Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

by Jung Chang

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Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 717

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a 1991 nonfictional novel written by Chinese writer Jung Chang. It received a lot of commercial success and is considered controversial in nature, as it describes the experiences of three women of the Chang family who were born and/or lived in the Mao Zedong era.

Father is close, Mother is close, but neither is as close as Chairman Mao.

When a man gets power, even his chickens and dogs rise to heaven.

I could understand ignorance, but I could not accept its glorification, still less its right to rule.

The book tells three stories: the story of Yu Fang, Chang’s grandmother; the story of Bao Qin, Chang’s mother; and the story of Jung Chang herself. Thus, it is considered both a biographical and an autobiographical novel.

The virtual absence of any chance of a better future and the near total immobility for anyone born a peasant took the incentive out of the pursuit of knowledge. Children of school age would stay at home to help their families with their work or look after younger brothers and sisters. They would be out in the fields when they were barely in their teens. As for girls, the peasants considered it a complete waste of time for them to go to school.

The first story tells us what kind of a woman Chang’s grandmother is. She seems to have led an interesting—but also tense—life, as she was turned into a concubine when she was young and married off to a wealthy war general. Her most interesting characteristic are her bound feet, which is an old Chinese custom that was very popular back in the day.

But her greatest assets were her bound feet, called in Chinese "three-inch golden lilies" (san-tsun-gin-lian). This meant she walked "like a tender young willow shoot in a spring breeze," as Chinese connoisseurs of women traditionally put it. The sight of a woman teetering on bound feet was supposed to have an erotic effect on men, partly because her vulnerability induced a feeling of protectiveness in the onlooker.

After her unsatisfying marriage to the general and his death, she managed to escape with her daughter, Bao Qin, and remarried a respected doctor, with whom she fell in love.

When he asked my grandmother if she would mind being poor, she said she would be happy just to have her daughter and himself: “If you have love, even plain water is sweet.”

The second story describes the life of Bao Qin, Chang’s mother. She was a member of the communist party and Mao Zedong’s Red Army, and she married a high ranking officer named Wang Yu, with whom she had five children. She is smart and strong and often does things her way, even though she is sometimes scolded or shamed for her behavior.

With her experience, my mother had immediately seen that a new era was beginning. On the day after Mao's death she had reported for work at her depas'uuent. She had been at home for five years, and now she wanted to put her energy to use again. She was given a job as the number seven deputy director in her department, of which she had been the director before the Cultural Revolution. But she did not mind.

The last story is Chang’s personal autobiography, in which she describes her life during the Cultural Revolution and her academic successes. Today, Chang lives in England, and whenever she receives permission from the Chinese government, she goes to China to visit her friends and family.

In the days after Mao's death, I...

(This entire section contains 717 words.)

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did a lot of thinking. I knew he was considered a philosopher, and I tried to think what his 'philosophy' really was. It seemed to me that its central principle was the need or the desire for perpetual conflict. The core of his thinking seemed to be that human struggles were the motivating force of history and that in order to make history 'class enemies' had to be continuously created en masse. I wondered whether there were any other philosophers whose theories had led to the suffering and death of so many. I thought of the terror and misery to which the Chinese population had been subjected. For what?