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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China [Paperback]

Jung Chang
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (241 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 12 2003
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.

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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China + Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China + Mao: The Unknown Story
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From Amazon

In Wild Swans Jung Chang recounts the evocative, unsettling, and insistently gripping story of how three generations of women in her family fared in the political maelstrom of China during the 20th century. Chang's grandmother was a warlord's concubine. Her gently raised mother struggled with hardships in the early days of Mao's revolution and rose, like her husband, to a prominent position in the Communist Party before being denounced during the Cultural Revolution. Chang herself marched, worked, and breathed for Mao until doubt crept in over the excesses of his policies and purges. Born just a few decades apart, their lives overlap with the end of the warlords' regime and overthrow of the Japanese occupation, violent struggles between the Kuomintang and the Communists to carve up China, and, most poignant for the author, the vicious cycle of purges orchestrated by Chairman Mao that discredited and crushed millions of people, including her parents. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Bursting with drama, heartbreak and horror, this extraordinary family portrait mirrors China's century of turbulence. Chang's grandmother, Yu-fang, had her feet bound at age two and in 1924 was sold as a concubine to Beijing's police chief. Yu-fang escaped slavery in a brothel by fleeing her "husband" with her infant daughter, Bao Qin, Chang's mother-to-be. Growing up during Japan's brutal occupation, free-spirited Bao Qin chose the man she would marry, a Communist Party official slavishly devoted to the revolution. In 1949, while he drove 1000 miles in a jeep to the southwestern province where they would do Mao's spadework, Bao Qin walked alongside the vehicle, sick and pregnant (she lost the child). Chang, born in 1952, saw her mother put into a detention camp in the Cultural Revolution and later "rehabilitated." Her father was denounced and publicly humiliated; his mind snapped, and he died a broken man in 1975. Working as a "barefoot doctor" with no training, Chang saw the oppressive, inhuman side of communism. She left China in 1978 and is now director of Chinese studies at London University. Her meticulous, transparent prose radiates an inner strength. Photos. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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At the age of fifteen my grandmother became the concubine of a warlord general, the police chief of a tenuous national government of China. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Memoir Aug. 16 2006
By Katrina
I read this book while living/working in China, in 2001. The headmaster of the school where I was teaching, actually lent me the book. It's banned in China, of course, so I was shocked when I saw it on his shelf. He too was scorned by the Cultural Revolution, and I've often wondered how his story would have read. I found that the Chinese are very tight-lipped about what they truly think on political matters, and the history of China... communism, moreso! This being said, reading a memoir such as this, was very informative. I can't even imagine going through such hardships. It's no wonder the Chinese are very resilient people! To be honest, I can't blame them for keeping their thoughts to themselves, knowing how the history of that country. Powers were constantly shifting, and a few words which were the right thing to say at one time, would have to incriminated then next (after powers shifted once again). The book certainly helped me to understand why China is the way it is today! I had a lot more empathy for the Chinese people as a whole.

I still find myself looking at an elderly Chinese person, and wondering what their life was like when they were younger. Every one of them could write a memoir which would be equally as gripping as this one.

