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Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China

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Blending the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history, Wild Swans has become a bestselling classic in thirty languages, with more than ten million copies sold. The story of three generations in twentieth-century China, it is 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 life of her grandmother, a warlord's concubine; her ...

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Trade Paperback GOOD Trade Paperback-9780007176151 [CHANG, JUNG] WILD SWANS.

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Overview

Blending the intimacy of memoir and the panoramic sweep of eyewitness history, Wild Swans has become a bestselling classic in thirty languages, with more than ten million copies sold. The story of three generations in twentieth-century China, it is 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 life of 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

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: 9780007176151
  • Publisher: Gardners Books
  • Publication date: 4/5/2004
  • Edition description: New

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 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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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.

Read More Show Less

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 wasthe 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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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 26, 2005

    Anti-Chinese, racist tripe

    This woman is a CIA agent. Her denunciation of every single Chinese achievement of the last hundred years is an astonishing act of self-hatred. She decries the Chinese people's heroic resistance to the genocidal Japanese attacks of 1937-45. She sneers at their achievements of building socialism during the 1950s and 1960s. She lies off her head about the numbers of deaths during the 1960s shortages. I bet this little traitor got well paid in dollars for her treachery.

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