Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

by Jung Chang


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743246989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 08/05/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 26,686
Product dimensions: 8.32(w) x 5.42(h) x 1.31(d)
Age Range: 15 - 18 Years

About 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.

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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Wild Swans 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 140 reviews.
Benz1966 More than 1 year ago
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.
bobbin70 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the interest of full disclosure I should begin by saying that I have been teaching global history for 17 years and love it! That said, this is an incredible tale of the strength of women, of family, and sadly, largely of the Mao Zedong communist regime. The personal history and tragedy of this family is incredible, though apparently not unique. Beyond that, the first hand accounts of the chaos, corruption, and stupidity of the regime were fascinating to me! I teach the Cultural Revolution, but not this version. I can't wait to revise my lessons to share the incredible insanity with my students. They love to hear about the craziness of the past, and this book outlines it beautifully. I will admit that if history is not your thing, 600 pages of this poor family's struggle through time may not be your cup of tea. If you love to learn about other cultures and enjoy history, this story will fascinate you! (Who encourages illiteracy?!? Apparently Mao.) It did take me a while to get through the book (more due to time constraints than lack of interest), but it was well worth the time!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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. 
SkagitGal More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
stephxsu on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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 Mao¿s China and the importance of keeping history¿even the bad parts¿in our memories.Chang writes with a narration that is largely devoid of drama¿the 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 you¿re 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.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wild Swans tells the author's family history of herself, her mother and grandmother. The center of the book is clearly the story of her parents. Her own story is limited by her impression management. She rarely opens up to reveal her inner self. The picture of her mother and father are much more fully developed. warts and all. The grandmother's story is fleshed out the least, despite her having the most difficult life transitioning from concubine in warlord China to a mother to dissidents. What is important to note is the elevated social position of the family: As one of two hundred top Communist functionaries in Sichuan among 72 million inhabitants, they were no ordinary family. Jung Chang is in a similar position as Isabel Allende, narrating her country's recent history from a privileged vantage point. The personalization of the horrible events of the Japanese occupation, the Chinese Civil War, the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution is the great strength of the book. One Chinese aspect of "hell is other people" is that the Chinese managed to oppress themselves without a KGB or Stasi. The decentralized bullying of the Red Guards and local cliques is truly frightening and ugly. The abuses happened without much of a Milgramesque authority.I never understood the appeal of Mao, especially for the 1960s European kids from bourgeois families. Much of the Red in the East was the blood of innocent victims starved and killed by one of the 20th century's totalitarian dictators. How can one gloat in the icon of Mao, given all the death this man has caused? Vienna currently hosts a strange big exhibition of kitschy Mao devotionalia, collected by an enthusiastic foreign correspondent during the 1970s. As a corrective, visitors should really be handed this book.
davetherave on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If anyone is in doubt about the brutality of the Chinese regime for greater part of the twentieth century then they should settle down and read this majestic work, covering a family period from 1870 to 1978. this was when, according to her family timeline the author came to England.
rypotpie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Engrossing tale of three generations of Chinese women. Their lives are a window into the rapid evolution of Chinese society in the 20th century - from a fragmented society with territorial warlords to a highly centralized, controlled society under the Communists. What struck me most was the devastation wreaked by Mao's dictatorial whims (at one point he ordered all citizens to tear up grass and flowers for being too bourgeois), and the way he controlled millions largely without the use of force. Instead, he turned groups of citizens, often members of the same family, against one another through fear of punishment and loss of privilege. His commands were carried out to avoid the threat of becoming an outcast and losing privilege.
