July 07, 2013

Wild Swans by Jung Chang

China is a fascinating country.  It is known for many things; fireworks, a rich history, exotic food, and communism.  Because of this it holds a certain, yet dangerous allure for a lot of people.  Wild Swans is an inside look at the culture and practices of China and life for its people.  The people that tourists don't often see or hear from.  And it exposes a lot of truths you couldn't even imagine.

Jung Chang's parents were officials for the Communist Party and Mao but their history started much before then.  Her grandmother, when young, was given as a concubine to a warlord and her mother was born as a result of that union.  Because the "marriage' was tumultuous and jealousy ran amok with the wife and other concubines, it was a difficult time for her grandmother and when he died, she sought a peaceful life with an elderly doctor as her next husband.  He raised Chang's mother as his own practically and while young she became a part of the underground communist movement in the area, eventually becoming a member of the party.  Here she met Chang's father, another party official and married him, eventually having Chang and her siblings.  Deeply immersed in the Party, they were on constant alert for themselves and the people out to bring them down as a result of rivalries.  And with Mao's bizarre politics and the Culture Revolution, instability reigned in China during Chang's childhood.

Chang and her family suffered a lot of hardships and were targeted by many even within their own Party.  Her parents were beaten, denounced, detained and the atmosphere was almost always hostile.  Chang herself admits to being a devout follower of Mao in her youth, because they were raised to think he was supreme and there was a lot of indoctrination.  It was only later, after a lot of atrocities had been committed by him, that she changed her view.  I couldn't believe a lot of the people and their actions in this book though.  It was simply astounding that someone could be so horrible to another human being.  But there was at least a little good, but not as much as you'd like to hope. 

It was an interesting memoir.  I couldn't imagine Chang's experiences and what her family suffered.  It even somewhat read as fiction because things were so horrific.  But it's not, this is a true story, and that makes it that much worse.  Chang tells it well though.  She has a clear cut way with words and descriptions.  It may have been a tad tedious and long in parts, especially with all the names and places to keep track of, but at the same time it was also informative.  I appreciated the history and facts that she put in with the memoir and she must have researched quite a bit.  I would have liked to hear more about her grandmother, this book mainly focused on Chang and her mother's experiences, but the grandmother only got a small section. 

Chang's book is one of three incredible women and I"m glad she wrote down her experiences.  It really makes you realize just how different things can be in other parts of the world and really just how human nature can differ greatly.

Wild Swans
Copyright 1991
517 pages

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