This is a long, fascinating book that I'm really glad I finished. I got this after reading Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which I absolutely loved. I didn't know it was non-fiction until it came in the mail. I saw that it was a banned book, so I used it for the Banned Book Challenge as well as the Chunkster Challenge.
The book tells the life stories of Jung and her mother and grandmother. Along the way I learned quite a bit about China under Mao as well. I love history when it is presented this way. I've always felt that history was more about how people's lives were affected by their rulers than just names, dates, and events that occurred.
The book is told chronologically. The first story is about how Jung's grandmother had no choice in being a concubine to a Chinese general. The "marriage" was arranged so that her grandmother's father would have more privileges of his own. Jung's mother was born from this union.
Next, we learn of her mother's life growing up under Japanese occupation in Manchuria, and then after the Japanese surrender, the fight between the Kuomintang and the Communists for power in China. Jung's parents become Communist officials who very much believe in the Communist ideals. Their "faith" is eventually shattered by Mao's thirst for power and his "Cultural Revolution."
Although her parents were still receiving their salaries from the government, they were also being detained or being made to go to denunciation meetings where they were yelled at and/or beaten. The Red Guard and the Rebels were encouraged to rise up against the old Communist officials and take control. Even young children were encouraged to beat up their teachers. School days consisted of reading Mao's works, punishing anyone who was a "class enemy", and tearing up the grass and flowers in the courtyards as they were too "decadent."
As Jung grows up, she is at first enamored with Mao, but is eventually disillusioned with what has happened to her family and to herself. She is a bright young woman who is required several times to be "reeducated" by the peasants or factory workers. After Mao dies, eventually China changes for the better. She is able to go to the West and study, but she never permanently returns to China.
I highly recommend this book if you are interested in history in general or Chinese culture. It is also a "wake-up" call to us softies in the West. Books like these really make me appreciate American freedom!
While I've read about China in bits and pieces in fiction, this is the first comprehensive nonfiction book I read China's history in the twentieth century as told through a family's harrowing ordeal. What struck me the most is how the shifting political alliances meant that anyone could be an "enemy" at any time. I also came to admire Jung's parents for sticking to their principles even when it meant exile and harsh punishment.
I read this book a few years ago, and it still is strong in my memory. It is a true story of three generations of Chinese women, before and during communism and modern day. It gave me a very good idea of what life for all three women. Highly recommend it.
This book will take you on a journey through three generations of Chinese women, during turbulent times in China. The story will help you understand the Chinese culture as it is today, because history has definitely shaped the present. Some of the scenes are disturbing, and rightfully, historically so. One moment that stands out to me is when Chairman Mao creates a display field by having the farmers uproot plants from other fields and replant them in the display field. It lasts long enough for him to show it off to other world leaders, and then the plants die, leaving the farmers destitute and hungry. You won't be sorry you read this, if you have any interest at all in China.
This is an incredible book. It covers almost 100 years of China's history through the lives of a concubine, a communist, and the next generation, who eventually lives in England. I have read several books on the Cultural Revolution, but this is so detailed and much broader. It is incredible to imagine China today from all of this and makes me want to visit all the more. This book is vivid in imagery, poignant and heart wrenching, to the very end. Loved it. Not light reading. Great for long plane rides or insomniacs.