SheReadsNovels on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Before beginning this book I didn¿t know very much at all about Chairman Mao, but I¿m obviously not alone in that. As Jung Chang says in her introduction to the 2003 edition, `the world knows astonishingly little about him¿. This book helped me understand why the Chinese people initally welcomed communism and how millions of children grew up viewing Mao as their hero and never dreaming of questioning his regime. It also explained why many people eventually became disillusioned and why the system started to break down.One of the most horrible things in the book occurs within the first chapter when Chang describes her grandmother¿s footbinding. It¿s so awful to think of a little girl being forced to undergo this torture just because tiny feet (or `three-inch golden lilies¿) were thought to be the ideal. Soon after her grandmother¿s feet were bound the tradition began to disappear. However, this is just one small part of the book and the first in a long series of shocking episodes the author relates to us.Some parts of the book made me feel so angry and frustrated, such as reading about the senseless waste of food when peasants were taken away from the fields to work on increasing steel output instead, as part of Mao¿s `Great Leap Forward¿. The descriptions of the Cultural Revolution are also horrific; it went on for years and resulted in countless deaths. One of the most frightening things about this period was that nobody was safe ¿ people who had been high-ranking Communist officials before the revolution suddenly found themselves branded `capitalist-roaders¿ or `counter-revolutionaries¿ (sometimes by their own children) and some of them were driven to suicide.The book is complete with a family tree, chronology, photographs and map of China ¿ all of which were very useful as I found myself constantly referring to them and without them I would have had a lot more difficulty keeping track of what was going on.As you can probably imagine, it was a very depressing book, as Jung and her family experienced very few moments of true happiness. She only really sounds enthusiastic when she¿s describing the natural beauty of some of the places she visited ¿ and the pleasure she got from reading books and composing poetry, both of which were condemned during the Cultural Revolution. However, it was also the most riveting non-fiction book I¿ve ever read ¿ I kept thinking "I¿ll just read a few more pages" then an hour later I was still sitting there unable to put the book down.All three of the women featured in Wild Swans ¿ Jung Chang herself, her mother and her grandmother ¿ were forced to endure hardships and ordeals that are unimaginable to most of us, but remained strong and courageous throughout it all. However, Wild Swans is not just the story of three women ¿ it¿s much broader in scope than that and is the story of an entire nation. So much is packed into the 650 pages of this book that I¿ve barely scratched the surface in this review and if you haven¿t yet read the book I hope you¿ll read it for yourself ¿ no review can really do it justice.
robertg69 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fascinating family memoir about life in revolutionary China from early 1900 till 1960s
reannon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely wonderful book about three generations of women in a Chinese family. The grandmother was a concubine to a wealthy general and had bound feet. The mother was a Communist party official, and the daughter was part of the Cultural Revolution as a teen, then emigrated to the West. Marvelous depiction of China over the course of the 20th century through the lens of one family. The author later wrote a highly-regarded biography of Mao.
bibliobbe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I knew things were bad in China, but before I read Wild Swans, I had no idea just how bad. This true story of three generations of Chinese women (told by the granddaughter) made me weep for the pain of the individuals swept up in the maelstrom of Chinese society. For such a populous nation, they really do espouse the personal is political mantra. There seemed to be no time throughout the 20th century when anyone could live a normal life. China really is totally different from the West, but it takes books like this one to remind us that when we wonder why their thought processes and political philosophies are so different to ours. Don¿t read this if you¿re feeling miserable. It¿ll just make you want to slit your wrists.
cab on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Love books about Chinese history through the eyes of a family living through it.
stveggy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good book - very moving account o fthe lives of Women in China
JGoto on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jung Chang¿s powerful memoir transports us to twentieth century China, where we are given a glimpse of society through the thoughts and actions of three generations of her family. The unfolding of the lives of Chang¿s grandmother, a concubine of a warlord, and her parents, communist idealists and party leaders, is deeply moving. We watch as hopes and enthusiasm brought about by the start of Communism are very gradually replaced by disillusionment and suffering brought on by Mao¿s policies and the Cultural Revolution. This book is banned in China even today, more than 30 years after Mao's death. Having grown up in a democracy, Chang¿s descriptions of life under a dictator like Mao are surprising and revealing to me. I feel that this was an important work for me to read and it has changed my understanding of politics and the world.
