At the beginning of WILD SWANS, the author provides a useful chronology of the book’s contents. Family and personal histories are documented against the general history of Chinese politics. Beginning with the birth of her mother’s stepfather in 1870, in the waning years of the Manchu empire, the chronology notes important dates such as the births and deaths in the author’s family as well as the rise and fall of dominant powers in twentieth century China.
The narrative ends in 1978, when the author embarks from China to Great Britain on a coveted academic scholarship. Ten years later, after Chang made London her home, her mother visited her and began to tell her about the family history. The personal stories of her mother’s and her grandmother’s lives prompted Chang to return to China in 1989 to research the material for WILD SWANS.
By covering three generations of her family, Chang shows the many changes wrought in Modern China, especially upon women. In 1909, Chang’s grandmother was bartered as a concubine to a warlord general by her father, a petty officer. The alliance produced a daughter, who was renamed by her legal stepfather, and who became Chang’s mother. Both mother and daughter were named “wild swan.”
Chang’s mother grew up during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, while Chang experienced the impact of the Cultural Revolution. Both women, like so many of their elitist background, avidly supported...
(The entire section is 426 words.)