Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

by Jung Chang

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 351

The characters of "Wild Swans" are three generations of Chinese women. Yu-fang, the grandmother of the author, had her feet bound for beauty as a two-year-old. Her father, in a plan to improve their lives, gave her as a concubine to a married Chinese warlord, Xue Zhiheng, to join his wife and other concubines in their wealthy household. After the marriage ceremony, she does not see her husband for six years and is surrounded by servants whose gossip she fears. A conjugal visit produces a daughter, and after that Yu-fang refuses to come as requested until her husband is dying and she is compelled to visit him. Anticipating that she and her child, Bao Qin, would be under control of the senior wife upon the general's death, she flees to her parent's home and is freed by the general's dying wish. As a free woman, she now marries an older doctor and lives in Manchuria. The Japanese invade China, and they live under foreign rule for a time.

Bao Qin, the young daughter, is now a teenager and rises through the ranks of the Communist Party and marries a high-ranking officer of the Red Army. Party service keeps them apart. After a long march on foot and rigorous military training, Bao Qin miscarries. Among the children subsequently born to them was Jung Chang, the narrator of the story, who becomes one of Chairman Mao's feared Red Guards. Her father points out the suffering of the people under Mao's leadership and her parents are condemned as "capitalist roaders." Her father is publicly humiliated and tortured, leading to his premature death. This leads Chang to doubt Mao herself, and she is sent to the countryside for re-education, where she is made to perform forced labor while being berated and harangued by illiterate peasants (a process she finds pointless). At the end of the Cultural Revolution she gains a place at University, Mao dies, and she feels happy and relieved at his death. Jung Chang wins a scholarship to study English and now lives in England, occasionally visiting China to see friends and family.

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