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Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

Combines the intimacy of a memoir with the epic sweep of a great novel. Chang tells the story of three women--the author, her mother, and her grandmother--whose fortunes mirror the tumultuous history of 20th-century China. 4 cassettes.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Carolyn See Newsday Wild Swans is riveting. It's blindingly good: a mad adventure story, a fairy tale of courage, and a tale of atrocities. You can't, as they say, put it down.

The New Yorker Her family chronicle resembles a popular novel that stars strong, beautiful women and provides cameo roles for famous men....But Wild Swans is no romance. It's a story...about the survival of a Chinese family through a century of disaster.

Time A mesmerizing memoir.

"An inspiring tale of women who survived every kind of hardship, deprivation and political upheaval with their humanity intact." —Hillary Clinton, O, The Oprah Magazine

"An inspiring tale of women who survived every kind of hardship, deprivation and political upheaval with their humanity intact." —Hillary Clinton, O, The Oprah Magazine

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Wild Swans is a memoir of three generations of women growing up in 20th-century China. Chang, the author, is the final link in this chain. The story reads like the sweeping family sagas of genre fiction but rises far above the norm. The characters are well drawn, the events are riveting, and the story teaches lessons of history as well as lessons of the heart. It also allows listeners to visit a world unfamiliar to most Westerners. The author brings memories of a foreign life and illuminates them with graceful prose. The narration by Anna Massey is excellent, as are the production values. This is a good choice for public libraries as well as academic libraries with a popular listening component. Multicultural collections will also benefit from this recording.-Jacqueline Smith, Philadelphia Coll. of Pharmacy & Science Lib.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743246989
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 8/5/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 77,380
  • Product dimensions: 8.32 (w) x 5.42 (h) x 1.31 (d)

Meet the Author

Jung Chang was born in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. She left China for Britain in 1978 and obtained a Ph.D. in linguistics from the University of York in 1982, the first person from the People’s Republic of China to receive a doctorate from a British university. She lives in London with her husband, Jon Halliday, with whom she wrote Mao: The Unknown Story.

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Table of Contents

1 "Three-Inch Golden Lilies": Concubine to a Warlord General (1909-1933) 21
2 "Even Plain Cold Water Is Sweet": My Grandmother Marries a Manchu Doctor (1933-1938) 43
3 "They All Say What a Happy Place Manchukuo Is": Life under the Japanese (1938-1945) 62
4 "Slaves Who Have No Country of Your Own": Ruled by Different Masters (1945-1947) 75
5 "Daughter for Sale for 10 Kilos of Rice": In Battle for a New China (1947-1948) 94
6 "Talking about Love": A Revolutionary Marriage (1948-1949) 115
7 "Going through the Five Mountain Passes": My Mother's Long March (1949-1950) 140
8 "Returning Home Robed in Embroidered Silk": To Family and Bandits (1949-1951) 151
9 "When a Man Gets Power, Even His Chickens and Dogs Rise to Heaven": Living with an Incorruptible Man (1951-1953) 170
10 "Suffering Will Make You a Better Communist": My Mother Falls under Suspicion (1953-1956) 191
11 "After the Anti-Rightist Campaign No One Opens Their Mouth": China Silenced (1956-1958) 204
12 "Capable Women Can Make a Meal without Food": Famine (1958-1962) 220
13 "Thousand-Gold Little Precious": In a Privileged Cocoon (1958-1965) 240
14 "Father Is Close, Mother Is Close, but Neither Is as Close as Chairman Mao": The Cult of Mao (1964-1965) 256
15 "Destroy First, and Construction Will Look After Itself": The Cultural Revolution Begins (1965-1966) 273
16 "Soar to Heaven, and Pierce the Earth": Mao's Red guards (June-August 1966) 297
17 "Do You Want Our Children to Become 'Blacks'?": My Parents' Dilemma (August-October 1966) 282
18 "More Than Gigantic Wonderful News": Pilgrimage to Peking (October-December 1966) 308
19 "Where There Is a Will to Condemn, There Is Evidence": My Parents Tormented (December 1966-1967) 323
20 "I Will Not Sell My Soul": My Father Arrested (1967-1968) 341
21 "Giving Charcoal in Snow": My Siblings and My Friends (1967-1968) 362
22 "Thought Reform through Labor": To the Edge of the Himalayas (January-June 1969) 379
23 "The More Books You Read, the More Stupid You Become": I Work as a Peasant and a Barefoot Doctor (June 1969-1971) 406
24 "Please Accept My Apologies That Come a Lifetime Too Late": My Parents in Camps (1969-1972) 429
25 "The Fragrance of Sweet Wind": A New Life with The Electricians' Manual and Six Crises (1972-1973) 444
26 "Sniffing after Foreigners' Farts and Calling Them Sweet": Learning English in Mao's Wake (1972-1974) 458
27 "If This Is Paradise, What Then Is Hell?": The Death of My Father (1974-1976) 475
28 Fighting to Take Wing (1976-1978) 495
Epilogue 506
Index 509
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Introduction

