to go on. I've read it again twice since and recommended it to friends about 4 times (they all liked it as well). I'm not usually one for historical novels, but this was a major exception. My teacher actually let me keep this book and I'm glad for it!more
History is not a big reading interest of mine but I'm glad I made an exception in this case. This is such an interesting view of life in China during the major upheaval of Japanese occupation, the beginnings of Communist China, the insanity of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and the more modern expansion of freedoms. I learned so much about China that I hadn't known previously and the personal narrative of the author, based on the experiences of her family was inspiring and heartbreaking. I highly recommend this book.more
Wonderfully written nonfiction- the story of three women in the same family: the authors' grandmother who was a concubine, her mother who marched with Mao and herself- first part of the Cultural Revolution and then a conversion from Communism. By learning about these women's lives, one can learn about China's turbulent "recent" history.more
I loved this book. It gave me a whole new perception about China and its communist regime. Reading the book gave me the feeling of being right there in the midst of it all. A very well written book. I would highly recommend reading it.more
The Wild Swans:Three Daughters of China is the fourth book I’ve completed for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. This memoir won the British Book Awards “Book of the Year” in 1994. Wild Swans tells the story of three generations of women in Jung Chang’s family: her grandmother, her mother, and herself. It spans the years from 1909, when her grandmother was born, to 1978, the year Jung Chang left China to study in Great Britain.Wild Swans encompasses the personal history of Chang’s family, as well as the tumultuous history of China. At the age of 15 Yu-fang, the author’s grandmother, became the concubine of a warlord. Jung Chang’s mother, De-hong, was born 7 years later. After the war lord’s death in 1933, Yu-fang married Dr. Xia. De-hong was raised in his household, as one of his children. Jung Chang was born in 1952, the second of 5 children born to De-hong and her husband, Shou-yu.This book details the family’s struggles, as China itself struggles. Some events that impact the family include: World War II; the rise of Mao Tse Tung and the Communist party,;the founding of the People’ Republic of China; the Great Leap Forward; the Cultural Revolution; and China’s eventual opening up to the West.Chang’s parents are loyal Communists, yet they suffer denunciation, re-education and imprisonment. The entire family is subject to the daily indignities of life in a totalitarian society. As children, Chang and her siblings rarely see their parents. Fortunately, Yu-fang is able to care for them.Wild Swans is a very long and complex book. The appendices include a brief chronology of modern China juxtaposed with Chang’s family’s milestones. There is also a very helpful family tee and a map of China. I referred to these often. This memoir is quite thorough. I learned a tremendous amount about modern China.Unfortunately, it did get a bit repetitious. We read numerous times that De-hong was upset that her husband put his very strict Communist principles before his family’s well-being. And the family’s constant struggles with other Communist Party officials, while important, are also tedious after a while. Some of the language seems a bit stilted. Chang did not learn English until her early 20’s, and the awkwardness shows. Overall, this memoir was quite good. It took me a very long time to read it, and I think it would be improved greatly by skillful editing.more
Much more my sort of biography, dates, time lines, notable events, facts that could potentially be verified if one had the will and the papers were not destroyed in the Cultural Revolution etc. Full of details of the lives of a family of three women in China. Only a bit of dialogue , thankfully, and all of the type of which the gist could be realistically recalled.more
This is a good book. It is the experience of three generations of Chinese women. Grandmother - before the revolution, mother- during the communist take over, daughter (author) - during the Cultural Revolution. It is a good look at how the whims and wishes of one man, Mao, could bring a country to the brink of meltdown. These experiences may explain why the author wrote a biography critical of Mao that some LTers were not happy with.more
Jung Chang’s powerful memoir transports us to twentieth century China, where we are given a glimpse of society through the thoughts and actions of three generations of her family. The unfolding of the lives of Chang’s grandmother, a concubine of a warlord, and her parents, communist idealists and party leaders, is deeply moving. We watch as hopes and enthusiasm brought about by the start of Communism are very gradually replaced by disillusionment and suffering brought on by Mao’s policies and the Cultural Revolution. This book is banned in China even today, more than 30 years after Mao's death. Having grown up in a democracy, Chang’s descriptions of life under a dictator like Mao are surprising and revealing to me. I feel that this was an important work for me to read and it has changed my understanding of politics and the world.more
The big shortcoming of an historical overview is that it distances you from the events it covers. You see the story unfolding from above and rarely get a feeling for what it was like for the people actually living through it. That's why it's good to pepper one's reading of history with first hand accounts. Wild Swans is one such account. It's the story of "three daughters of China"--the biographies of the author, her mother and grandmother. It covers most of the 20th Century in China, detailing the family's experiences through the fall of the Manchu Dynasty, the Chinese Republic, the Japanese occupation and the reign of Mao Zedong. It's an amazing tale of hardship and survival. Indeed, the book put me in awe of a people who could endure so much tsuris and yet become the happy and vibrant people I live among today. Of course, I have yet to hear their stories. Maybe Ms. Chang's tale is unique. Even so, it's a book I yearn to put on my shelf.--J.more
Love books about Chinese history through the eyes of a family living through it.more
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