Wild Swans represents a very pivotal moment in my life. I first read the book during Christmastime (actually I lot of the best books I’ve read are during Christmas) 1995. It was a gift from a school friend cause she heard me complaining that I did not have anything to read for the holidays. (no problem of that now!) During that time I was fascinated by political novels such as Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four , Animal Farm, Fahrenheit 451 so this fit in nicely. Also I had watched Bertolucci’s ‘The Last Emperor’ and Passer Biopic on Stalin. I was deep into the subject!
Wild Swans focuses on Three generations of Chinese women Jung Chang’s Grandmother, her mother and Jung Chang herself. Each of the three women represent a certain period of Chinese history.
Chang’s grandmother was a concubine to one of the War Generals during Puyi’s short reign. Here we get a glimpse into ancient Chinese traditions and rituals, the main one being a baby’s feet being bound in order to preserve daintiness.
Eventually Yu – Fang escapes to Manchuria.
The story moves on to Chang’s mother and her tale takes place during the overthrow of the last emperor and communism taking over China. One of the pre requisites of this time was for all people to enroll in the army thus a lot of this section deals with gruelling army life and Mao Zedong’s cult is beginning to spread.
The last third switches from Biography to Autobiography and this time we are encountering Chang’s experience as a teenager during the Cultural revolution. During this period the author was also part of The Red Army (but left) and saw how China had turned into a bloodbath. Eventually she leaves China and we see the difference between western and eastern politics and the freedom it brings.
Wild Swans is a powerful novel and it also is an eye-opener, At least it was for me. I never knew the changes China went through during the last fifty years or so. and Chang’s descriptions of customs and folklore (and their repercussions) is truly fascinating. An unforgettable book.