Reading Group Guide

1. All three of the women at the center of Wild Swans display great courage, often to a stunning extent — speaking out in times of enforced unanimity, facing firing squads, risking their lives for the sake of others. Compare the kinds of bravery they exemplified. Does one stand out as particularly courageous?

2. The 20th century could rightly be called an era of violence in China, and the lives of these three women were indeed remarkably touched by brutality. Although none was violent by nature, all three were witnesses to — and sometimes victims of — naked savagery, to the extent that it may have begun to seem almost mundane. How did it affect their lives, and specifically their political feelings?

3. The women of Wild Swans lived through an era of such upheaval that they were constantly being called upon to pledge allegiance to a new regime or a new leading figure, each one distant from their day-to-day lives, and each usually claiming to be more "revolutionary" or diehard than the one before. What was the effect of this disorientation? Did the women ever show a sense of political or spiritual homelessness?

4. For each of the principal figures in this book, romantic love was strictly controlled and radically circumscribed — and yet such feelings played a powerful role. How did the politicization of the deeply personal affect the lives recounted in Wild Swans? At what cost did these men and women pursue love?

5. Familial love was also the object of close government scrutiny and control in the last century, despite the historical importance of the clan in Chinese tradition.Particularly watchful was the Communist regime, which stipulated heavy penalties for "putting family first." The key players in Wild Swans often found themselves caught in the middle between concern for their loved ones and the social and political demands placed on them. Discuss the range of ways in which they reacted to this tension.

6. Ceremony, pageantry and ritual have been important elements of Chinese culture for millennia. As the author notes, it was not uncommon even in the 20th century for a family to bankrupt themselves to put on an impressive wedding or funeral. Did prevailing attitudes about ceremony seem to change over the course of the narrative in Wild Swans? What attitudes did the individual women appear hold on the subject?

7. After the decidedly mixed Kuomintang era (not to mention the brief occupations in the North by the Soviets and Japanese), the advent of Communism was embraced by the author's parents. Soon Jung Chang herself, born during the early years of the CCP, was swept up in the widespread fervor. But seeds of doubt slowly begin to appear in the book. What do you think were the key moments in Jung Chang's and her parents' changes of heart? Why?

8. For obvious reasons, Jung Chang's tale bears the most details, reported feelings and other personal touches. Describe her psychological growth or transformation during the course of her young life. Did you feel she reported her thoughts honestly? Did you ever applaud her choices? Did you ever disapprove?

9. Wild Swans is a work of biography and autobiography with many novelistic elements. It is also, however, a valuable work of 20th-century Chinese history. What did you learn about the country from reading it? If you knew the basic outline of the history, did anything strike you freshly because of the personal narrative approach?

