Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China - Jung Chang Wild Swans is the story of the author's family, the "three daughters" of the subtitle representing three generations. The first, Chang's grandmother, Yu-fang, was born in 1909 into a traditional Imperial China on the brink of great changes. Two years after her birth the centuries old Manchu dynasty came to an end and China became a republic. As a toddler, she was among the last women to endure the practice of crippling footbinding and as a young teen was virtually sold by her father to become a warlord's concubine. Her daughter, De-hong, in her teens worked for the Red Army resisting the Japanese occupation. She married an idealistic, uncorruptible communist who'd become a high-ranking official in Mao's People's Republic. That was the world Jung Chang was born into in 1951. One where a privileged life would largely isolate her from the effects of the man-made famine caused by the "Great Leap Forward" that took tens of millions of lives--but then came the Cultural Revolution. Her account is both farcical and heart-breaking. Mao, as she put it, was a man with a "metaphysical disregard for reality" and a "deep-seated contempt for human life." The consequences for the country, that was taught to regard him as an Emperor-God, was catastrophic. I think, when it's done well--and this is done very well--that there's probably no better way to really absorb and become engrossed in history than through biography. It's one thing to be told the bare facts and statistics--or even told isolated stories about people. It's another to learn enough about a family that they become real people in your mind, then learn the details about how such events as the Japanese Occupation, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the Great Famine and Cultural Revolution affected them. What happened to her father was particularly heart-breaking. But when I was moved to tears, it wasn't the suffering that undid me--but the later happiness given all that had come before. Through the story of Chang's family she's able to tell, vividly, movingly, engrossingly, the story of China in the 20th century.