Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Like many people, I have been fascinated by Chinese culture intermittently, inspired by a book, a film or perhaps a painting, to learn more about a place so different from my own. But before reading Wild Swans, I had never actually put together the wrenching swiftness of the cultural changes in China.
Chung’s memoir tells the story of three generations of women in her family. Her grandmother’s feet are bound as a baby to secure her future as a general’s low-ranking concubine, answerable to the general’s wife. Chang’s mother becomes a dedicated member of Mao’s Communist Party, and she and her husband must routinely demonstrate their loyalty to the Party above their family.
I had not previously placed the Chinese Cultural Revolution in 1966 against the wildly different hippie cultural revolution in the United States. My mother, with increasingly longer hair and shorter skirts, was home with four children, worrying about the draft and the Vietnam War. At the same time, Chang’s mother, a Communist Party bureaucrat, was undergoing re-education in Mao’s efforts to purge any remaining bourgeois and capitalist elements. And it is Chang’s mother who managed to alter her daughter’s future by getting her a coveted place as a college student in London, just as I was starting high school in 1978.
Wild Swans is one of those amazing books that expanded my understanding of the world by sharing the intimate lives of real and ordinary women who lived through extraordinary times. It also made me think of and reflect on the life and times of three generations of women in my own family.
— Jeanne Costello