JUNG CHANG was born in Yibin, Sichuan Province, China, in 1952. She left China for Britain in 1978 and obtained a Ph.D. in linguistics from York University in 1982, the first person from the People¹s Republic of China to receive a doctorate from a British university. She lives in London and has recently completed a biography of Mao.

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide

1. All three of the women at the center of Wild Swans display great courage, often to a stunning extent — speaking out in times of enforced unanimity, facing firing squads, risking their lives for the sake of others. Compare the kinds of bravery they exemplified. Does one stand out as particularly courageous?

2. The 20th century could rightly be called an era of violence in China, and the lives of these three women were indeed remarkably touched by brutality. Although none was violent by nature, all three were witnesses to — and sometimes victims of — naked savagery, to the extent that it may have begun to seem almost mundane. How did it affect their lives, and specifically their political feelings?

3. The women of Wild Swans lived through an era of such upheaval that they were constantly being called upon to pledge allegiance to a new regime or a new leading figure, each one distant from their day-to-day lives, and each usually claiming to be more "revolutionary" or diehard than the one before. What was the effect of this disorientation? Did the women ever show a sense of political or spiritual homelessness?

4. For each of the principal figures in this book, romantic love was strictly controlled and radically circumscribed — and yet such feelings played a powerful role. How did the politicization of the deeply personal affect the lives recounted in Wild Swans? At what cost did these men and women pursue love?

5. Familial love was also the object of close government scrutiny and control in the last century, despite the historical importance of the clan in Chinese tradition. Particularly watchful was the Communist regime, which stipulated heavy penalties for "putting family first." The key players in Wild Swans often found themselves caught in the middle between concern for their loved ones and the social and political demands placed on them. Discuss the range of ways in which they reacted to this tension.

6. Ceremony, pageantry and ritual have been important elements of Chinese culture for millennia. As the author notes, it was not uncommon even in the 20th century for a family to bankrupt themselves to put on an impressive wedding or funeral. Did prevailing attitudes about ceremony seem to change over the course of the narrative in Wild Swans? What attitudes did the individual women appear hold on the subject?

7. After the decidedly mixed Kuomintang era (not to mention the brief occupations in the North by the Soviets and Japanese), the advent of Communism was embraced by the author's parents. Soon Jung Chang herself, born during the early years of the CCP, was swept up in the widespread fervor. But seeds of doubt slowly begin to appear in the book. What do you think were the key moments in Jung Chang's and her parents' changes of heart? Why?

8. For obvious reasons, Jung Chang's tale bears the most details, reported feelings and other personal touches. Describe her psychological growth or transformation during the course of her young life. Did you feel she reported her thoughts honestly? Did you ever applaud her choices? Did you ever disapprove?

9. Wild Swans is a work of biography and autobiography with many novelistic elements. It is also, however, a valuable work of 20th-century Chinese history. What did you learn about the country from reading it? If you knew the basic outline of the history, did anything strike you freshly because of the personal narrative approach?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 106 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(59)

4 Star

(29)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(4)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 106 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 24, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Review of Wild Swans

    It's strange how things work out. I randomly picked Wild Swans out from the list of 1001 Books to Read Before you Die. I can't tell you why I chose it, except that (as I do with all of the books I read from that list), I just scrolled through it and stopped and pointed my finger and that was the book I would request.

    Then.. I noticed that it was due back to the library so, after reading my Book Club's selection of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, I decided to move on to Wild Swans. This.. was a good decision. I knew nothing of China - especially China under Chiang Kai-shek and then later on, Chairman Mao. I got a glimpse of the hatred that one of the main characters in <i>Hotel</i> had toward the Japanese (being from China himself), but still had no idea the extent of the torture, the pain and the horrible version of life going on within China's borders.

    After I began to read Wild Swans, people around me started to talk about it (without even knowing that I was reading it). I was asked at my book club if I had read Wild Swans and asked by two random people I know through daily life if I'd ever read this book. Before I began to read it though.. I'd never even heard of it.

    So I should talk some about the actual book.. since this is technically a review.

