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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China [Paperback]

Jung Chang
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (236 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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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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent historical account May 28 2004
Format:Paperback
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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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
Format:Paperback
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Might not be what you are looking for... June 2 2002
By Kyle J
Format:Paperback
Jung Chang's book Wild Swans attempts to capture all major events from the end of the 19th century to the late 20th century happening in China. The book follows three generations of Chang's family, starting with her grandmother and ending with Chang. Of the many changes that occurred during the time period, Chang seems most fixated upon communism. Imperial China, Nationalist (Kuomintang) China, and the Japanese occupation are all only described briefly in Wild Swans.
Wild Swans is supposed to be a story of "Three Daughters of China"; however it is far from it. First off the book is a lengthy 508 pages and is split unevenly among the three generations of women. After the first hundred pages, the communist section begins. Chang makes it obvious that she despises communism. When Mao Zedong dies Chang states "The news filled me with such euphoria that for an instant I was numb." Undoubtedly communism was a major part of life for all Chinese; however after page 100, every single anecdote dealt with communism. Chang must have had other stories to tell but she does not tell them. The stories are all negative and they grow increasingly shocking and critical of communism as the book progresses. In chapter 7, Jung Chang's mother, in order prove herself to be a devoted communist, is forced to forage for food even though she is pregnant. In chapter 20, Chang's father is arrested by communist authorities after speaking his mind. In chapter 22, the whole family is split apart and sent to the countryside for "re-education".
Wild Swans is really an open attack on communism. It is fine for Jung Chang to write such a book. I would recommend it "whole-heartedly" if you are interested in reading a book containing bits and pieces of the communist life in China. However, if you are looking for a more comprehensive history, do not expect much from Wild Swans.
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Most recent customer reviews
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 12 days 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 1 month 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 3 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 3 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 14 months ago by Lise Levesque
2.0 out of 5 stars Wild Swans
I had to read this for a reading group. While it has some pluses, it is too overwrought, too long and somehow the personalities are not fleshed out other than the author's Father. Read more
Published 17 months ago by M. Elaine Hamilton
4.0 out of 5 stars Wild swans by Jung Chang
Good price , quick arrival, fine quality. Wild swans is a harrowing look at the real lives of Chinese women in the last three or four generations..
Published 17 months ago by judi hopewell
5.0 out of 5 stars Wild Swans
The tapes showed up before I was looking for them and I can't wait to listen to them. Thanks for meeting this need.
Published on March 14 2012 by pointone
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing Memoir
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. Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2006 by Katrina
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting but not deep
Very good personal story on the Chinese history. It is well written as well, but it is not that deep. Read more
Published on June 10 2006 by Expat-biz-Hong Kong
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