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.
Great story and a fast read considering how thick the book is. I really loved this book.
This book is a very detailed account of the rise of communism in China, through the eyes of a granddaughter telling her grandmother's and mother's stories, along with her own. Each regime that these women live through impact people's lives both positively and negatively. Mao's communism is seen in the details of the everyday person's life. And the ideas that the typical communist has of capitalists is eye-opening.
An amazing memoir that educates on the history of China just prior to the communist movement all the way up through the 1970s, all through the eyes of women in one family who lived it. Astounding. A must read for any westerner, particularly western women.
Check out my full review
Excellent book about the Culture Revolution in China.
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 Maos China and the importance of keeping historyeven the bad partsin our memories.
Chang writes with a narration that is largely devoid of dramathe 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 youre 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.
Much can be learned about life in China through several generations. Terrific read!
This book was very hard for me to get into BUT once into it, it proved to be one of the best books I have read in a very long time. It helped to understand the cultural revolution much better and provided much insight into China history. It is a book I will most likely read again!
A riveting tale of the impact of history on the lives of three generations of Chinese women.
Fascinating story of 3 women from 3 generations as they grew up during Kuomantang rule and Mao time at the same time I was enjoying the idyllic life in the US suburbs.
Fascinating account, read like a novel
Excellent, mesmering history of women's experience in China.
"Wild Swans is a riveting account of the impact of history on the lives of women"
Wow. I had expected Wild Swans to be dry but informative. It was amazing, and a quick read considering its size! A great opportunity to better understand the history of China from a first person perspective without being bored to tears!
This international best seller gives you an up front and personal glimpse into what it was like to grow up in a Communist family under Mao. Follow this Chinese family's history through famine, denunciation meetings and separation. Ever think that the ideology of sharing everything and working together communally was the way to go? The harsh realities of this family's experience, as their ideology hits the tar of the road, will readily dispel the myth that Communism, at least as it was practiced under Mao, is a workable system of governance.
Very interesting and insightful. Thought provoking.
I'm reading this in anticipation of my trip to China this Spring. It's very good in giving you an idea of the traditional, Communist, and modern eras in China, but my it is hard to get through!
Story of 20th century China.
This is a wonderful book - I have given it away to at least ten friends. You will learn a lot of the history of China over the last century, and it will amaze you. The lives of these women could not be more different from one another, yet each fascinating in its own way.
An insightful look at three generations of women in one family in 20th century China. These women were so strong in spite of all the suffering. An inspiration!
I have mixed feelings about the book Wild Swans. It certainly was not a page turner, rather it was a book I could lay down at any time, and even walk away from for a couple of days, which I did a number of times. It didn't read like a novel, as some memoir/biographies do, rather it was as though the author, Jung Chang was narrating to me the history of her family, beginning with her grandmother. The narration is well written, but long, and ends when she is 26. A short epilogue at the end then updates you as to what she has done with her life in the 10 years following the writing of the book. So if you are looking for a wildly entertaining book you can hardly put down, this is not a book for you.
Having said this, I do not consider reading the book was time wasted. If you are at all interested in the history of China, especially what it was like under Mao's years in power, you would find many fascinating passages in the book. Of course most of us know that Mao was not good for the people of China, but I was truly surprised at what all went on under Mao and his wife. Some of it was so strange, that it seemed down right bizarre to me, such as when Mao determined that grass and beautiful things should be removed from the cities. People all over China were pulling up flowers and grass. Students even spent school time out in the yard pulling up the grass. Reading the book was a learning experience about a time that it turned out I really knew very little about.
I have lived and worked in China for three years. This book tells the story of the women, but contextualizes it within the society and history of the country. It is interesting, and informative. Great.
Well written and engaging book.
This is a wonderful multi-generational story of three women and their lives in modern China from the revolution to the present day.
This is a wonderfully told story of a girl's coming of age in China, during the cultural revolution. Her position in society gave her a unique perspective on what really went on in China during this period. A great book to enjoy as a novel and as a history lesson.
I had no idea how malignant Mao and his co-horts were.
This book was an eyeopener.
Ms Chang bared all.
Her late grandmother and father must be smiling down and so proud of this book.
It is their story and one for the world to read.
It had me from the opening to the closing page.