    First - it's non-fiction. It's readable, in its own way. Although very densely packed with names, dates, places and events, I was able to easily follow the lives of Jung Chang's grandmother, her mother and herself through the changes of China.

    This is not an easy book to read and you shouldn't pick it up unless you are willing to be thoroughly invested in learning difficult names, reading about difficult things and prepared to have your eyes opened to something that, in my opinion, is not taught about enough. I've always considered China to be a country of mystery - one that I always hear rumors about.. and honestly, if I hadn't been working my way through the 1001 Books, I don't think I would have willingly chosen this book to read. I chose to begin reading through the list for that very reason, to expose myself to books I wouldn't normally choose and this book is a prime example of why. I consider myself enriched by learning the stories of Jung Chang and her family and blessed to not have to endure even a small fraction of what they had to endure.

    There are times I believe that the right book comes along at the right time to be read, and this was one of those books.

    12 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2008

    Too biased to be a credible book

    Jung Chang's book is written for westerners in mind. Although it is touted as a great resource for westerners to learn about modern Chinese history, it is really a long propoganda piece denouncing the Chinese past. While many things that the Communist government did are horrible in retrospect, what Chang didn't get across was the true patriotic fervor that the Chinese people had during everything that happened. She made it sound like everyone who went along with the propoganda the government put out was an evil person. Her skewed western feminist view is also a vexing part of her book. She makes it sound like all women were treated like third-class citizens, when in reality, many, if not most, were treated better than they were during the imperial and republic times. Many of my classmates who read this book were constantly appalled by how women were 'treated', but I still believe that they just couldn't grasp the millenia-old Chinese culture that shaped this view of women. To me it's like westerners feeling stunned that women in the Middle East still wear burkhas, but not understanding that this is a part of their culture. While this a well-written book that is obviously passionate, it should be read with the understanding that the author is very outspoken against the Chinese government. Many former Chinese citizens who lived throught the Cultural Revolution and now live in the west (my father included) do NOT agree with what she has written. Her views are her own and people should be aware that they are not as widely shared as she would like people to believe.

    7 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2012

    Fabulous!

    Just returned from a trip to China. Our guide recommended this book and he was right. This is a very interesting perspective on China's modern history. It is easy to read and captivates you from the first page.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Three Generations Of Chinese History

    This is not a book I would have picked up on my own. A well traveled and book savvy friend recommended it to me. I began reading with a sense of obligation; and I must admit, I set it aside several times to indulge in lighter reading. However, I am very glad that I persevered.

    The author has given us a remarkable account her family's experience in 20th century China. Her grandmother is born as the empire is crumbling. She belongs to the last generation of women whose feet were bound. The author's description of the procedure and it's long term consequences is riveting. Her family sells her as a concubine to a general. By the time he dies in the midst of a rebellion, she has given birth to a daughter. This child grows up in the midst of social and political chaos, the horrors of the Japanese invasion, and World War II. She embraces the Communist party, and marries a man as committed to the cause as she is. Although the party comes first, while bearing and raising four children, they are victims of the cultural revolution. The author witnesses the deism of Mao as a child, then benefits from the opening of China to the West as she becomes one of the first to travel abroad for a college education.

    This book is an accomplishment on so many levels. It is a well constructed family narrative. The details of Chinese culture and politics are absorbing. Impressive to me as well is the fluency with which it is written, in a language the author began to learn as a young adult.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2012

    Not An Enjoyable Book

    I enjoy reading all kinds of books. As a teen, I read "The Good Earth" and fell for books about Asia. I reread that book every few years. When this book was selected by my book club, I looked forward to reading it. It was a slow, miserable process. I never could connect with the characters. I haven't read many books by Chinese authors and wanted to like it. The only way I finished it was to tell myself the I could read something interesting when I finished. I'm sorry to say I couldn't recommend this book.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2012

    Boring

    I had a difficult time reading this book as it gave information but you did not feel as if you were there. I can read a history book next time.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2010

    Personal strength v. political brutality

    Although much of the book addresses events and lives long past, it is a sobering story whose themes may be more modern than I'd like.