This book is excellent. I loved it, and couldn't put it down. I've lent it out many times, and plan to read it again!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Complete Yet Engaging Historical Account June 10 2002
I was given Wild Swans to read prior to a summer trip to Beijing. Being a high school student, I was not only daunted by the heft of the book, but by the extensive historical chronology and family tree in the introduction as well. I was also unsure as to whether the story would be a Chinese-generation plot along the lines of Amy Tan or whether it would be more of a strict historical recount of China in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Despite my apprehensions, I decided to go ahead and read it, and I have been thoroughly delighted with the results of my endeavor.
Wild Swans is what I would term a "human-interest history," meaning that the dry historical aspect of the book is tempered by the human emotion surrounding the individual events. Jung Chang uses the female leaders of each generation to provide a thoughtful outlook on the traditions and culture of China. For me, the best way to gain a true feel for the attitudes of a specific time period is to hear a personal account. This is the book's most salient quality. Chang makes the most of the little details that encompass the environment of the characters and uses the thoughts and feelings of her family to convey key concepts pertaining to Chinese morals and behaviors.
The concise language of the book also helps to promote these historical images and gives the book a quick tempo. Each anecdote is told in the same, somewhat removed manner, even Chang's own experiences. While some might find this an impersonal tactic, I felt that it allowed the tragedies of the story to shine by basing them purely on their own facets. Any extraneous writing would have clouded the sheer pain involved in a number of the events, and Chang's distance allows the reader to recreate the scene and absorb the historical depth behind it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing tale derailed by bloodless writing Dec 27 2003
By A Customer
The author states that the Chinese are not given to public displays of emotion. Unfortunately, that seems to translate to the written word as well and nearly brings to a halt what could have been an exciting, informative, heartfelt book.
The section of the book that concerns Jung Chang's grandmother is probably the most interesting and accessible of the tales of the three women. Here, the author does a good job highlighting the social and cultural mores of the time and breathes a bit of individual life into the people whose history she's telling us about. However, it doesn't last.
I found much of the writing about her mother and about Chang herself felt like it had been written at a remove from the subject matter. Chang simply uses short, declarative statements such as "My mother was angry at my father again", "I was sad", "I was afraid", "My brother was worried", et cetera, instead of attempting to help illustrate an emotional state or mindset of someone for the reader. Yes, the short sentences get the point across, but they remove all the indivuality from Chang and her family. These people have no individual voice and are interchangeable. For example, when Chang writes that her mother yells at her father, I don't hear her mother at all. I just read the words because that's all they are: words. It's as if Chang was focusing on the language instead of the people. Plus, her insistence on recounting the minutiae of everyone's life/day (especially her own) covers up those moments in a deluge of detail.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical account May 28 2004
This book does something that most people don't get around to doing when they say this or that about China: Provide historical detail. Specifically of interest:
1. The reason that the Kuomintang was not successful in China was constant corruption. Some people have suggested that Chinese people love tyrants (Jasper Becker, "The Chinese") and this is the explanation of why they rejected what would have been a democratic government for an authoritarian government. This is partially true, but the Kuomintang blew any chance that it had at legitimacy with its rampant corruption.
2. That the Communist Party became popular because they promised to not be like the corrupt and crooked Kuomintang. Her father is an example of one of the wide-eyed idealists that really believed in his cause at the beginning and was left a broken man when he saw what actually became of this grand vision. People at Western universities are always attacking the West and praising the Communist ideology/ governent allocation of resources, and they haven't a faintest idea of the actual RESULTS of the intended programs. Nor do they understand the incentive structures that led to those results.
3. Historical accounts of the great famine. I can't believe that this very afternoon, there are still people trying to talk away this historical event in China and say that it was just a statistical illusion. This is the second author that I've read that gives historical accounts of people eating their children.
4. Demonstrating how the cult of Mao was created and maintained, as well as what were his motives in the various campaigns (Cultural Revolution/ The Great Leap Forward) that swept the country during his reign.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Sounded really good and I was excited to read it
Sounded really good and I was excited to read it. I very rarely give up on a book, but this was boring and difficult to read. It was neither a story nor a history book. Read more
Published 19 days ago by jef
5.0 out of 5 stars Living courage
Revealing truths, spiritual strengths and weaknesses of women and men living with courage to overcome circumstances and events common to a powerful nation.
Published 1 month ago by Shirley Reid
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very insightful book!
Published 1 month ago by ameet gill
5.0 out of 5 stars Must Read
Excellent writing. Details were captivating. Looking forward to reading more books by Jung Chang.
Published 1 month ago by Linda Mizzivl
5.0 out of 5 stars Behind the Bamboo Curtain
A wonderful look at the lives of three generations of women in one family in China during the 20th century. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Christina Agrell
3.0 out of 5 stars Read like an uninteresting history textbook
This book is full of little detils regarding all sorts of characters but very like on description. The content although interesting was very dry. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Heffco53
5.0 out of 5 stars All History Should Be Taught This Way!
This is a wonderfully detailed and powerfully moving history of how people can be duped and deluded, abused and terrified by a Communist regime that promised to love them. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Eleanor Cowan
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful personal story
Very informative look at 3 women's lives in China, written by a daughter, her mother and her grandmother. I couldn't stop reading it.
Published 6 months ago by C Osborne
4.0 out of 5 stars Three-Wild Swans
Though their lives were in turmoil, they preserve well, with their loving support of their extend family and themselves and work. Mao must have been a monster, Waah! Read more
Published 6 months ago by Maggz
5.0 out of 5 stars Wild Swans is an eye opener
I spent time in China last Fall and was told about this book by another traveller on the tour. After reading Wild Swans, I realized how naive I had been about the realities of... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Lise Levesque
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