An engrossing record of Mao’s impact on China, an unusual window on the female experience in the modern world, and an inspiriting 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 Community; 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.
The 2003 edition I was borrowed to read from a work colleague had a forward in it by Jung Chang. She talked about when she first arrived in Britain and how strict the Chinese authorities were about the way Jung could behave. Things like not being able to walk around by herself, especially when in the company of other males. I didn’t fully understand the implications of this. Living in a very privileged country, Australia, I found this hard to grasp. I imagined a little smack on the wrist or a short lecture. Once I’d finished reading Wild Swans I understood.
The colleague warned me it was a very heavy book. Some people she’d leant it to in the past actually gave it back before finishing. I did read it to the end. I find books which show the evil mankind is capable of, also show the amazing humanity the world can produce. Although there was great hardship and awful people, there were kind people and those who were not afraid to stand up to an impossible tyrant.
Reading Wild Swans was as gripping as the blurb entices. The chapter titles give a little taste as to what’s to come. The women the book follows are indescribable; they have outstanding moral fibre and strength of character.
The only part I found slow was the political talk (which is required to make sense of what is happening around you). I also found it difficult to begin with to make sense of Mao’s wife when she was mentioned. When she was mentioned in a sentence it was formatted like this, “The people were convicted by Mme. Mao because she didn’t like…” The “Mme. Mao” part being Mao’s wife’s name. Until I worked out that it wasn’t beginning a separate sentence with the stop after “Mme”, I was frustrated by how her parts weren’t making sense. There’s a little hint to anyone reading it.
If anyone was looking for another book to read I’d offer it to them. I think it’s one of those books which is good for anyone to read. It made me realise how lucky I am to live where I do. It also reminded me how important it is to stand for what is right. I can’t help but think all those deaths could have been prevented if the people of China, especially the high officials who were informed and didn’t agree with Mao, had of stood up to him. But it’s easier to judge in hindsight.