    The swans are three Chinese women, each from a different generation (GMo, Mo, Da) and they are wild because they don't strictly follow the rules of their times. The price they paid for their independent thinking and living was horrific. The grandmother's tale begins in the late 1890s and early 1900s when the political regime was undergoing a violent upheaval. The mother's story picks up as the political party changes to communism, another violent and unpredictable wave of change. The daughter, from whose perspective the book is written, tells of her own work for the communists and her departure from China. She tells her grandmother's and mother's stories with passion and respect, while providing the historical context in which to appreciate the women's difficulties.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 3, 2014

    I read this book as part of a required reading list for a histor

    I read this book as part of a required reading list for a history class I took in college ten years ago and, unlike pretty much every other book I've ever read, I STILL actually think about this book often. I've long since lost my paperback copy, having loaned it out to several people, so I'm picking up the nook version to go back and read again. 




    Approach this book as what it is--a multi-generational memoir. A couple of other reviewers call this book biased and of course it is... this is not a history textbook. It is an account of this woman's life and experiences as well as those of her mother and grandmother. China is a backdrop. 




    This is a heavy read, but well worth it. It's almost like reading an omnibus or anthology comprised of three separate books with overlapping stories. It's a rewarding read, too, though, and I remember being able to vividly imagine what was going on in each well-described scene. 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2011

    Not what I expected.

    I've been reading it for a book club, and I'm struggling. I thought it would be more the women's story, but it is primarily political and military events. I'll keep trying, though.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2014

    So Disappointed

    Chang made this subject about China's Maoist Revolution seem boring!
    The writing was dry, unemotional, and bland just like the Chinese communists she writes about. It was not worth my time and effort to trudge through the 600 plus long pages. Meh! Don't bother.

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  • Posted August 22, 2014

    fascinating

    a personal look inside of China and the tremendous changes. love it

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  • Posted August 22, 2014

    Highly recommend

    This is an intense novel dealing with the stormy history of China, and the history of the role of women in China. The role of women in China follows three generations of women in one family. Some of the accepted cultural practices will make the reader shudder. This is an excellent book for discussions of women's roles and the cultural practices of China!

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  • Posted August 22, 2014

    Absolutely amazing.

    This book is a truly amazing account of a woman and her family in China before and during the Cultural Revolution. It will horrify and inspire, and make you very appreciative of what you've got. A must read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2014

    This is one of very few books that I have read twice. After rea

    This is one of very few books that I have read twice. After reading it in 2005, this is the notation I made in my reading journal: A biography-memoir of the author's grandmother, born to be a war-lord's concubine; her mother's struggle to join the Communist Party; and the author's struggle to leave China. It presented a different perspective from other books I had read on China, and is of course, biased to the author's viewpoint.
    I recommended the book to others at that time and gave away my copy. My Book Discussion Group read it several years later, and it got mixed reviews from the group. I recommended it to someone else and gave away my second copy for their use. When it came up on Nook, I decided to repurchase to read it again. ( I believe in buying books second hand and keeping them circulating).


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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2014

    Tidepool

    "Helllooo!"he yowls.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 5, 2014

    Hazelfur

    Nods her head blushing.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    This is a wonderfully detailed and powerfully moving history of

    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. Each page drew me into emotional rapport with each the three main characters, grandmother, mother and daughter, as they summoned their special strength to free themselves and each other.

    A gripping read to the last page, this book inspired my life.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 19, 2014

    Great look at the effect of change in China through the eyes of three generations of women.

    This is an interesting look at a multigenerational family and the trials they had to endure as China's leadership changes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2012

    Good book!

    Good book!

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2012

    Missing something

    In the later chapters some parts of,and entire sentences are cut off and substituted with"Mme. Mao."

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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