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
History is not a big reading interest of mine but I'm glad I made an exception in this case. This is such an interesting view of life in China during the major upheaval of Japanese occupation, the beginnings of Communist China, the insanity of Mao's Cultural Revolution, and the more modern expansion of freedoms. I learned so much about China that I hadn't known previously and the personal narrative of the author, based on the experiences of her family was inspiring and heartbreaking. I highly recommend this book.
nberg on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully written nonfiction- the story of three women in the same family: the authors' grandmother who was a concubine, her mother who marched with Mao and herself- first part of the Cultural Revolution and then a conversion from Communism. By learning about these women's lives, one can learn about China's turbulent "recent" history.
divyas102 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. It gave me a whole new perception about China and its communist regime. Reading the book gave me the feeling of being right there in the midst of it all. A very well written book. I would highly recommend reading it.
wendyrey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Much more my sort of biography, dates, time lines, notable events, facts that could potentially be verified if one had the will and the papers were not destroyed in the Cultural Revolution etc. Full of details of the lives of a family of three women in China. Only a bit of dialogue , thankfully, and all of the type of which the gist could be realistically recalled.
LaBibliophille on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Wild Swans:Three Daughters of China is the fourth book I¿ve completed for the Book Awards Reading Challenge. This memoir won the British Book Awards ¿Book of the Year¿ in 1994. Wild Swans tells the story of three generations of women in Jung Chang¿s family: her grandmother, her mother, and herself. It spans the years from 1909, when her grandmother was born, to 1978, the year Jung Chang left China to study in Great Britain.Wild Swans encompasses the personal history of Chang¿s family, as well as the tumultuous history of China. At the age of 15 Yu-fang, the author¿s grandmother, became the concubine of a warlord. Jung Chang¿s mother, De-hong, was born 7 years later. After the war lord¿s death in 1933, Yu-fang married Dr. Xia. De-hong was raised in his household, as one of his children. Jung Chang was born in 1952, the second of 5 children born to De-hong and her husband, Shou-yu.This book details the family¿s struggles, as China itself struggles. Some events that impact the family include: World War II; the rise of Mao Tse Tung and the Communist party,;the founding of the People¿ Republic of China; the Great Leap Forward; the Cultural Revolution; and China¿s eventual opening up to the West.Chang¿s parents are loyal Communists, yet they suffer denunciation, re-education and imprisonment. The entire family is subject to the daily indignities of life in a totalitarian society. As children, Chang and her siblings rarely see their parents. Fortunately, Yu-fang is able to care for them.Wild Swans is a very long and complex book. The appendices include a brief chronology of modern China juxtaposed with Chang¿s family¿s milestones. There is also a very helpful family tee and a map of China. I referred to these often. This memoir is quite thorough. I learned a tremendous amount about modern China.Unfortunately, it did get a bit repetitious. We read numerous times that De-hong was upset that her husband put his very strict Communist principles before his family¿s well-being. And the family¿s constant struggles with other Communist Party officials, while important, are also tedious after a while. Some of the language seems a bit stilted. Chang did not learn English until her early 20¿s, and the awkwardness shows. Overall, this memoir was quite good. It took me a very long time to read it, and I think it would be improved greatly by skillful editing.
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jung Chang recounts the experiences of her mother and grandmother in the transition from ancient China through the cultural revolution and the partial opening of China to Western Ideas in the 1970's. Her grandmother was sold as a concubine to a warlord general, and was a victim of foot-binding at an early age. She outlasted the general, married a traditional Chinese physician, lasted through Japanese occupation of northern China, the appearance of the Koumingtang, and the triumph of Mao. Her daughter became a convert to Communism, married a convinced Communist, then underwent detention, denunciation, and endless trials and imprisonments during the later revisions of Communist doctrine. She and her husband barely endured; her daughter, the author, was young enough to not have a suspicious history. This is an indictment of the Maoist system, very passionate, intensely interesting in respect to the very long time it took for the author to reject the authority and worship of Mao.